Name: Élise R. Hendrick
Nationality or Ethnicity: US
Where do you live?: Maineville, OH
German, Spanish, English
Working languages (i.e sufficient fluency to be able, at least, to read, understand, and translate legal, medical, technical, and commercial documents as well as literary texts to/from them):
Russian, Japanese, French, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, Korean, Yiddish, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Romanian, Afrikaans
Finnish, Farsi, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Hungarian, Mongolian, Turkish, Chinese (Putonghua), Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, Indonesian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Welsh, Icelandic
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I grew up with three languages (German, Spanish, English) because, whilst we spoke English at home, Spanish and German were the lingua franca amongst my friends at school.
I started teaching myself languages because of a 1966 Random House Unabridged English Dictionary that I had in my room when I was in primary school. On the last page, it had a table entitled Alphabets of the World. Of the five (!) alphabets it included, the Russian alphabet fascinated me when I was about five years old, and I decided that I wanted to learn everything about the language. Since I didn’t know any Russian speakers, I largely had to rely on books and cassettes that I was able to find at the library and elsewhere in order to get my start in the language. I found it so interesting that I ended up making a habit of it.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Finnish, Farsi, and Welsh would be the main ones. I get very little opportunity to talk with people in them, and it’s limiting my ability to really learn them properly.
It would also be nice to have more people to talk to in Korean, both because I just enjoy speaking the language and because the variant I learnt is northern (문화어) and I’d like to improve my southern colloquialisms, get more exposure to southern regional variants (particularly southwestern and Jejudo, which I have a hell of a time understanding because they take totally different endings to the variants spoken in Kangwondo and beyond).
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
All of them. 😊 The main ones that come to mind, though, would be Mapuzugun, isiZulu, Swahili, Vietnamese, and Irish
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Oh, that’s a hard one. Italian and Spanish would certainly have to be on the short list. Also, Scots.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Another hard one, so I’ll give two: One is the fact that there are so many places I can go where I can just comfortably talk to people as if I’ve just always been there. Another is the fact that, once in a while, you can tell that you’ve really made someone’s day by speaking their language, particularly people who are far from home and in environments where non-native speakers of the local language aren’t exactly received with open arms. People have told me that speaking their language with me relieves their homesickness, and I love that.
Also, it’s kind of fun watching people do a double-take when I’ve worked out their (not often studied by foreigners) language and just segue over into it.
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?
There’s definitely a lot of pressure on indigenous and minority languages, and I see quite a few of them being exterminated if something isn’t done about that, but I think it would take much longer than 100 years to get down to only a few languages. I expect that we’ll still have several thousand left. Indeed, for all we know, there might be new ones being born as climate change drives migration.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Don’t fall for the idea that there’s any one method by which you have to learn languages (or that there’s some special-sauce method that will guarantee you total fluency in a short time). The right method for learning languages is the one that works for you, and that’s something you learn along the way. As you study, pay attention to the things that really resonate with you and are really helpful, and try to centre your language learning around them, whilst minimising your use of methods and materials that you find difficult to work with. Everyone learns these things a little differently. It’s an empirical process. Your best shot at learning languages, or anything else, is to ignore how people tell you you should learn, and be very aware of what helps youlearn.