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Interview with

Cesar Espinoza

Name: Cesar Augusto Espinoza Fuentes
Nationality or Ethnicity: Peruvian
Where do you live?: Lima - Peru
Languages: Spanish (native language), Portuguese, Italian, English, French, Catalan, German, Galician, Russian, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Romanian, Quechua and Modern Greek

In a lesser degree but with a good basic knowledge anyway: Arabic (modern standard Arabic and a bit of the dialects mainly the Egyptian dialect), Hebrew, Farsi, Basque, Turkish, Hindi, Urdu, Mandarin, Japanese, Yiddish, Esperanto, Polish, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Indonesian, Aymara, Welsh.

Member since:


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

Well,  my story started when I was a pre-teen, at 12 years old, that was when I  fell in love with languages but it didn’t happen suddenly, it was the  consequence of a previous story of interest in other things related to  cultures and countries. Since I was 4 I was fascinated by maps of the  countries and my father bought me an atlas with all the countries of the  world with the names of their capitals and cities, and since I was  already able to read perfectly at the time, I could memorize all the  names and capitals of the countries and I started traveling all over the  world just with my maps and drawings, that was fascinating for me,  then, I developed many other passions in my childhood years, like a  passion for zoology, palaeontology, anatomy, watching dramas and soap  operas and world history, and that’s when my passion for languages  started up, because I wanted to imagine how the ancient peoples spoke in  their original languages, and my passion for soap operas and films also  made me become very fond of dramas and I wanted to become an actor or  something like that, so I imagined that if I could learn the original  languages I could understand and feel more vividly the films and shows  that I used to watch on TV and cinema, by the way at elementary school I  was very proficient in Spanish grammar and spelling and I won several  times the award for the best spelling in my classroom, I could grasp the  Spanish grammar quite well and easily and when I was taught English at  school at 5th grade elementary school,I was able to assimilate English  very easily, I discovered I enjoyed playing with words and grammar, it  was not an ordeal to me as it was for most of my classmates, so I can  say that at 12 years old when I was at 1 grade high school I was a  proficient speaker of my native language (Spanish) and I was number 1 in  my classroom in English, then at that time back in 1981 many Brazilian  soap operas began being aired on the Peruvian TV and every time I saw  the cast of actors and heard some songs of the soaps I was fascinated to  see those exotic letters and hear those exotic words which sounded to  me like half Spanish, but were also kind of mysterious and impossible  for me to understand, from that moment on I felt an increasingly growing  passion for languages and one of those months I found a record that my  mother had with the compositions of the Russian composer Peter  Tchaikovsky whom my mom admired a lot, and I discovered that the  introduction to the record was written in English, French and Russian,  to me it was as if I had found a Rosetta stone, because I could finally  try to figure out the Cyrillic letters by comparing the proper nouns  with the ones written with Latin letters in English and French, and  that’s what I did, I started deciphering each letter of the Cyrillic  script by comparing them to the English equivalents and I made a list of  more than 40 words of Russian words just like Champollion, and once I  did that I made a similar list for the French words I was able to  compile and in this case the task was much easier because I realized  that a lot of the French words were similar to Spanish or to English,  the only problem here was to know how to pronounce the French words and  back in the early years of the 80’s there was no internet or satellite  channels or any of the resources that we have nowadays to learn  languages so my learning process was at that point really a titanic but  precarious effort like someone trying to build a house in the middle of  the desert, but I never gave up, and soon after those first efforts I  asked my mom to buy me a French-Spanish dictionary that I had seen at a  book store in Lima downtown, my mother at the beginning did not support  my idea and new passion, she said I might go crazy for trying to learn  on my own such a difficult language at 12 years old but I said, mom,  come on, nothing of that will happen, I’m strong enough to overcome this  challenge, and as I got the dictionary I felt the adrenaline of having a  French dictionary in my hands, I learned a lot of French vocabulary in  the last months of 1981, just reading my dictionary, and the next year,  in the summer of 1982, I borrowed a book from an aunt of mine who had a  French grammar, I devoured the book in three weeks and at the same time I  started researching about Portuguese and Italian (I left Russian aside  for a while because I found it to be too difficult), in May my mother  bought me a Portuguese-Spanish dictionary and at the end of that year,  when I turned 14, my mom bought me an Italian grammar book and  dictionary and a magazine in Italian and in Portuguese to practice the  theory I had learned in my grammar books, little by little I was piecing  together the puzzle, then in 1983, at the age of 14 I was able to  speak, write and understand Portuguese because I started listening to  short wave Brazilian broadcasts every day when I got back from school, I  also started listening to and recording beautiful Brazilian music that I  began to love and those songs helped me a lot to catch the rhythm of  the pronunciation and the right accent, I think that my earlier passion  for soap operas helped me a lot in this because I felt now that every  time I spoke Portuguese and the other languages, French, Italian and  English, I was putting on a different dress or I was playing a different  theatre role so I discovered that I didn’t feel the same when I spoke  in Spanish as when I spoke in Portuguese with the carioca accent, and I  felt a different person too when I spoke in Italian, French and English.  When I turned 15, I was already proficient in English, Portuguese,  Italian and French but suddenly I discovered I wanted to add more  languages to my list, so I discovered that in Spain there are other  languages which are not Castilian (Catalans, Galicians and Basques)  which was a surprise to me but fascinating at the same time, “Spaniards  who don’t speak Spanish”, what??!! Unbelievable, so that’s how I  discovered in the first place Catalan, with its half-Italian,  half-French style, and I started to learn it also using the same  rudimentary process I had used in my previous learning processes with  Portuguese and Italian, so in a few days, just by compiling all the  words I could find in a dictionary I had a 50-word list of Catalan  words, it was not a lot but at least I had laid the foundations for my  later Catalan learning. Shortly after that I started learning German  after my parents bought me a German-Spanish dictionary, but at the start  the German grammar looked terrible to me, the declensions and syntax  were something completely new and unfamiliar and I didn’t have any  grammar books available at the time other than a few old-fashioned  grammar books which didn’t help me much in that, so for a while I gave  up a little bit about learning German and I felt a bit hopeless but some  years later I would overcome the challenge …so, by the time I graduated  from high school at the age of 16 I had an incipient degree of  familiarity with German but I had added to my language list two more  languages, these were two exotic ones: Latin and Quechua, the national  native language of my country because it was the official language of  ancient Peru, the language of the Inca empire, I grew up in a time of  strong indigenistic effervescence and nationalism in Peru, after the  military government and in the seventies many national TV programs had  encouraged the use of Quechua on TV slogans and