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Interview with

Julia Haremska

Name: Julia Haremska
Nationality or Ethnicity: Polish
Where do you live?: My hometown is Łódź (Poland), but I have been moving around the world since I finished high school. Currently, I am planning to move to Belgrade (Serbia) for the next 6 months.
Languages: Polish, English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Arabic (Modern Standard and several dialects), Greek*, Farsi*

Member since:


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

I  have always found language study to be a particularly rewarding  endeavor. Learning English as a kid allowed me to understand the lyrics  of all my favorite rock songs. Getting to know French and Spanish as a  teenager meant that I could pursue my studies abroad, travel on my own  and read a lot of quirky novels. Later on, becoming fluent in several  other languages, be it via travel or academia (Arabic, Portuguese,  Italian, German), has eventually made it possible for me to pursue a  career in humanitarian affairs: an old childhood dream coming true.

My current work as a Cultural Mediator at Medecins Sans Frontieres [Doctors  Without Borders] requires me to use my language skills in a highly  sensitive context, where I have an opportunity to interact with (mostly)  Arabic and French speakers from different parts of the world, listen to  their (often painful and complicated) stories, and thereby facilitate  the communication between them and the health practitioner that they  come to, seeking medical help. I cannot think of a more profoundly  rewarding way to put my knowledge into practice.

I  was always tempted to explore new languages just for the fun of it and  take advantage of the opportunities available in the country where I  happened to be living, which I suppose is one of the most pleasurable  ways to learn, with relatively little effort. I do find pleasure in  sitting down at my desk with a grammar book and enjoying the moment when  my brain can suddenly understand sentences that would not have made  absolutely any sense to me a week before. It is definitely an  intellectual challenge and a bit of nerdy fun, but still, traveling  around has been the single biggest incentive to learn, as well as the  best way to practice. In fact, I have studied a number of languages that  I quickly forgot (Hebrew, Yiddish, Latin, Swedish and Russian),  precisely because I was scarcely able to use them with native speakers  at the time of learning. Considering that I love traveling, and it may  still take years for me to settle down, I think my language quest will  continue, although it might get more and more challenging to “keep” the  languages I'd already learned in my memory.

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

I  wish I had more opportunities to practice Italian and Portuguese, that I  barely get to use in my work, which naturally tends to render them a  little rusty. Likewise, I would definitely appreciate another occasion  to study and practice Greek and Farsi, which I have learned at a level  that I do not consider satisfactory just yet.

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

I  look forward to studying Serbian (as of next week) and perhaps picking  up some Hebrew, Turkish and Urdu in the course of the next years. I will  also not rest until I can become reasonably conversant in Russian.

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

Spanish  spoken with an Argentinian accent, second to none! Although, come to  think of it, both Hebrew and Arabic sound irresistibly hot, for reasons I  cannot rationally explain.

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

Navigating  everyday life in an interconnected, globalized world is simply easier,  smoother and more fun when you can comprehend most of the messages it  throws in your face. You can laugh your head off watching Egyptian  standup comedy, find your way through a bus station in Nicaragua,  bargain with a taxi driver in Iran and finally read the original version  of your favourite Greek poems. Even when confronted with languages you  don't necessarily speak, you might be able to get the gist of what is  being said and communicate with almost anyone. You can feel how your own  “verbal personality” changes as you switch from one language to another  and how much easier it feels to say certain heavy things in a language  that isn't your own. This ability basically opens your mind up to the  world in ways that are difficult to substitute.

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?

Considering  how many languages have already become history, as their speakers  disappear or choose to use a more widely-spoken language, it seems  inevitable that the numbers will continue to shrink. I don't think,  however, that it will go down to just “a few”, as hundreds of languages  are still alive and well, in no danger of extinction. In fact, who  knows, perhaps older languages will come to life again (such as Hebrew  did) and new ones will be created (as it happens everywhere where  cultures and ethnicities mix in new contexts)?

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

Do  it. It's probably easier than you think and more rewarding than you can  imagine. You may think you don't “need” any more languages than you  already know, but learning a language is a life-changing experience  every single time. At some point, you may find it hard to imagine your  life without them, as it would imply there would be friends you would  not have made, experiences you would not have lived, conversations you  would not have had. Professional, financial, practical benefits aside,  becoming a polyglot is simply a fantastic intellectual adventure that  will make you appreciate and enjoy the diversity of human experience.

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