The International Association of Hyperpolyglots - HYPIA. (c) 2019

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Interview with
Matias Barmat

Director of Recruitment

Name: Matias Barmat

Role at HYPIA: Director of Recruitment

Nationality or Ethnicity: Argentina / Eastern-European Jewish

Where do you live?: Buenos Aires

Languages: Spanish (native), English, Italian, Catalan, Galician and Portuguese (fluent), Basque, Hebrew, Romanian, Greek, and French (conversational)

Note: Matias Barmat was made Director of Recruitment for HYPIA in August, 2018

What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?

 

I'm from Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I did all my career. So, it's natural for me to say that Spanish is my first language. I began to learn English in an extracurricular course in parallel to my primary school. But, as often occurs, reading books, watching movies, in my case also programming and reading device manuals, even to interact with speakers also helped me a lot. Another source was watching TV, especially international channels. Since I got cable connection, I enjoyed learning Italian watching RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana), French (TV5), and Portuguese through Brazilian O Globo and RTP Portugal. When I was a child, I used to read at my home a Spanish encyclopedia with infographs from Spain. I became very interested in "that part of Spain that really is not Spain". In fact, I began to learn more and more about Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia up to the point to learn that languages thoroughly. All of them by chat. Catalan I began in 2002 thanks to a friend of mine, at that time in high school, who had serious troubles when he tried to write to me in Spanish. I mean, orthographic errors. Up to that point, I didn't realize that there were people residing in Spain which almost never use Spanish in everyday life. So he asked me, as a favor, if he could write to me in Catalan. And, as I had previous knowledge of French and Italian, due to similarities, I accepted his offer and I became fluent in Catalan as quickly as six weeks. Even though, I worked here in Buenos Aires from 2006 to 2009 with a Catalan resident partner in a small IT business: I used to spoke Catalan with him as a working language.
Galician, of course, was also easy to learn for me, because I had TVG on cable TV and the aforementioned Portuguese background.
However, learning Basque was a major challenge. In 2003 I began to post messages in an animalist and anti-bullfighting discussion forum, where I befriended with a 14-year-old girl from Bilbao. It took me three years of everyday chat to speak Basque but when I did, I became really fluent. A Jewish speaking Basque.
About Hebrew, although I never went to Hebrew schools, I began learning the language around age 13, in the preparation course prior to my Bar Mitzvah. Also, I improved taking lessons with private teachers and talking with some Israeli friends.
I took last year fifteen lessons of Romanian in four months thanks to a female friend of mine at that time residing in Buenos Aires. But, my real passion, are basketball statistics. I have two minor degrees (Computer Systems and Sports Journalism) and a major degree (Journalism), and I could fuse my both careers in my website, www.worldhoopstats.com, the largest basketball stats database. My language skills enabled me to find all the stats by myself, reading everyday websites from national leagues and other web sources from 40 different countries and counting, extracting those stats and publishing them. So, my knowledge of languages like German, Dutch, Serbo-Croatian, Greek and Turkish (fluent reading and grammar knowledge but basic conversation) come from those sources.

 

Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?

 

Every language is worth to learn. Without exception.

 

What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

 

Well, I want to get deep into other Germanic languages (I know intermediate German and Dutch and I began with Swedish), Slavic (especially Croatian and Polish), Hindi, Modern Greek and Turkish.

 

So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

 

Catalan! It's as refined as French and as romantic as Italian.

 

What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

 

When I speak other languages, I can access other cultures and understanding them better. Speaking the language of my peer gives me the greatest honor and the best way to show him respect for his values and idiosyncrasy. However, the most important of all, is that languages are undoubtedly communication tools.  Speaking other languages gives you the power to access knowledge (data, information) beforehand. It's an advantage.

 

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?

 

Unfortunately yes. There are four reasons why we have languages spoken by millions of people: territorial conquest, economic interests, religious imposition, and cultural industry.

 

What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

 

As I commented before, languages are communication tools: different communication vehicles that transport information which is interpreted by different codes we establish as a convention. Knowing languages represents a clear advantage to access other sources of knowledge than otherwise we could not.

 However, there are many reasons why we do study languages; some of them are very personal. Being a national of a multilingual country or being a member to a certain community, working abroad, travelling, but also knowing other people and how they think. Their culture, their idiosyncrasy, also means a different way to create concepts and ideas, and a different way how we concrete or abstract them. And knowing their natural language is the natural vehicle to do so. So we are, to raise awareness of the importance to preserve the language richness and the culture of peoples.