Name: Maria Bercova
Nationality or Ethnicity: Moldovan, German citizenship
Where do you live?: USA
Languages: English, French, German, Romanian, Russian, Spanish (alphabetical order)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born in Moldova, a beautiful small country on the edge of Eastern Europe, between Romania and Ukraine. Since part of the Soviet Union for more than five decades, this Bessarabian jewel was exposed to consistent russification to the extent that my parents, being ethnically Ukrainians spoke and speak Russian to each other and myself. Anyways, my school enrolment in 1990 concurred with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and proclamation of Republic of Moldova as an independent state. Exciting times! These events brought a strong wave of nationalistic dynamics which, in turn motivated my, very open-minded, parents to enrol me into a Romanian school, instead of a Russian one. This experience, hard at first, was the initialization into the world of multi-lingual conscious existence. Even though, I was born into a country where two or even more languages were spoken parallelly, only by studying in another language, I became aware of the multi-lingual co-existence.
At age of fourteen, my family moved to Germany. This was quite dramatic, especially given my teenage years but armed with a dictionary, I promised myself to master German fluently within a year. Which, I must admit, thanks to the assiduous application, was possible. I realized right there that learning a third language, even if it is unrelated to the second one is easier. At school, I could continue studying English and French and during my senior years, I could pick up another language. I opted for Spanish, which was my sixth and the easiest to learn language. It is like giving birth, first child might take a long time to come out, by the time you give birth to the sixth one, you do not even feel the pain 😉
I pursued my higher education in International Management in a dual German-French program at the University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, Germany and Kedge Business School in Marseille, France and recently I completed a Master´s Degree in French Literature at the University of South Florida, USA.
After finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I started working in Toronto, Canada, where I finished my thesis about intercultural management in a multinational company and after almost two years, I moved to Santiago Chile, where I pursued a career in market research.
Even though my professional career is not necessarily axed around languages, knowing them, gives me a deeper sensitivity about people´s particularities and the desire to understand without undervaluing them. Since languages, as people are parallel and equally valid ways of existence.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish I could go back to South of France and have more possibility to speak and dive again into this Provencale mellowness. Where quality and “savoir-vivre” is far more important, than quantity and where time shows extendable features. 😉
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would really like to learn Portuguese. It has this raw and sensual sound to it that makes it very appealing to me personally.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I think it is French but I am biased of course, since this is the one I like the most. Why? It is a predominantly vowel oriented language, without the roughness of Spanish, very melodic with the nasal hint.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I derive particular pleasure from being able to understand subtleties, like jokes or metaphors in a particular language. Speaking and understanding different languages gives me the possibility to dive into a different type of personality. Since a language spoken shows under different light your inner personality. You are not the same person when you speak German as when you speak French. It is like being a little bit somebody else every time you speak a different language. Well, I like theatre and perhaps that is why I enjoy it through the role-playing prism.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?
I don’t think it will occur. All lingua francas got replaced or disappeared altogether. Think only of Greek, Latin or French, the first two disappeared completely and the latter being gradually replaced by English. Languages are living organisms that nurture from one another. There always will be one that is predominant, usually correlated to the economic wealth of its country of origin. But, it does not mean, that it will devour others but rather enrich them.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I think it is crucial to improve primary and secondary foreign language education like dual or even triple immersion schools since when you are aware from the young age on about linguistic plurality and even are able to speak another language, you instantly develop empathy for the people that speak it and this breaks the chains of xenophobia, today´s most evil social and political vice so skillfully exploited by populist and nationalistic governments.