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Interview with

Jonatan Haile

Name: Jonatan Haile
Nationality or Ethnicity: Swedish
Where do you live?: Stockholm
Languages: Swedish, (native), English, Spanish, Hungarian (fluent), Russian, Tigrinya (intermediate), Egyptian Arabic (basic).

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

I was born in Umeå, Sweden in 1986. My parents came to Sweden from Eritrea during the 70’s. When I was a child I was a bit introverted and shy (which is opposite to how I am as an adult), and I was often compared to my older sister. She was better at speaking tigrinya (the language of my parents) and I was better in math.

In 6th grade it was compulsory to choose a third language in the Swedish school system (apart from Swedish and English), and I chose Spanish. I had a really charismatic and good Spanish teacher, Lars. Spanish became my favorite subject in school, and I could learn many new words very easily. I then understood that I have a talent for learning languages. I used to sing and play the guitar and often performed at school, singing songs in Swedish and English (I wrote my own songs in Swedish), and later on I started to sing in Spanish. I improved my Spanish through learning songs by heart, and I fell in love with the songs of Silvio Rodriguez (a Cuban singer songwriter from the 70s). I then felt a stronger connection to the language and culture.

I went to an international high school (IB - International Baccalaureate), where all subjects were taught in English. After high school I went to study Spanish in Granada, Spain at the University for one semester. In the evenings I used to go to a bar where local singer-songwriters performed, and I also performed there. I have wanted to be a medical doctor since my childhood (our family knew a pediatrician, who I saw as a role model for becoming a doctor). I went abroad to study medical school in Pécs, Hungary (the english programme). There were a lot of students from all over the world, and it was a great environment to practise languages. I was one of the (few) foreign students who actually learnt Hungarian fluently, and in the evenings I used to take extra language classes in Hungarian. I had a Hungarian girlfriend, and it certainly improved my Hungarian.

After finishing my medical studies I returned to Sweden and started to work as a medical doctor in 2014. I worked some years as a GP, and then changed specialization to internal medicine, working in the hospital. Still, my love for languages has never stopped, and I started to learn Russian in 2017. I listened to the songs of Vladimir Vyssotsky, and it made me curious about the language. I have a teacher online who lives in Ukraine. In 2018 I was in Ukraine for 2 weeks to study Russian at a language school in Kiev. I improved my Russian significantly by meeting Russian native speakers in language-cafés (Russian-Swedish), who became my friends. 

In 2020 I started to learn Arabic, since I think it is a very useful language. In Sweden, Arabic became the second most widely spoken language in Sweden in recent years, due to the high number of Arabic speaking immigrants. I chose Egyptian Arabic, since all Arabic speakers understand that dialect. I have a teacher online who lives in Cairo. I went to Egypt for 10 days to practise my Arabic this year in February, and it was a wonderful experience. Last month I started learning some Finnish.


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

I want to spend more time practising Egyptian arabic. We used to have a language café (egyptian- swedish) here in Stockholm. It was paused for a while, but we will start with it again. I also started learning a bit finnish, and recently

joined a finnish-swedish language group.


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

I would like to improve my Arabic and Russian and be able to communicate in Finnish. 


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

Cuban spanish! I love the relaxed vibe of how it sounds, and it makes me think of the good memories I had in Cuba.


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

The reaction of people when they hear me speaking to them in their native language! It might open up to a real deep connection with people I might not have connected with otherwise. It is also a great way when it comes to attraction

and dating. I have got positive reactions from girls when I speak to them in their native language. It is also a nice way to keep my mind busy with languages and not with unimportant stuff hehe.


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 is true. Languages are closely linked to culture, and since I don't think that cultures will disappear in 100 years, neither will the languages disappear. From a political standpoint it might even be opposite, that due to wars or nationalism, some “endangered” languages might be more promoted.


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

Go for it! Find like minded people! Knowing multiple languages will make your life so much more colourful and interesting. It will take you to places (physically and mentally) you would never have found or discovered otherwise.