Guillaume le Polain de Waroux
Name: Guillaume le Polain de Waroux
Nationality or Ethnicity: Belgian
Where do you live?: Sterrebeek, next to Brussels
Languages: French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German; Esperanto, Catalan, Norwegian
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I had quite a difficult start. After years of polynot (not being good with language), I noticed that I could actually learn English on my own, using movies, songs, books, the internet, …. After this positive experience, I gave Dutch an umpteenth try (after 15 years of contact with the language) and noticed that the same method for English also worked for Dutch. And I began to be hooked at using other grammars, vocab, sounds, prosodies, to communicate. That’s why, ever since, I’ve been practising language on a daily basis. I have dabbled into about 20 languages, can communicate at varying degrees in 8, and can understand a ninth: Catalan.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Spanish. It’s one of my favourite languages, and still, I’m not practising it much, because I have to use more English and Dutch for my job.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
The list is endless, but my main priorities (in order of priority) will be Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Polish, Latin, Greek (modern and ancient), Romanian and Korean.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Depends on everybody. To me, there is an ex-aequo between English and Spanish. Then comes Portuguese, Italian, then Dutch, and German at the end. I can’t say about French. It’s always hard to say if our native language is sexy/difficult/easy/…
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Noticing that I can pronounce the sounds, feeling how the grammar affects my brain, and simply get on speaking. Of course, connecting with other people is great, and there is nothing better than seeing a native be happy you speak their language, and them telling you that you have an amazing level ^^
That is something that an online translator like Google Translate, Deepl, and others, will never be able to do. This feeling I have when I speak another language cannot be imitated (yet) by any machine.
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?
Well, languages are going extinct, and more and more people are speaking the same few dominant languages. Nevertheless, smaller languages and dialects will still be used in the family sphere. There are as many variants of Italian as there are cities and villages in that country. They are not likely to disappear, I believe. But these people will have to learn another language to be able to function efficiently in today’s and tomorrow’s society.
However, estimations from scientists and linguists suggest that many languages would be extinct…
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I would mainly say to not give up. Many people give up because they don’t know how to learn a language, they studied at school (and everybody knows the school system isn’t suited to language learning. I’m a language teacher at school, so I can speak from experience). Everybody can learn a language. Our brain is wired for that. We all have learnt a native language. Even deaf and mute people learnt to communicate with sign language, and this language can be learn to a native level.
Once you understand how your brain works and what your method is to learn a language, you can go very far in that journey. That’s what I did. 10 years ago I only spoke French. Now I can have a conversation in about 8 languages. I should mention it took me 15 years to learn to speak Dutch, while having been to a Dutch speaking school between age 3 and 7, and living in a Dutch city. Today, I teach it in high school. If I managed to learn it, everybody can.