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Interview with

Julio Cesar Pereira da Silva

Name: Júlio César Pereira da Silva
Nationality or Ethnicity: Brazilian
Where do you live?: Osaka, Japan
Languages: Portuguese, English, Japanese, German, Spanish, Korean*, Mandarin*, French*
*Conversant
Learning: Italian, Dutch, Polish, Cantonese, Russian, Hebrew, Swedish, Arabic (MSA), Modern Greek, Indonesian, Irish, Shanghainese, Tamil. Languages in order of interest/progress.

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

I got interested in language by the age of 10 years old when I first had English lessons at school back in Brazil. Before having English lessons I just used to love listening to music but was very annoyed I couldn´t understand what was being sung.

I studied English as hard as I could and then when I was 12 I started learning judo and got interested in the Japanese names of the techniques such as ¨seoi-nage¨ or ¨kata-guruma¨, so I wanted to know the meaning behind the words. At age 14 I met a Japanese-Brazilian friend who loaned me some books so I could start learning Japanese. At age 16, influenced by a friend´s grandmother, I was introduced to the world of the German language and started learning with some books until I got some basic knowledge of the language.

When I turned 17 I decided I wanted to pursue the studies of Japanese at terciary level, so I enrolled at the ¨Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro¨, where I majored in Japanese and minored in German. At the same time I took some other languages such as Hebrew and Polish for short-term courses.

However, my real passion for languages started in 1993, when I was 19 years old and came to Japan for the first time, where I stayed for 2 weeks. I met people from all over the world during the ¨Outstading Students of the Japanese Language¨ from the Japan Foundation. From the moment I got to Japan I realized my Japanese was fluent, as was my English and also my German. I already had a huge interest in Mandarin and bought my first Japanese-Chinese, Chinese-Japanese dictionary as well as a Japanese-German dictionary. From this point on I realized I was bound for studying many languages.

After this opportunity I felt I wanted to come to Japan again, so I applied for a scholarship called ¨Japanese language and culture researcher¨ from the Japanese Ministry of Education, which allowed me to polish my Japanese at the University of the Ryukyus, where I not only studied high level Japanese but also had the chance to study ¨uchinaaguchi¨ or the traditional language of Okinawa, which unfortunately wasn´t spoken by the majority of the Okinawan population. I stayed in Okinawa for 1 year then went back to Brazil.

After I finished college I got my first job as an English-German-Portuguese translator and kept on pursuing my German studies after getting my bachelor´s degree in Japanese. However, I felt I had to leave Brazil to improve my knowledge of Japanese and to live abroad for a while to get an international experience.

In 1998 I was awarded a scholarship to pursue my Japanese studies at the University of Osaka, where I got a master´s degree in Japanese and sociolinguistics. This is the time where I stopped being a polyglot (at this time I was fluent in English, Japanese and German on top of speaking Portuguese as native language) to pave the way to being a hyperpolyglot, which was a definition I didn´t know then.

Right after I got to Japan on April 1998 I found out there were some language courses on NHK, a state channel in Japan. I started watching courses for 6 languages at the same time: Mandarin, Korean, French, Spanish, Russian and Italian. From these I got a conversational level in Mandarin, Korean, French and Spanish from the beginning and had the opportunity to use Mandarin during my trip to China in 1999 and Korean when I visited Korean in 1998.

In addition to the language above I also started learning Dutch based on my interest in reading ¨Anne Frank´s Diary¨ in the original because I had read it in German when I studied at the ¨Goethe Institut¨ in Rio de Janeiro. I had 2 years lessons at the University of Osaka with a lecturer from Belgium.

When I entered my master´s degree program I didn´t have much time to study language from 2000 to 2002 so I would study language from time to time.

After I got my master´s degree I kept on learning language but the process was very slow, because using books would only allow me to study at home or at libraries.

2012 was the year when my language studies changed forever: I got myself an iPad and all my materials were at my fingertips. I didn´t need to carry notebooks, textbooks, dictionaries and mp3 players no more. I didn´t need to be sitting in the train to be able to study.

More recently I started learning language I never thought I would learn someday such as Arabic, Tamil, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Irish and Indonesian. Some others felt natural such as learning Modern Greek and Hebrew, because I had studied classical Greek in college and some koiné Greek to read the new testament as well as Biblical Hebrew to read the old testament.

Right now I´m challenging myself studying several languages form different linguistic families and that use different writing systems but I am enjoying the ride.


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

Mandarin, Korean, Dutch and Italian.


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

Swahili, Finnish, Turkish, Persian, Xhosa, Tagalog, Thai, Amharic


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

As a native speaker of Portuguese I am tempted to say Italian, but I think Korean is awesome when spoken by women.


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

Not only was I able to change my reality despite coming from a poor background, I was able to study in the other side of the world and have access to information I would never get in Portuguese.


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 doubt it but will still keep on speaking many languages because they give me a different perspective and keep my brain active.


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

Stop making excuses and start learning. I am the last person in the world who would became a hyperpolyglot but I did it, so can you!