Hyperpolyglot & HYPIA Scholar
Name: Anja Kršlin
Nationality or Ethnicity: Slovene
Where do you live?: Slovenia
Languages: Slovene (native), Russian, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese (fluent), Italian and Chinese (basic)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
As a child I was very creative and very calm person. I loved nature, learning new things and specially creating new things that could have been used in daily life or just for esthetic purposes. I was always surrounded with papers of all kinds, scissors, tapes and pencils of different types. One day I heard a song from Aleksander Jež called Tuji jeziki. Still, until this day I remember those words: »/…/ lahko trdim, da se vam v svetu ne izgubim. Tuje jezike treba je znati, pa te nihče ne more prodati.« That was a day when I decided I will speak many languages when I grow up.
Years have passed and I went to the primary school. I had learned English and German, but I hated it. In primary school I was learning German, because I choose that subject but latter on in high school it was as well as English an obligation. As a protest I spend as much time as I could, not knowing I am actually learning it, listening to Spanish. I listed to the music, I wrote lyrics, I watched soap operas and sang songs from them and soon my Spanish was better than both of the languages I had to study in school. Spanish was my secret language that nobody understood and I was able to write my most private things in it. I knew that, if I would write in German, Italian, English or even Serbo-Croatian, a Slovene might understand it - and it wouldn't be my secret language anymore.
When I came to high school I didn't know I understand also Portuguese. Some students from Portugal had come to Slovenia and they had met with us and I somehow understood all that they were saying. I couldn't answer them in their native language, but I was able to speak Spanish and they somehow understood me. In high school I struggled with languages because I had to learn through grammar, but when I came to the University everything changed.
I blossomed and got new motivation to learn and to study - That was LITERATURE! In the first year of my bachelor studies I took one class where I needed to know Ancient Latin. In the second year I had many subjects on Russian literature and this is why I decided to learn Russian. Then in the third year I choose Chinese calligraphy and it was so amazing and so relaxing. It was like same kind of meditation. Soon I realised that I know how to write with brushes, but yet I couldn't understand a thing. I actually haven't had time to study all of those languages, because of all the books I had to read for exams. So my wish stayed with me, but I haven't done anything to make it come true. Until now. As would have said Gabriel García Márquez »In the time of COVID-19«.
My life definitely changed when I entered University. I took an extra year in my undergraduate studies and while I was writing my thesis I also intensively learned Portuguese. It all started on one sunny day in Ljubljana. I was standing in front of the traffic lights and suddenly I heard people behind my back speaking a language I could understand. It was Brazilian Portuguese. In those few moments when we were crossing the road I spoke for the first time and they told me, where do they live, how much have they paid for the flight to Europe, where have they been and where are they going next. That motivated me to start studying, because until that moment I was not able to speak Portuguese. Afterwards (I started that same day :P) I was intensively playing Duolingo from Spanish language, watching a lot of Brazilian soap operas and I was speaking to myself, while I was walking up and down the road in front of my house. I can still remember I had Slovene-Portuguese and Portuguese-Slovene dictionary in my hands and everytime I couldn't remember the word I searched for it in that little dictionary. Then I made two more sentences with the new word I have just learned, just to make sure I will remember it. My neighbours must have thought I am crazy, but to be honest I didn't care, because I was getting better and better. Next year I was so sure in my knowledge of Portuguese that I choose Portuguese as a subject for credit points in the first year of my master. And from that year on my live has changed drastically. People started noticing that I understand many languages and only than I realised, they were right.
I was taking part in many language clubs in Ljubljana. I had Portuguese conversation classes in place called Ziferblatt and I was assisting Spanish, German and Russian clubs in organisation called Nefiks. I was accepting more and more challenges. I was translating for people, mostly for free, when they needed help and in languages that were not my strongest suit. I kept participating in language meetings even when I went for Erasmus exchange in Bratislava. I even found an event called Polyglot Gathering that I assisted in 2019.
In Bratislava I spoke »Slovene-Slovak« language in daily life and English with other Erasmus students. I was also very motivated to speak with students in other languages, specially if those languages were their native languages. I met so many foreigners and my knowledge of languages grew enormously.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Firstly Chinese, Turkish, Slovak, and Icelandic and afterwards Sanskrit, Hebrew and Arabic that were used in old scriptures (Vedas, Bible and Quran).
