Name: Carmen Santamaría
Nationality or Ethnicity: Spanish
Where do you live?: Barcelona
Languages: Catalan (native), Spanish (native), English (C2), French (B2), German (C1), Italian (B2)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born in a town in Aragón (Spain), but I lived only five kilometres away from Catalonia where most people speak Catalan, so I was immersed in two languages from the very beginning. At home with my family it was Catalan, with Spanish being the main language used at school. Until I reached eighteen years old, my academic life was taught in Spanish before changing to Catalan when I attended university in Catalonia. Consequently, I have always used Spanish and Catalan equally.
My passion for English started when I was just six years old. My Mum enrolled my Brother at an English Academy and from the moment I heard the native English teacher I fell in love with the language. From the age of eight I attended lessons there until I was eighteen. I also learned English at school. I was simply fascinated by its sounds and intonation.
At secondary school I was given the chance to learn a second foreign language, French, and I didn’t take the opportunity for granted. I studied French for several years until I reached B2 level at the Official Language School, also known as EOI in Spain.
When I finished my degree in teaching English I travelled to England and met lots of foreign people. That was amazing! I could hear so many languages and I wanted to learn them all! When I returned to Spain I began with German. I had made so many German friends that I wanted to learn their language too. I found it difficult at the beginning, but I worked hard to be good at German. I finally reached level C1 and I felt very proud of such an achievement. I used to travel to Germany several times each year and practise speaking with my friends, who always encouraged me. It was always worthwhile having a taste of German culture on my travels and I found German to be a very intelligent language.
After the huge effort of learning a Germanic language, I decided to move to an easier language and that’s why I chose Italian. From day one it was very rewarding. I remember understanding ninety-five percent of what my Italian teacher was saying! I soon started to speak and I could see myself progressing very quickly. Not at all like my experience learning German, which took me almost a year from ‘taking the plunge’ to speaking confidently. I have to say that I had never studied Latin in my life and it was hard to deal with cases and understand them properly.
I learned all these languages at the EOI before being able to practise them abroad. There’s another language, Polish, that I’m able to speak a little. It’s my next target language. I have visited my friends in Poland more than 10 times and I always learn words or phrases that I still use when the opportunity arises. As soon as I reach B2/C1 level in Italian, I plan to devote more of my time to learning Polish.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Catalan, Spanish, English and Italian are languages I practise daily. However, I would like to have more chance to speak French. Currently I only listen to French, but daily when possible. I’m afraid German is the forgotten one. Since I began learning Italian I can’t help choosing it every time I can. I hope that in the future I can go back to the German language and enjoy that mental juggling!
3. What are some languages you’d liketo learn in the future?
As mentioned, I would really like to learn Polish and be able to visit Poland and talk with my friends, their families and their kids. I would also like to learn Japanese. I was in Japan some years ago and I love the country. I have to admit that I can only speak a few words and phrases, but I would love to deepen my understanding of the language. It is a fascinating culture and there are some really interesting words, only spoken in Japanese, that convey the ways of the Japanese people and their thoughtful contemplation of life. Some of my favourite Japanese words are ‘komorebi’, ‘shoganai’ and ‘kintsukuroi’ or ‘aware’.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I have to admit that although Italian and French are really beautiful languages and they could easily be top of most people’s list, I would choose British English as the sexiest language.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Being a travel fan and having the travel bug as I do, the fact I’m able to speak so many languages helps me understand more people’s minds and this is extremely fascinating. You can see different visions of life, ways of thinking, understand cultures better and never feel alone. Just the opposite, you can feel at home everywhere! Being able to communicate to people you encounter along the way is simply a wonderful gift. Being able to speak someone’s language is like being able to access their deepest soul.
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 do not really think so. It is true that some languages are dying as their last speakers pass away, but we cannot forget there are currently over seven thousand languages spoken in the world, so I do not think the number will reduce so quickly over such a short period of time.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Do not hesitate to cultivate your mind and soul and broaden the way you see life. Every language has got something to teach you, as every person has too. As Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”.