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Interview with

Jacob Avners

Name: Jacob Avners
Nationality or Ethnicity: Russian Jewish
Where do you live?: Israel
Languages: Hebrew, Russian, English (native) Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Swedish, Hungarian, Arabic, Romanian, Yiddish, Ladino, Bulgarian (fluent/conversational), Polish, Ukrainian, Serbian, Slovenian, (Modern) Greek, Japanese, Persian, Turkish, Welsh, Catalan, Slovak, Czech, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish (somewhat conversational).

Member since:


1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?

Well it’s complicated (aren’t we all?). On the one hand it might have been there all along, dormant and biding its time - my maternal grandmother was extremely skilled with the Russian language, working in the editors’ department of a newspaper in Moscow. Her daughter inherited her Russian language skill, and went on to major in French in the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages (known as InYaz). And then she gave birth to me. I’ve had some experience with languages when I learned Hebrew at school, Russian and French from my mother at home, and English, well.. pretty much everywhere. At the time, during my childhood, there were also popular Argentine children’s series, like Chiquititas and Rebelde. I heard the Spanish spoken there, and possibly subconsciously extrapolated words and expressions, based on the subtitles as well as similarities to French, which I was already acquiring at the time. Then I discovered anime in my early teens and absorbed some Japanese through it. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that I really started getting into learning languages “wholesale”. I was recovering from a tough breakup and didn’t know what, or want, to do pretty much anything. It was during that time that I accidentally stumbled on Duolingo, while there were also several reports about Sweden-related items on local TV (e.g the Eurovision win), so I was simply like “Duolingo Swedish - why not give it a go?” without expecting much. And the rest is history, I guess.

2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?

Chinese, Japanese, Slovenian, Greek, Lithuanian, Welsh, Irish.

3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

Definitely Chinese (Mandarin), Korean and Swahili. I’m also a huge fan of indigenous languages of Eastern Russia and the Americas (most notably Mayan languages,

Guarani/Tupi, Mapudungun, Mansi, Komi, Khakas and more).

4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

Going to be cheesy here, but possibly Italian. I’m not even sure why, to be honest.

5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

Being able to perceive the world more vividly in so many aspects. Things like books, articles and even street and road signs stop being an impenetrable mystery for you, and instead reveal all they have to share. It’s somewhat like being Neo who sees the source-code of the Matrix. The other great thing is being able to communicate with so many people around the world, making meaningful friendships and also broadening your perception of the world, humanity, society, and the meaning of all of those.

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?

Probably not. The evolution of language(s) has persisted for, quite literally, thousands of years, during which there were not only numerous contacts between various cultures and languages, but also a divergence of proto-languages into whole language families, as well as of some of these languages into other dialects, creoles and whatnot. So what’s another 100 years?

7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

Don’t fret about ‘not being talented’ or ‘not having the capacity’. Being a Hyperpolyglot is first and foremost about desire to learn. Perhaps the only other thing that’s needed is access to proper organized learning resources, but with enough of a passion and desire to learn, even that can be overcome ;-)

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