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Spanish or Greek. 😉
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I don't know what will happen in the future. But I am sure that I will keep learning languages. For me the most rewarding thing is, when people hear you speak in their native language and their faces light up in happiness. Than all your struggles and all of your suffering is repaid.
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 hope not. I will definitely try to prevet it. Actually this fear of extinction of my native language, motivated me to learn more languages, to then translate back into my native language and this way make sure that our language gets new vocabulary, new translations from different languages on different topics and expertise.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Don’t give up! It will be hard and sometimes you will feel like you are stucked, but then suddenly a day will come when you will see how much have you improved.
Anja is also a HYPIA Scholar, below is an excerpt from her Scholar interview.
1. HYPIA Research revolves around three main, interrelated activities: a monthly study group (to discuss relevant articles/chapters and videos), an annual conference (to present your own ideas about them) and the publication of selected proceedings from that conference. Ideally, we would be interested in accepting applicants that are able and willing to participate in all 3. On a scale from 1 (most likely) to 10 (less likely), how likely are you commit to this endeavor?
1 - for monthly study group
1 - for annual conference
2 - for publication
2. What are your main areas of research interest? Please, rank the following from 1 (most interesting to you) to 5 (less interesting).
(3 ) Language ideologies
(5) Formal linguistics
(4 ) Sociolinguistics
(2)Minoritized languages and/or language revitalization
( ) Other, please specify: _____________________________
3. Which linguistic concepts / areas / discourses would you like to explore as part of HYPIA Research?
I would love to explore influence of multilingualism on an adults brain and young children's development when they are raised in multilingual environment.
I am also interested in spiritual or divine elements in languages like Sanskrit (Samskritam), Hebrew letters or Cyrillic writing sistem. How reciting mantras in Sanskrit physically changes your brain structure.
And other writing systems or languages that (just believed or scientifically proven) have some spiritual connotations or show some improvement in different skills of people who use it (that/those language/s) on a daily basis.
4. What is unique about your language-related research?
I did a small research for my University. I wrote an essay on how people with brain injuries or brain diseases (of the areas that influence their speech centers) started to speak again after "music therapy". Which means that they used singing (words), to be able to speak again…
Also for another subject in the University I was analyzing spoken languages (dialects) and compared them with official language of the country (Slovene that we read and write in). Because in daily life we speak in different dialects (more than 47 of them) and some of them are so different, that we would need a translator (but we normally just switch to "official Slovene") to understand each other.
Young children in Slovenia nowadays, because of social media and daily writing to each other in "dialects", when they go to school (because of lack of reading) struggle to write correctly and are even better at foreign languages (like English and German) than our native language (Slovene).
When we analyzed spoken languages/dialects we noticed grammar rules have changed. The way sentences were structured also have changed. We noticed lack of use of nouns and use of "flow of conciseness" (a term used to describe Virgina Woolf writings) among other things. What we also discovered was, that when people knew we were recording them, they spoke differently than when they didn't know (they used less dialect words or less - "non verb based" sentences, than, when they didn't know) we were recording.
Personally I was also interested in studies about how to acquire different languages (based on your background - what is your native language and what languages have you been exposed to in your childhood), on techniques that are used for it and advantages that a hyperpolyglot or a polyglot has in society (intellectually, success in personal life in job, …).
Nowadays I am also collecting data and information about how to raise children as multilingual since their birth and researching techniques that work the best (OPOL - one person one language in comparison to technique "place&time", where child speaks in all the languages with just one person that spends the most time with a child/children on a certain location for a certain amount of time).
5. Please, let us know your related academic credentials, if and as applicable.
I am finishing my master from Comparativistic. I specialised on analysing literature text but that included also the study of history, religions, main European and Asian philosophies (Maja Milčinski dislikes division to E and W religions and philosophies, this is why I am using termins European and Asian). anthropology, sociology and psychology, understanding of human society in different historical eras and in different countries, understanding terms and new social theories, political movements and moral philosophies (like LGBT, Feminism, …). Besides knowledge of narrathology and other theories for analysing written literary texts, we learned about how to translate literary works and writing book reviews as well as book, art critics or critics of theatrical performences and adaptations of literary works in theaters, radio and movies/series.
We also learned about how different elements from books, culture, national history, psychology, …, can be used for advertising and "manipulating" buyers to buy certain products or people to follow certain political regime.