Name: Eunmyung Lee
Nationality or Ethnicity: South Korean
Where do you live?: Lisbon, Portugal
Languages: Korean (native) Spanish, English, Portuguese, Japanese, Catalan (fluent) Italian (Intermediate) Galician, Turkish (Basic)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Since when I was a kid, I have been always interested in many different languages and cultures. But due to my family environment where no family member speaks any other language and to my limited capacity back then, I was not able to learn any foreign language, except the classes at school.
When I was 11-year-old, I started learning English and Japanese at school, and at the same time, I gained my interests about those cultures. So, until my high school days, I studied those two languages at school and by myself, doing Penpal, which was a big thing back then, and in private schools. During my last year of high school, I got to know one Argentinian friend by Penpal, and he mentioned that he was going to start learning Korean, which made me think that I could also start learning Spanish, so we can communicate better.
This little idea changed all my life. I had decided to enter my university with Spanish major (and later, Portuguese) instead of Japanese, and studying in a university specialized in languages multiplicated my interests in other languages, which is why I chose to take classes in French, Polish, Urdu and Esperanto (which I actually don’t speak now..) and had the opportunity to live abroad where I gained my interests in Catalan, Italian, Turkish and Galician.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish I could learn more Turkish because, in Korea, Koreans consider Turkey as a brother country, we share many things in our languages, even though they are not considered as from the same language family anymore. I have so many good friends from Turkey and I wish I could understand better, so I could understand their culture. I am very interested in learning German also, because I have so many good friends from German-speaking countries and I had failed in learning it once, but I think it would be worth to give another try.
On the other hand, I would like to know Galician better. I had lived in Santiago de Compostela for a semester and I wrote my Master’s dissertation about languages in Spain and Korea, and meanwhile, I felt so much lack of knowledge when it comes to Galician culture. I think it’s a very interesting language, since it shares its root with Portuguese and there are many linguistic variants.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I am currently trying to learn Greek, which I consider very beautiful. But since I don’t have many Greek friends and there aren’t many materials to learn it, it’s kind of complicated. But music is always a good motivation to start a new language to me. I like some bands from Greece, Lebanon, Poland and South Africa and I wish to understand them better, so, I would like to learn Greek, Arabic, Polish and Afrikaans.
4, So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
As I mentioned above, I think Greek is a very fascinating language, it sounds very similar to Spanish, but incomprehensive to me. By the same logic, I think Spanish sounds very sexy and Portuguese (especially Brazilian accent) sounds sexy. I wish I could say Korean or Japanese is sexy, also, but I think they’re more cute than sexy.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
First, as you learn languages from many different cultures, you naturally learn more about their culture, habit and some ideas of those people. I think it is one of the easiest ways to open your eyes and mind to understand each other. In my personal opinions, many conflicts in the modern society come from misunderstanding and disrespect about other cultures and backgrounds. I think learning languages could work as the first step of the approach to a better comprehension to different cultures.
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 believe so. Thanks to the globalization, the modern society has developed a lot, but due to economic or political reasons, people tend to prefer major languages that are spoken everywhere than minority languages. I think this is what’s happening in many countries, losing minority languages.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
In my personal experiences, I had so many people telling me that, if I learn multiple languages at the same time, I would end up speaking non-sense in all the languages I study. Learning multiple languages was a great challenge to me, but in the end, it helped me a lot in academic, professional and personal aspects. It’s always risky to learn multiple languages, but I think people should do whatever they feel like doing and be happy with. I would want to say that it’s not going to be always pleasant, since it’s difficult to speak different languages and there are going to be a lot of challenges and slumps, but, in the future, it will be rewarding to all the effort you put.