Interview with

Eunmyung Lee

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.

The International Association of Hyperpolyglots - HYPIA. (c) 2020

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