Name: Daniil Kim
Ethnicity: Korean, Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian
Where do you live? Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan / Madrid, Spain
Languages: Russian (Native), English (Bilingual), French (C2), Spanish (C1), Italian (C1), German (C1), Kyrgyz (conversational)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
In short, it’s a mix of limited choices, childish caprices, pragmatic considerations, and simple curiosity.
I was born into a Russian-speaking family and was mainly surrounded by Russian speakers for the first 14 years of my life. While my environment facilitated learning Kyrgyz, my English skills, despite school classes, were about as graceful as Arnold Schwarzenegger attempting ballet. However, 9 years of studying in English at an international school in Bishkek and then at university helped me fix that.
I started learning Spanish because of a whim to go to Venezuela, which was obviously too expensive to happen, but this story inspired me to learn their language instead.
A few years later, I wanted to officially study Spanish during the IB but the school didn’t want to hire a Spanish teacher just for me, so I had to choose French which I didn’t really like at the time. But I have definitely developed a linguistically romantic relationship with this language over time.
I didn’t stop learning Spanish, however, and it eventually brought me to Madrid, where I studied in English but was surrounded by Spanish cultural flavors and warm care of my host family.
Two years ago, I started learning German because I was considering going to Switzerland for work, and then I got trapped in its fascinating particularities.
Last year, after having many conversations with Italians in English, I thought that there was too much English where there could be Italian, so I decided to finally embrace this language as well.
A few months ago, some friends encouraged me to delve into the miracles of the vast and rich Arabic culture, so I slowly began learning Arabic.
And last month… no, I didn’t start yet another language last month, but I made a decision to stop there for a few years. Otherwise, I am afraid that all the languages will start persistently crawling out of my brain like kittens from a box, and my perfectionistic self will have trouble frantically bringing them back all the time and finding enough linguistic food for them to grow into dignified fluffy creatures.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them. I am an idealistic perfectionist, so I won’t sleep well at night until I know I am striving for perfection in everything I like, which is obviously never going to happen as long as the day doesn’t last 1024 hours :)
Since there will always be huge room for improvement in every language I speak or learn, I would ideally devote more attention to each of them.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would love to give you a huge list, but considering that my professional goals are not directly related to speaking as many languages as possible, my main objective is rather to enhance my proficiency in the ones I already speak. Additionally, I will do my best to return to Kyrgyz at some point in life to bring it back to a solid B2, become fluent in Arabic which I started learning just a few months ago, and possibly reach at least a conversational level in Korean, since I am a quarter Korean after all!
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
The language that your loved one speaks... And in general, I believe that it depends on the voice, the intonation, the accent, and the way of speaking. So it’s the speaker who can make even a harsh language sound charming and seductive, and a melodious, euphonic one – rough and unattractive. However, some languages are more likely to be considered ‘sexy’ than others, and most people I know (definitely not a representative sample of the population, however) would vote for Italian, French, Russian, and the British English Modern RP accent. This is one of the reasons why I am trying to master them all :)
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I associate the ability to confidently and precisely express one’s thoughts in a varied and convincing way with the ability to fly. The richer my fluency becomes, the freer I feel while soaring in the realm of linguistic and philosophical treasures; and the more languages I speak, the more points of view of every landscape I can enjoy. While I'm not there yet, I've already experienced how ecstatic it can feel, as languages have significantly helped me broaden my horizons and engage in enriching conversations with natives that I would have otherwise missed out on."
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?
My first question would be, who are these people who make such claims? If they are linguists and know what they are talking about, then maybe this possibility does exist. However, the context of every language is so different that it is hard to generalize and say that the ‘strongest’ languages will defeat all ‘weaker’ ones. It’s true that rare, minority languages are like endangered animals or delicate flowers that require special protection, it is hard to believe that most of them will disappear. Technology introduces means to preserve languages because language transmission to future generations does not solely rely on oral traditions anymore.
I also feel like the globalized and competitive nature of the world introduces time constraints and enforces stricter prioritization, so people focus on more professionally ‘useful’ languages. This is completely understandable but it reinforces the need to take additional action to prevent this invaluable heritage with its unique gems of wisdom from fading into oblivion.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Languages are like people. They also have their own complexities, peculiar nuances, and fascinating features that allow them to stand out in their own way. We have a dear affection for certain people because there is something about them that triggers a positive emotional reaction in us. Similarly, every language we love attracts us with particular aspects that we often have to discover through experience. That is why I think that ‘studying or learning languages’ sounds quite impersonal because we rather ‘develop a relationship’ with them. It is true that constructing both personal and linguistic relationships usually requires hard work and adaptability, but forcing them might be counterproductive. Some relationships might remain brief and bright, others – permanent and profound, but in any case, language learning should come naturally and intuitively ‘feel right’. Treat languages with human care and an open mind, and you might encounter some true ‘friends’ for life!