Interview with

Bartosz Zelek

Name: Bartosz Krystian Zelek
Nationality: Polish
Languages: Polish, Russian, German, English, Italian and French

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

My adventure with learning languages has started quite late, as it was only in a Polish high school. All the way up to high school, I thought I had no talent for foreign languages. When I first went to visit my relatives in Germany and I could not understand anything they said in German, I wanted to learn their language. I put my hands up to heaven and prayed to God that I learn at least one foreign language, so they can understand me. In high school, my beginnings with English were not easy either, but when I found a method with which I could learn fast any foreign language, everything has changed. At university, I chose to study English philology and I had an individual study program, so I also learned German and Russian. In my third year, I made an exchange program in Germany and stayed there. I then went on to study for a Master's degree at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, where I studied MA Translation in German, Polish, Russian and Italian. After graduation, I worked for fixed-term as a translator in the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Parliament in Luxembourg, and then I became a sworn translator of Polish and Russian at the District Court in Potsdam. In the meantime, I also learned French. That is how I became quite unconsciously a polyglot

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

I am satisfied enough with the level I have reached in all the languages I know. None of us is perfect and we can only strive for perfection. Learning languages is never-ending and I do not see it in terms of chasing perfection and poring over books, because this is not the point. The attempt to learn a language by getting to know the culture and its people is much more relevant for me.

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

Challenges are my nature and lately, I have found Japanese heritage fascinating. Without any doubt, it would take me a lot of time to learn a language from a different language family, but the Japanese customs are currently so intriguing to me, that I would like to learn at least the basics. Portuguese is charming for me too and sounds similar to my mother tongue - I think the basics would not hurt to be able to order a glass of red wine in Lisbon in a Fado bar.

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

We can say that the position of this language has been lost in recent decades. We can suppose that its grammar and pronunciation are very complicated. We can make fun of the culinary habits of the speakers of this language, but let us not deceive ourselves. French is the most sensual language, which hides delightful secrets in every syllable. This language and its culture are purely appetizing to me.

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

Traveling. I am satisfied when I can exchange a few words with someone at the Tate Modern Museum in London about a current exhibition. Talking about Chekhov, about whose “Cherry orchard” I wrote my MA thesis, Tolstoy or Bulgakov with Russians is an absorbing pleasure. Ordering an Aperol Spritz in Venice's picturesque Murano without having to use our hands as monkeys affect us to be part of a once incomprehensible reality in a foreign country. In moments like this, we can feel part of other cultures. This is called the true freedom of expression without border divisions.

6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in 100 years, do you think this is really true?

It all depends on political circumstances and whether we will be dealing with phenomena in the future beyond our control. Given today's technological progress and the possibility of accessing any language via the internet, new generations will be given new opportunities, but the question is whether they will be able to fulfill their potential in the age of digitalization of everything. Does technology lead us to development? I assume so, but if it is used with ahead. History shows that every phenomenon returns after some time. I consider the chances of many languages disappearing in a hundred years to be very low. Time will tell, but in a hundred years, I will certainly know. After all, I want to live a very long time, so in a hundred years I will certainly respond here to your question. Please, be patient!

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

I do not want to sound pathetic or like someone who is doing cheap motivational propaganda on social media, but I will say one thing. Do not listen to anyone if someone tells you that you are not talented or cannot achieve something. I will quote my foreword from my book for learning German: “Everything is possible in learning languages”. Go and make your dreams come true. It is not as difficult as you think.