Name: Dhananjay Talwar
Nationality or Ethnicity: British Indian (born and bred in North London but my parents are Punjabi and came over to London from India)
Where do you live?: London, United Kingdom
Languages: English (Native); Italian (C2+); French, Spanish, Portuguese (C2); German, Russian (C1); Hindi, Romanian (B2/C1); Mandarin Chinese, Esperanto (B1); Polish, Slovak, Catalan (A2/B1); Hungarian, Greek, Punjabi (A2); Finnish, Dutch, Ukrainian (A1); Pandunia, Turkish, Thai, Neapolitan etc (A0)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Well, I grew up being around a few languages at home – as a toddler, I first learned Hindi from my parents before then learning English so I could get by at nursery, while I’ve almost always been exposed to Punjabi through my relatives.
I then started studying French in primary school from around 9 years old (as is very common in the UK) and I even did 5 foreign languages for my GCSE exams as a 16 year old – French, Italian, German, Latin and Ancient Greek. But all of this was before my love for languages even really started!
It was just after this that my passion truly began. When I was 17 and thinking of applying to the University of Cambridge to study French and Italian, my dad suggested that I should learn some Spanish and Mandarin Chinese to show the professors at the interview just how interested I was in my subject. It struck me as a good idea, though at the time it didn’t overly excite me.
I did very intensive courses in both languages for 2 weeks (reaching B1 in Spanish and A2 in Mandarin) and I absolutely loved the experience!! From that point on, I decided to learn as many languages as possible!
Some years after finishing my degree in French and Italian at Cambridge, which included an amazing Year Abroad in Rome, I found the polyglot community and started to get more and more entrenched in it, through chatting to friends online and attending events such as the Polyglot Gathering (which I have now attended several times) and the Polyglot Conference online.
Meeting people and making many good friends who share this passion, which outside of the polyglot community would largely be considered very strange, has spurred me on and motivated me to keep learning different languages and gaining access to different cultures as much as I can.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them! I honestly never find enough time to practise all the languages I would like to. In particular, I would like to practise the ones which are at beginner level, or the ones just approaching basic fluency, further, including Hungarian, Greek, Ukrainian, Thai, Finnish and others.
I would also like to explore more different languages that I have barely delved into yet, such as Japanese, Korean, Georgian, Basque, Swahili, Indonesian etc. while improving my reading/writing ability in certain languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, to which I haven’t been able to devote the necessary time.
I also found the language Pandunia on the internet, which appeals to me more as a conlang than Esperanto, as it takes words from the main non-European world languages too, and I’d like to spend more time learning that.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Oooh this is a good question! I would say that I am unusual, even in terms of polyglots, in that I am generally willing to learn almost any language. As a result, I have a hard time narrowing it down and choosing languages to focus on.
While Arabic and Japanese are two of the most widely spoken languages I haven’t learnt as yet and learning more Slavic/Germanic languages would inevitably be the easiest thing, I actually came up with a plan to identify the 10 biggest language families and learn 1 language from each of these, so I can learn and experience a very wide variety of different language patterns and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything that could be really fascinating!
This extremely ambitious plan has not really got going as yet, but if I do find any time to learn these languages that I’ve already identified, then they should keep me occupied for the next few decades or so.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Hahaha to me, the sexiest languages are the ‘softer sounding’ ones, particularly Spanish/Greek/Catalan! Although almost every language has its own charm.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Another good question – this really varies from language learner to language learner, but the main things that motivate me to learn and speak different languages are:
- Getting to interact with people from different places in the world and connect with them in a much more personal and profound way
-Getting to know the cultures, social nuances, backgrounds and history of many different places around the world in a way that I simply wouldn’t be able to otherwise
-Accessing literature from different cultures and in different languages; reading a novel or watching a film in the original language is normally much better than a translation!
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?
Seriously though, as globalisation continues and people mix more and more, I believe people will become more interested in learning foreign languages, rather than less so. I also believe that people will continue to preserve their backgrounds and cultures by trying to maintain the languages that form their identity.
It would be very sad to have just a few languages left in the world, but I don’t believe it’s a realistic possibility, certainly not in the next 100 years.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
First of all, well done! Learning languages can open many doors, but I believe there are many myths about languages and language learning that can actually be frustrating – from the ideas surrounding native languages and native speakers to theories about the golden age for language learning to common beliefs about ideal language learning methods.
To me, the key is, and always will be, passion and motivation! And that’s why being part of a community of people who share that passion can be so rewarding!