Name: Alex Voloza
Nationality or Ethnicity: German
Where do you live?: Poland, Kraków
Languages: Russian (C2), Ukrainian (C2), English (C2), German (C2), Polish (C1), Portuguese (C1), Spanish (C1), Italian (C1), French (C1), Croatian (C1), Hebrew (B2), Czech (B2, now passive), Dutch (B1, now passive), Turkish (A2, now learning)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
My tutor got me hooked on English when I was a school kid. By 12 I was in love with learning English, in the times before YouTube or google I spent nights on end writing essays for English school competitions and browsing through entries in my offline CD dictionary. At a university I majored in German as it was my second language at school and it was not easy! I got a scholarship to do my second Master in Germany and moved to Western Europe. I found videos of first YouTube polyglots and thought of becoming fluent in 10 languages. Later, I specified my goal to getting certified in 10 languages at a C1+ level by 35 and I have been working on it ever since. This year I turned 35 and I reached my goal. To get there, I changed my work, changed my lifestyle, became a perpetual traveller for several years, visited 100+ countries and stayed for prolonged periods of time in South America, Italy, Poland and Croatia.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I am now actively practising and using German (teaching it daily), Polish (living in Poland), Russian (being my mother tongue), Ukrainian (many people in my city Krakow speak Ukrainian), English (YouTube etc.) and I am learning Turkish. Unfortunately, I currently do not maintain French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Croatian the way I would like to but I know that I would need 1-2 weeks to bring each to the level I used to have.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Turkish (as the one I am currently learning), Norwegian/Swedish/Danish (I learnt it for a bit), Romanian (I learnt it for a bit). I used to have B2 Czech and B1 Dutch, I would like to refresh and improve those. I would be interested in learning something more exotic a bit later in life for fun, for example, Icelandic or Latin. I could see myself going for some bigger challenges like Arabic, too. Life will show.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
This is a tricky question because it depends on who is speaking. Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian can all sound sexy. But for me Russian does sounds sexy, too, if the right person is speaking it, but I am biased as it is still my native language.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The pleasure of understanding and being understood is unparalleled, and the more you invest into a language, the bigger the pleasure when you finally get there. The feeling that your brain is „hacking“ a language, making something understandable from what used to look like an unknown code is true pleasure. For languages I speak well, such as German, I keep learning something new every day, and it is a great pleasure when you know you found a natural way of expressing yourself the way a native speaker would. It is really a never-ending process of improving and learning new things, that is what it makes so special. As a coach I derive pleasure in seeing my students succeed and reach their goals.
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 think we will have less languages but definitely still several thousand will survive. It is a complex issue in a globalized world as financial aspects determines the viability of language. Unfortunately, I do not feel I have the expertise to judge whether every single language should and could be saved - albeit artificially - to maintain current linguistic diversity. At the same time, I am firmly convinced that a world with only a handful of big prestigious languages would be a very sad place and I hope this will never happen.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Out brain retains the ability to learn until very late in life and one of the biggest factors helping us succeed is our interest. If we are interested and have enough reasons to continue, we will succeed. Our job as self-directed learners is to find those reasons and develop our love relationship with the language(s) we are learning. It is paramount that we succeed in getting and staying excited about certain aspects of the culture, the language or the people. We need to choose materials and teachers wisely. We want to keep going until we reach our goals so we need the time spent with the language to be (maybe) the best time of our days, we want to treat language learning as a joyful experience as it is a marathon, not a sprint. I urge my students to set lofty goals and aim for at least C1 since achieving proficiency and mastery at a language gives you remarkable opportunities and is extremely rewarding in and out of itself.