even TV lessons, and  Quechua was about to be taught in the schools as a compulsory language  for all Peruvians, but even if afterwards that plan failed, Quechua had  remained in my spirit as the national language of my motherland and as a  Peruvian I felt I was obliged to learn that beautiful language, but I  discovered it was quite a big challenge, because it’s an agglutinative  language, totally different from all the other languages I had already  learned, but it is quite logical and expressive and since I had the  romantic motivation to learn it, it took me just one month to grasp the  basics of the language, once I got to do it, I started practicing it at  the marketplaces in Lima where my family used to do the shopping every  weekend, and I discovered that I could really be understood by native  Quechua speakers, that was unbelievable to me at my 16 years old!! Many  native Quechua speakers praised me on my Quechua and I had more chances  to practice it with native speakers than with other languages, because  Quechua speakers are scattered everywhere in Lima because of the  migration waves that brought Quechua speaking immigrants to Lima in the  60’s and 70’s. I also started to learn some vocabulary of Latin, but  just like in the case of German, that stuff of noun declensions was too  far for me, and my parents really didn’t have the money orthe interest  in supporting my “eccentric passions”, actually, they didn’t approve too  gladly my increasingly more and more growing passion to become a  hyperpolyglot and they and my other family members often asked me why I  was learning all those languages and for which purpose, they said all  the time it was a waste of time and energy and usually told me I might  go crazy, they didn’t really understand what I felt, until now in my  family I’m the only hyperpolyglot, nobody else in my family has ever had  any interest in becoming a hyperpolyglot, only some of them speak  English and just ne f them speaks Portuguese and one speaks Italian, and  that’s it. At this point I want to stress that all my language learning  (except for Spanish and English) has been entirely as self-taught, on  my own. Well, in 1985 I entered college, the Catholic University of  Lima, I decided to study anthropology due to my humanistic interests and  my greatest amazement came when I discovered that in the huge library  of that university, there were grammar books and dictionaries of so many  languages that I could have never imagined before: Latin, ancient  Greek, Russian, Catalan, Galician, German, Guajiro, Vietnamese, several  Quechua dialects, Aymara, Maya, Nahuatl, Japanese, etc. it was amazing!!  I became addicted to the library and I used to spend more hours at the  library reading and copying grammar books and dictionaries than  attending my career lessons, I even neglected some subjects and failed  some exams, my languages had become my drugs. In that year, 1985, I made  a huge leap in my language learning process and my language list was  hugely increased, because I started borrowing home books of Catalan,  Russian, Latin, ancient Greek, German and Japanese, and I can say that  it was at that time when I finally understood the German grammar and the  noun declension system, I had finally overcome the German challenge. As  for the pronunciation and sounds, I started using the same method I had  used with my first language, Portuguese, listening every night to  several short wave radio broadcasters from France (Radio France  internationale), Germany (die deutsche Welle), Russia (Radio Moscow),  and suddenly one day I discovered a radio broadcast in a language that  sounded similar to German but was not exactly the same, it was Dutch,  and I fell in love with the sounds of that language at once, so at the  age of 17 I spoke Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, Italian,  Catalan, Galician, Quechua and some Russian, some Latin and some  Japanese. The following years (from 86 to 90) my spectrum of languages  grew more and more and my motivation was not only the pleasure of  playing with different sounds and grammars but also my love for History  and anthropology and foreign cultures as well as the prospect of  traveling later on all over the world and working maybe in the tourism  sector which was growing more and more in Peru in the 90’s after the  terrorist movements were defeated and there was more safety in my  country, a country that has alot to offer to the world: an extremely  rich cuisine, awesome landscapes and sceneries, an amazing millenary  history, warm people, etc. in those years too I decided to take  different tests and exams to get the certificates from official language  teaching institutes to back my knowledge of each language I had  learned, and I took the evaluation exams for French, Italian, German,  Russian and Portuguese and in all of them I was sent to the last cycle,  they said I had learned those languages so well that I didn’t really  need to study all the cycles, just the last one was enough. After  getting all those language proficiency certificates, I changed my career  (in 1990 I decided to quit studying anthropology to study a more  practical profitable career: translation and interpretation) I continued  with my language learning in the 90’s, brushing up the languages I was  already familiar with, learning new ones like Arabic, Hebrew, Modern  Greek, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Aymara (the second major indigenous  language of the Andes), Mandarin, Esperanto and Rumanian. Learning all  those new languages now was very easy for me because I had developed  strategies for language learning and maybe my brain was more elastic and  my memory worked with not much strain. In the last years of the last  century I had some health problems that prevented me from travelling and  accomplishing my plans and dreams and in my house there were also some  sad events (death of my father and my grandma, a terrible disease of my  mother) so there was a time of speeding down my learning, but my passion  was always there, alive, and one of the things that motivated me to  carry on was my passion for History, so I combined both passions,  language and History and after finishing my career as a translator I  started studying philology, mostly romance and Germanic philology aiming  at writing a book about the origins of Indo-European languages,  etymology became my passion too and I started researching about the  origins of words in different languages of the world, that took me to  exploring new language families like Basque, Turkish, Korean,  Indonesian, Farsi, Hungarian, and more and more. What a delicious  cocktail: languages combined with history, anthropology and theoretical  linguistics. After the turn of the new millennium, between 2001 and 2010  tourism grew in Peru a lot and I started meeting a lot of tourists in  Lima and I could talk to all of them now in their languages and show  them my city and also I took them sometimes to Cusco and other Peruvian  regions, some of them became friends, some of them became my guests at  home, similar to AirBnB now, all kinds of experiences, even some love  affairs, due to some financial problems in the last ten years I haven’t  been able to travel all over the world, but nowadays internet and  YouTube are blessed resources for us who love languages and mainly  Wikipedia which is a marvellous invention of the XXI century, since we  can learn everything in those articles and at the same time practice our  multiple languages and deepen more and more our knowledge and  proficiency. In the last decade I can say I’ve increased my language  list by adding some new languages that I have much interest to learn  even if I don’t have a very high degree of grasp yet, like Turkish,  Welsh, Irish, Hindi, Farsi, Indonesian, Baltic languages, Polish,  Occitan, Icelandic, Italian dialects and other Slavic languages,  Panjabi, Nepali, Bengali and Basque…..well, that’s in short, hahaha, my  39-year history, or maybe love affair, with languages. Currently I could  honestly say I speak very well 12 languages, 8 at medium level, and 10  just at a basic but improvable level. I’m also always interested in dead  languages and in reconstructing dead languages due to my passion for  history and philology.

