Name: Enora Lessinger
Nationality or Ethnicity: French
Where do you live?: France
Languages: French, English, Spanish, Hebrew, Portuguese, Turkish, Norwegian.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
A little bit by chance, actually. I really enjoyed languages at school, so I decided to read English at university. Then I suddenly fell in love with Arabic and started studying it on my own. I have yet to reach a decent level in this language, but it somehow opened the door to all the other ones. I seized every opportunity to travel as part of my studies, and it gave me as many occasions to start learning new languages and/or get better at the ones I already had. For instance I started learning Hebrew in Cambridge and Turkish in Madrid! I think that overall it has been a combination of attraction to specific languages, making the most of academic opportunities, and personal encounters – falling in love is the best way to learn a language! Today my research involves all the languages I am proficient in, which really is the dream.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Turkish, which is the hardest language I have ever learnt – hard for me, of course, a native French speaker: difficulty in language-learning is largely a subjective concept. It can also be difficult to find people to speak Hebrew with, which really is a shame.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
My main two projects at the moment are Arabic and Norwegian, and then I’d like to go back to Swahili. I also want to learn Urdu and Chinese at some point. Then we’ll see…
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Definitely Arabic, even though I’d say it’s perhaps beautiful rather than sexy. I am partial to languages with a lot of guttural sounds, and Arabic certainly has its fair share of them. I also think German is a very beautiful-sounding language.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I think part of it is the feeling of cracking a code. It is very exciting and intellectually stimulating to discover a new language, and possibly even more to reach a competent level in a language you were struggling with. Then there is, obviously, the fact that knowing a language gives you access to a privileged communication with the native speakers of that language. It’s often as though they feel that you have taken a step in their direction, and because they appreciate it they take a step towards you in return.
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’m not enough of a specialist to claim any insight on the question… However, my personal hunch is that a hundred years is a bit pessimistic, and that the growing strength of community feelings in many places of the world today could (hopefully) hamper such a mass extinction.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Do it! Knowing several languages is not just an (indisputable) advantage in the professional world, it is also a great source of cultural wealth. Learning a foreign language is also recognised as one of the best ways of improving memory and delaying dementia. It’s a great way to keep your brain healthy while having fun.