Interview with

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 (low-intermediate, not fluent).

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, 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 in touch 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 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 form over 18 years now and during this time, I’ve had  the honour of teaching English, German and Portuguese formally and 7  more non-formally (basic and low intermediate private courses, etc.). I  now teach at a university part-time.

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, being really successful in just 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 many countries (60 or so),  amongst them many highly inspiring fellow polyglots, a few face to face,  such as fellow Pereirans Giovanni Ceballos and Santiago Diossa, and  many others online, such as American Ellen Jovin and Michael Morris,  Spanish Javier Carco, as well as the great late Jewish-British Alan R.  King.

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) 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 15 of my  languages so far. Fluency is a different issue, but I currently speak in  6 or 7 of my languages on a regular basis. Live, of course.I’ve also  administered several FB groups for several languages, most notably the  “Euskara/Basque Learning Network”, which is worldwide, and my YouTube  Channel “Jose Miguel Polyglot” is still active, even if I haven’t  uploaded a new video in a couple years. I’m a busy family guy now, I  must clarify.

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

I  wish I could practice my Irish, Japanese and Turkish more, 3 very  challenging languages, but fascinating ones beyond belief. I love them.

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 and  Hindi.

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

LOL. Tough question. All Romance languages are very sexy. German, Georgian and Hebrew are 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 I don’t think we’ll 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.

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.

and using a new language today.

The International Association of Hyperpolyglots - HYPIA. (c) 2020

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