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

Mhhh,  there are so many languages I feel many times I don’t practice enough,  but I could say Turkish or Farsi because I like them but I ‘ve found  very few opportunities to practice them in my city, Lima. I feel like  I’m missing a great party when I realize I don’t practice them daily in  my life, another could be Swedish or Norwegian, I haven’t had too many  occasions to practice them in my language experience but I try to  compensate this by reading often newspapers in these two languages or  reading the Wikipedia (that marvelous blessed knowledge tool) in both.

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

I  think in the future I’d like to learn Nahuatl or Maya or maybe  Hungarian or Baltic languages that I know superficially at this point  but I’d like to learn at a deeper level in the future, also some dead  languages like Ancient Egyptian, Akkadian , Aramaic or Old Persian, and  Sanskrit too.

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

I  don’t know exactly, maybe Italian because of its musical chanting  intonation but also the London Queen English, the posh British accent,  it seduces me a lot.

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

My  greatest pleasure is to feel a citizen of the world, with fewer  limitations to understand other peoples and cultures because I can get  really deeply into what many people in the world say or write and not  just rely on hearsay, I feel that I can reach to a larger audience than  most people cannot, and I feel happy to be able to be sometimes like a  bridge conveying culture and important information from one culture to  another.

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  don’t think that this will be so dramatic as people say now but  definitely many currently endangered languages will die out unless we  don’t take steps right now to avoid that, so our responsibility as  hyperpolyglots and language lovers is to care for each and every  language in the world to prevent extinction by progressive decrease of  the number of speakers.

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

I  tell them to get rid of any fear or insecurity about learning any  languages they want to learn, guys, if you really want something you can  do it, forget shyness, forget embarrassment, just go ahead and reach  what you dream of, find a motivation, then lay out a learning plan so  that the process can be more effective and coherent, try to practice in  every way possible in every situation you can with whoever you can find  and you feel confident and comfortable with, the important thing is that  if you feel that you were born to become one of our team, the  hyperpolyglot team, don’t miss the chance to fulfil your potential and  never hesitate, if you do so, you’re going on the right path.

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