Jelena Brankovic Magnin
Name: Jelena Branković-Magnin
Nationality or Ethnicity: Serbian
Where do you live?: Fribourg, Switzerland
Languages: Serbian, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
For the first 18 years of my life I spoke only one language, Serbian. I did have English, Russian and Latin classes in school but my real knowledge of the subjects was quite low. During the first year of my studies of Economics I joined an international organisation, where I met students from all over the world on a daily basis. That is when I tried speaking and further really learning foreign languages. I was surprised by the positive comments from natives - that I have a great accent, that I am a fast learner and that I seem to catch languages quickly. At the time I thought they were just very polite. Later on I did my master studies in Italy and France where I was once again exposed to international students from all over the world. I had colleagues who between classes spoke to me Russian, Spanish, French, Italian and English and were very supportive of my interest and will to learn languages. Furthermore, every time I travelled I tried to understand the language of the place and to communicate with locals. But it was only when I came to Geneva, where I worked in an international organisation and again had colleagues from many nations, that I finally had resources to dedicate to reaching the professional level of languages I knew. In summary, I did not follow what I thought to be a regular, school-way of learning the language and I am self taught. One day while researching online I saw many advised to not try to improve similar languages at the same time - such as French, Italian and Spanish. And ofcourse, that is exactly what I did. Today I keep spending my free time improving foreign languages and trying to find faster methods of catching another one.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Russian and Dutch. I started learning Dutch when I lived in the Netherlands but it was hard to continue practising since I moved to another country and my priorities changed. Russian is something I struggle with the most, and the reason for it is - paradoxically - its similarity to my mother tongue which makes it significantly more difficult to overcome grammatical differences.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Soon I will start German and one day I will start Greek too. However, I dream about learning Arabic and Chinese. Because, they are very different from anything I currently know. Currently I do feel fascinated by the fact that I can read and understand Ukrainian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Slovakian, Polish etc just because of the other languages I know. I find it similar to solving mathematical problems - the brain is searching words from the base of what it already knows. But I would like to explore learning things with a completely different base that will open other possibilities and ways of thinking.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Spanish and Greek are the most appealing to my ear, but this is very subjective.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Better understanding of the culture and people. There are so many things that are lost in translation. It is true that I had days when I would come back from an event full of internationals with a real headache from listening and switching to different languages. But it is undeniable that this skill opens the door into different cultures, makes it easier to meet people and make better connections, and the most important of all - it is a very funny hobby.
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 do support the idea of a more connected and globalised world, and I think we will move even more towards using certain languages as means to connect. Sadly, it appears that some old languages are indeed disappearing. But knowing the benefits of hyperlingual brain, I tend to believe that we will flight not to lose our cultural heritage, and end up with having more multilingual individuals. In more famous words - I have a dream that one day we will all be able to speak more languages.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Find your own way, don't be afraid to experiment and just “let go”. Being confused is not a pleasant feeling and we tend to avoid it. But those moments are crucial. Many great papers are available online that explain the benefits and amazing changes that happen in your brain when you learn a new language. It opens the paths you didn't know exist.