Hyperpolyglot & HYPIA Scholar
Name: Alejandro Fabián Alonso
Nationality or Ethnicity: Argentinian
Where do you live?: Luján (Buenos Aires Province), Argentina
Languages: Spanish (native), English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian and Catalan.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Curiosity turned into passion. When I was about eleven years old there wasn’t any Internet, but you could tune in to short wave radio broadcasting. Living in an area free of high buildings in the Province of Buenos Aires it was very easy to listen to stations from all over the world, particularly from Brazil and the United States. I was intrigued by those foreign words I could not understand. And that led me to get instruction in languages. The first one was English, and then that passion grew inside of me, and it still drives me to get more and more from cultures and languages all over the world.
I've always liked learning languages and about cultures different from mine. Geography and history were also other of my interests. That fascination with the way geography influences in culture according to the region where it evolves, led me to study a career in Tourism. While studying to become a Tour Guide three languages were included in the syllabus; English, French, and German. This last one was not actually part of the syllabus, but I volunteered to take lessons in German, too.
When I graduated I got a job as a tour guide first in Buenos Aires. There I met a lot of people from all over the world and I could talk to them in English (when they were not Spanish speakers, of course)
I took them on sightseeing tours, dinner, and night shows. They were eager to learn about Argentina, tango, and Maradona, and I was interested in the exchange of information on their own countries. I remember once having dinner with a Prince from Bali and his wife. It was really exciting. At that moment I didn’t know much about that country, and the conversation with those two people was of great importance for the three of us.
After that I spent a season working for a travel agency in Brazil. Obviously I got interested in Portuguese, and I could learn some of it while living there. I worked in the area of Santa Catarina, where Florianópolis and Camboriú are situated. Their beaches used to attract great quantities of tourists coming from Argentina. Although I mainly worked with my country fellow men, while on the streets I always tried to interact in Brazilian Portuguese with the locals.
When I finished my job in Brazil and returned to my country I started studying Japanese because at that time I was much interested in Oriental cultures and I wanted to earn a scholarship to go visit Japan and learn the language there. I came across the opportunity of another scholarship. It was a Rotary Study Exchange Group in the Philippines, so I seized the chance and got to visit that wonderful country. I could also visit some of Japan, because it was on the route of my flight with a stopover in Tokyo. In the Philippines one of my aims was to learn one of their languages; Tagalog. I have to be honest, I could not learn much of Tagalog, everybody talked to me in English. Anyway, I brought back some material and I'm still trying to learn it. I was about twenty-five years old back then, now I'm turning fifty-six.
Before traveling to the Philippines I had started to study to become a teacher, so I got a job as a proctor at a local high school. But then again, I was offered a job as a tour guide in Calafate, in Argentinean Patagonia. There are glaciers over there, and people from distant countries come here to visit Los Glaciares National Park. This time I was able to use English, French, German and Italian (which I had learnt from relatives.) When the season was over I returned to my hometown and back to work at school.
I finally became a teacher and had two jobs; one teaching and another one as a salesperson for a local travel agency. During this period of time I took a course in the USA to perfect my teaching and English skills, and when I came back to Argentina I continued with my two jobs.
By 1999 I was offered a job abroad, this time in the Dominican Republic. A fantastic place in the Caribbean, it was visited by thousands of tourists weekly. There I worked for a company, which received people from my country and from Russia. So Russian became a target language for me. I learned to read and useful expressions. I'm still studying that language, too. While working in the Caribbean I was again able to talk in the different languages I had learned before, and it was really exciting how easy I could communicate with people from all over.
Once again in my country I started to teach myself some other languages and I also became the principal of the school where I started working as a proctor. I also became the principal of a college where tourism was taught. In 2016 my wife and I made a tour in Europe. We visited Italy, France, England, and Belgium. It was wonderful to use my knowledge of languages over there.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I’m currently studying and revising other languages, Indo-Europeans (Catalan, Frisian, Danish, Icelandic, Dutch, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Polish and Czech); and some from other family languages, such as Hebrew, Turkish, Azerbaijani, Japanese, Basque, and Tagalog. My studies also include two dead languages; Gothic and Latin.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would like to get a respectable level in the languages I’m practising right now, they are a lot already!
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I'm in love with English, but I think Italian is one of the sexiest languages I've ever heard.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Independence. You can get to know the culture of the people who speaks the language and you don’t need a translator if you can think and express yourself correctly in that tongue. Locals appreciate it when you try to speak their own language.
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 don’t think that’s true. I think languages evolve and transform into something quite different, they become more regional and sometimes two languages get integrated and give birth to new ones. Perhaps languages we know now will not exist in 100 years, and new ones will take their place.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Go ahead. Make all the mistakes you can. Learn from those mistakes and practise all the time. At the end you’ll get richer in knowledge, friends and culture.
Fabián Alonso is also a HYPIA Scholar. Below is an excerpt of his Scholar interview.
1. HYPIA Research revolves around three main, interrelated activities: a monthly study group (to discuss relevant articles/chapters and videos), an annual conference (to present your own ideas about them) and the publication of selected proceedings from that conference. Ideally, we would be interested in accepting applicants that are able and willing to participate in all 3. On a scale from 1 (most likely) to 10 (less likely), how likely are you commit to this endeavor?
2. What are your main areas of research interest? Please, rank the following from 1 (most interesting to you) to 5 (less interesting).
(5) Language ideologies
(4) Formal linguistics
(3)Minoritized languages and/or language revitalization
(1) Other, please specify: Evolution Theory applied to languages
3. Which linguistic concepts / areas / discourses would you like to explore as part of HYPIA Research?
Origin of Language, its development and different Language Families around the world.
4. What is unique about your language-related research?
I'd like to arrive to the conclusion that our all language families actually evolved from one single language.
5. Please, let us know your related academic credentials, if and as applicable.
I'm a language enthusiast and have no academic credentials related to linguistics, although I worked as an English teacher for roughly thirty years.