Name: Lenka Henao Mišíková
Nationality or Ethnicity: Slovak
Where do you live?: Portugal
Languages: Slovak (native), English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Czech (proficient), Swedish
(low intermediate), Italian, German (beginner)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I started learning English at school when I was 6. I enjoyed it a lot, but I wished we’d progress faster. I had a sister older by 5 years and I wanted to equal her in English. Then, I remember the moment when I was 9 (so she was 14), when I realised that I couldn’t wait 5 more years to equal her because by that time she’d be 5 years ahead of me again. So, I started learning on my own, I grabbed the brand new enormous Harry Potter 5 in English that we luckily had at home, I grabbed our huge English-Czech dictionary, and slowly, page by page, I started discovering on my own the secrets of the language.
My school was offering a second foreign language for 12-year-old kids. The whole class needed to vote either in favour of French or German. I wanted to learn French, but my idea was not shared by my classmates, so I ended up having German. Instead, my parents signed me up to a language school where I started learning French when I was 13. One year later, I started my high school studies at a French bilingual school in my hometown. There we progressed at wonderful pace of 20 classes of French per week.
Yet, it was not enough for me. Our school was very special, half of the kids were having bilingual studies in French, the other half in Spanish. At the end of each school year, there was a day when we all gathered and watched our classmates perform. One such performance was a theatre play in Spanish. I was so perplexed by not being able to understand it that I went to a local bookshop and bought a textbook of Spanish, which I learned all by myself during the two months of summer holiday that followed.
Later, at the university, I decided to study one semester abroad. I applied to Sweden and in my application, I stated that I didn’t speak Swedish at that time, but I’d learn it in case I were selected. I think the committee didn’t believe me :) I wasn’t selected, but I received a counteroffer to go to Portugal I accepted it – I’d previously self-learned some Portuguese and I wanted to improve it. There I met a Colombian who’d later become my husband and with whom I’d be living 6 months in Colombia; and after that, we moved again to Portugal. A few weeks ago, I started learning Swedish on my own for fun and I’m still wondering if my subconsciousness chose this language because of my application to Sweden. :)
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Oh, what a question! :) I’d like to practice them all. I can’t express how happy it makes me to use 8 different languages in a single day!
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
First, I want to continue learning Swedish and reach a point when I’ll feel comfortable using it. Next, I’d like to learn Italian, which I started learning last year but, in the end, it was overwhelmed by Swedish. Then, I think I’ll improve my German and learn some Japanese. My Slovak cousin married a Japanese girl and I also adore Asian cuisine and it’s rather difficult to shop in a nearby Asian shop without knowing the language. But who knows! Every time I meet a foreigner, I realise that I’d like to learn their native language.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
For me, Colombian Spanish with Paisa accent (from Medellin) :) It’s so melodic. The accent is not neutral at all but, for some wild reason, it’s easy to grasp. I have the luck of having a Colombian husband from Medellin. Since the time I’ve heard the accent for the first time, I love it. Also, what made be passionate about Spanish in the first place was the funny feeling that I understood the meaning of what was said without having the slightest idea of which words had been used. It always made me smile. I felt as if the words got directly imprinted into my brain without ever having touched my ears.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
When I was a kid, I was able to speak in my native language, but I refused to do so in front of strangers. Many years later, I still keep some of this shyness but speaking foreign languages helps me fight it back. It makes me so happy that it often surpasses the inner tension of speaking with people.
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?
Honestly, I don’t think so. We’ve recently found out how difficult it is to make people cooperate for a common cause. I don’t believe most of the languages would disappear in such a short timeframe. What I believe may happen, though, is that there’d be higher pressure for people to become multilingual and more people could become interested in languages, maybe even the endangered or less ‘popular’ ones.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Try it out, it can be super fun! :) Choose languages that you like and resources that you’ll enjoy. With every new language, a new door opens, new adventure, new excitement. You may find another great friend.