Interview with

Aned Muniz Gracia

Name: Aned Muñiz Gracia
Nationality or Ethnicity: Puerto Rico
Where do you live?: Santa Monica, California, USA
Languages: Spanish and English (native), French, German, Italian and Russian.

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

When I was 16  I went on a high school exchange program from Puerto Rico to Austria. I didn’t know any German, only Spanish and English, but all my classmates knew at least four, and several knew even five languages. I felt I needed to catch up, so when I returned to Puerto Rico and started studying at the university I enrolled in whatever language courses I could get into, which on my first year were French and Russian. On my second year of studies I became disillusioned (very mad, to tell the truth) with Biology and was quite enjoying my language courses, so I switched.

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

I would love to have time to finally add another language, because I have been stuck with the same ones for quite a while. My Lithuanian is quite basic but I do understand a lot and would love to improve it. At the same time, I admire different writing systems and would love to add a non-European language, like Mandarin, Arabic, or Hindi.

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

Mandarin, Portuguese, Macedonian, Arabic

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

It is a tie! You could insult someone in Russian or Italian and make it sound like a love declaration.

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

Language is probably the greatest accomplishment in history, because it enabled people to communicate and was therefore the basis, or prerequisite, for all future advancements. Now it enables us to understand other cultures, and there can be no true intercultural communication unless one person is fluent in another’s language. For me, the greatest pleasure is sitting at a table in Austria, Germany, Vilnius, or Vladivostok, and being embraced like one of their own, partaking in food, drinks and conversation without the need for translation or simplifying or editing speech. Having people be themselves, joking and laughing together, and witnessing the fact that despite cultural differences, what unites us as human beings is far stronger than what divides us. These are valuable interactions that can ultimately foster a sense of belonging in a global community and will contribute to a much-needed sense of solidarity and appreciation of others.

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?

Not if people like us keep making waves!

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

The habitual age range of my students is 13 to 89.

Some of my best students have been retired (from work).

The only true advantage children (before puberty) have is with accents. This can make a difference, especially with tonal languages. However, singers and musically gifted individuals maintain the same potential throughout their lives as young children.

Another trait which some people (but not all!) lose as they age is their ability to think outside the box, to make mistakes and laugh about them, to “turn around the puzzle” and try new things. I actually do not see this often in California, but there are instances in which people try to view new languages through the lens of their native one. In this case, a total immersion approach, in which you start building from zero, entirely in the target language, is usually best.

Many people are able to study more than one new language simultaneously, but others may get a little confused if two of them are related, like Spanish, French and Italian. If they already know 2 or more languages they are usually able to handle it better, but for someone who is starting to study languages for the first time it is often not best to not start multiple ones at the same time if they are related languages.