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Interview with

Jorge Fernandez Gates

Name: Jorge Fernández Gates
Nationality or Ethnicity: Peruvian
Where do you live?: Lima, Peru
Languages: Spanish (native), English, French, Arabic, Italian, Galician, Portuguese, German, Catalan, Romanian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian, Polish, Quechua, Russian, and Swedish.

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

At the age of two, I was a child with a particular interest in memorizing the flags and capital cities of each country in the world. This uncommon passion was so intriguing that a local TV show invited me to their programme to test me live that same year. At the age of five, my parents enrolled me in a British Kindergarten and, a year later, in a British school in Lima where all subjects were taught in English. So, English became my second tongue since very young.

At the age of twelve, I had my first mandatory French lesson in my early secondary education year. However, I was not particularly interested in this language at that time. Two years later, my parents enrolled me in different private language schools, hoping I improve my French skills. The effect was, in fact, the contrary. I remembered I did not feel comfortable studying with large groups and following boring grammar textbooks. All of this negatively affected my motivation and, thus, my learning process.   This same language school offered me a fifty per cent discount if I wanted to start another language course. So, I began to learn Italian.

Curiously, my passion for languages did not begin until the age of fifteen, when my parents punished me for my low school grades. During those days of extreme boredness without contacting friends or enjoying my winter holidays as an average teenager, I had no option to surf the Internet looking for something interesting to do. Oddly, I ended up in a free introductory Romanian course. The resemblance with Italian astonished me. So I decided to keep learning by myself. I ordered books and started my language journey. One day I came across the Romanian Ambassador in an event where he was impressed by my level and encouraged me to continue.

Hence, I started to learn several languages by myself and others with a private teacher's support. At first, I wanted to master six Romance Languages and then some Germanic. When I was eighteen, I was able to converse in twelve languages decently. Then I tried to learn the six UN official languages. Russian led me to Polish, and Chinese led me to Japanese. Quechua is a native language spoken in Peru. Although it is not my mother tongue, I felt this would help me to understand my country's complexities and diversity better as a Peruvian.

Each language has particular anecdotes, which I tried to summarize in a video I recently published on YouTube. In sum, the languages I learned with a teacher's support or followed a formal course were English, French, Italian, German, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Polish and Quechua. The rest, Romanian, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician, Dutch, Norwegian and Danish, learned them by myself.

Besides Spanish, my native language, currently, I hold official B2 level language certificates in French, Italian, Portuguese, and German and a C1 and C2 level certificate in Mandarin Chinese and English, respectively. Swedish and Finnish have been my working languages for the last eight years. I also hold a Japanese A1 level certificate that I took ten years ago, but I have improved considerably ever since.

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

Every language requires consistency and dedication. I do not have a particular set of languages I would like to practice more. I developed a routine several years ago, which helps me practice all those twenty languages throughout the year. My rule is to practice three daily.

Nevertheless, at the moment, I am prioritizing Russian, Japanese, Finnish and Arabic for professional reasons.

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

I remember my parents used to tell me that I should first speak well a language before starting with another. I must admit I was hesitant about this rule. I guess this depends on each learner. My experience has proven to me that learning simultaneously related languages helps me acquire them faster.

I have been learning Russian for the last ten years. In May 2020, I began with Polish, and it was fascinating how easy it was for me. I guess this will happen something very similar if I ever explore a bit Czech, Ukrainian. Slavic languages are still on my bucket list.

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

I know most people would say French. However, I find some dialects of Spanish, even sexier, like Colombian, Argentinian or Spanish.

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

I believe it is a mixture of several things. Firstly, it has allowed me to connect with people more profoundly. We tend to assume wrongly everyone should speak English, and if they do, they feel comfortable using it. My experience has shown me that this is not always true. Not even in countries where English is widely spoken as a second language, like in the Nordics.

Secondly, I find it very self-rewarding when I see myself expressing myself in such different sounds and expressions and discussing relatively complex topics like Politics, History with relative fluency.

Finally, I enjoy most of my ability to switch from language to language very quickly and use this as a secret skill for specific situations. This has helped me in countless contexts during my trips worldwide, including, for example, from closing a deal with Chinese investors to saving my life in Russia.

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?

Although humanity has undergone several transculturation processes since our existence, I believe, for example, the Internet's expansion in the early 90s had a crucial role in accelerating this process worldwide. This new communication method gave the English language a stronger and quicker power of influence in many languages. Another example is that nowadays, access to specific information is mostly limited to certain languages.

There are many other reasons to argue that some languages will prevail over others due to geopolitical, economic and social causes in the long-term. In fact, this phenomenon has been already occurring during the last centuries, and some experts would say it is inevitable. However, I believe this process could be slowed down or even deterred if Governments, in collaboration with others, implement concrete, long-term measures to preserve the languages spoken in their territories.

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

My messages would be the following:

If you are already interested, then you are one step ahead. Motivation is the most critical step before starting to learn any language. Try to identify all the reasons why are you interested in this or those languages. Where do you plan to use it? How this new knowledge acquired would positively influence your personal and professional life now and in the coming years? Would this differentiate you from the rest? How?

Learning a language is not just a matter of memorizing rules and vocabulary. You need to understand the environment and culture where the language is spoken. Learn facts about the country's history, writers, poets, politics, music. You would surprise how much you may see reflected the people's culture in their language.

Also, learning a language is not just about repeating the sounds you listen to. You ought to imitate them. Not only the words but the body language too. You should know that 71% of human communication is through body language. For example, a Peruvian and a Finn will have a completely different body language expression even when saying the same sentence in the same context. Furthermore, there is sometimes no exact translation for words or phrases despite what your Google Translator or your dictionary says.

If you ever get frustrated because your teacher is boring or you simply find this language too difficult to learn, consider assessing other learning alternatives. Grammar can be taught in a fun way, as well. Remember, not everyone acquires a second-language the same way. If you feel stuck, then you are probably following the wrong one. In my case, it took me more than five years to realize that. So, it is not an easy task.

Don't be shy of speaking loudly and making mistakes. Ask people to correct you, and you will notice you will gradually lose your fear and, at the same time, gain more confidence. Foreigners usually appreciate the effort of the new learners. Don't be embarrassed if you feel your pronunciation is not accurate. If you are already an adult, and if the language you learn is different from your mother tongue, it will almost be impossible to sound like a native. Just try to be as clear as you could be. As long as people can understand you, the communication will flow.

Mastering languages takes time. But gradual progress will give many rewards along the pathway and will keep you motivated to go further. Good luck!