Jose Miguel Ramirez-Giraldo
Name: José Miguel Ramírez Giraldo
Nationality or Ethnicity: Colombian/Paisa (Central Western Colombian)
Where do you live?: Pereira, Colombia
Languages: Spanish (Native); Basque, English, Portuguese, German (advanced and fluent), French, Italian, Catalan (high-intermediate, semi-fluent); Irish, Esperanto, Swedish, Japanese (intermediate, conversational); Latin, Norwegian, Hebrew, Turkish, Dutch, Haitian Creole, Hungarian (low-intermediate); Hindi, Georgian (basic command).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born in 1980 and brought up a monolingual in a lower-class family between Pereira and Medellín in Western Colombia. I grew up with a passion for all things foreign, especially music and TV series, which lead me to teach myself English from the age of 10 through Anglo pop and rock song lyrics in bilingual version from newspapers and magazines. In parallel, growing up my favourite subject was always social studies.
I came in touch with English literature at 16 thanks to two American friends in Pereira, my hometown, and at 17 met Roberto, an amazing neighbour, who was not only a great teacher but also a polyglot who let me borrow books for improving my English and learning German. He didn’t teach me, but would help me practice these two languages and give lots of tips on how to learn other languages and inspired me to pursue my multilingual dreams and become a teacher of foreign languages.
In the late 90s and on Roberto’s suggestion, I became a DXer (short-wave radio freak) and that’s how I would make my foreign friends and practice my languages back then by listening and exchanging letters in English, German, Portuguese and Japanese. This hobby of mine got me acquainted with many languages and no doubt inspired me to learn as many as I could in the years to come.
It was then I bumped into Galician, Catalan and Basque as well, through a Spanish radio station. I was fascinated by Basque’s lack of intelligibility and after some research I found out I did have some Basque family roots. I became crazy about all things Basque (which I still am) and started learning the language partly online and partly from printed books mailed to me by some Basques institutions I wrote to.
I became fluent by chatting in Basque on kaixotxat.com and by exchanging letters for a couple years with a Basque girl.
As the internet started to become mainstream in the early 2000s it was just natural to use this new resource to learn new languages at the same time as I completed my training to become a teacher of foreign languages.
I’ve been a teacher for over two decades and during this time, I’ve had the honour of teaching English, German and Portuguese formally and some 7 more non-formally. I’ve taught foreign languages at the university level for over a decade now.
During these years, I’ve been faithful to my self-learning creed and have learned (or at least gotten started in) an average of a language per year, but being really successful in just about half of them, I must confess.
Thanks to my job as a teacher and my former one as a tour guide, I’ve also had the chance to meet lots of people from over 60 countries, amongst them many highly inspiring fellow polyglots and linguists that I’ve befriended, such as fellow Pereirans Giovanni Ceballos and Santiago Diossa, as well as American Ellen Jovin and Michael Morris, Spanish Javier García Correa (Javier Garco), Georgian-French Christophe Tellart-Onashvili, and the great late Jewish-British Alan R. King, among many others.
My language learning story went public in 2014 when I made my first YouTube videos, which in turn lead me to fulfilling my life-long dream of visiting the Basque country and getting my Basque certified (C1) there in 2015.
I haven’t stopped reading, because it is a great way to keep my languages alive and growing, and I’ve read hundreds of books in around 17 of my languages so far. Fluency is a different issue, but I currently speak 7 or 8 of my languages fluently and on a regular basis. I’ve also administered several FB groups for several languages, most notably the “Euskara/Basque Learning Network” (not active right now), and I’m very active on that social media because, you know, almost all of my friends from around the world are there, and of course my YouTube Channel “Jose Miguel Polyglot”, even if I don’t upload but about one video per year. I wish my obligations left me more time to do more with my beloved languages and keep them all up…
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish I could practice my Japanese, Turkish, Hungarian and Hindi more, challenging languages, but fascinating ones beyond belief. I love them. I also wish I could actually speak Irish more often, even if I read it and write it every day.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I’d like to restart with Georgian, Japanese and Welsh, as well as learning a few indigenous American and African languages together with Greek.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
LOL. Tough question. All Romance languages are very sexy. I find throaty languages like German, Georgian and Hebrew also very sexy, believe it or not.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
As someone said, learning a new language is gaining a new soul. It’s like living several lives in a single one. This is because learning a new language is like being born again and again, but always remembering your past incarnations. Isn’t that just amazing?
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?
It’s one of my worst fears, though fortunately we won’t live to see it happen. This will become the most boring world ever, the product of a true diversity holocaust, and don’t forget it is diversity that make us really human. Globalization kills more and more languages every year, so I think everybody should learn more and more languages to reverse the effect.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Believe in that dream of yours with all of your heart and all of your soul, but be serious. Languages are not learned overnight and a language in itself without further knowledge won’t take you too far. Learn about their history, their culture, their politics, learn about the worries, aspirations and needs of their speakers as well, and when you do, you’ll make amazing friends that will literally take you to whole new levels, and I don’t mean only language levels. Languages are both art and science, isn’t that fascinating?