Name: Maher Akil
Nationality or Ethnicity: Chinese/Lebanese
Where do you live?: Hong Kong
Languages: English, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born in Hong Kong to a Chinese mother and a Lebanese father. Growing up in Hong Kong till the age of 9, I had to learn Cantonese, English, and Mandarin as part of the school curriculum. From age 9 till 18, I was living in Lebanon studying Arabic, English, and French; again, as part of the curriculum. Even though I’m not fluent in French today, my now-regrettable lacklustre-effort in French class over the years, unintentionally prepared me for Spanish and Portuguese for the near future. I moved to the US after high school to attend the University of Michigan, where I picked up Spanish classes. After 4 years, I went to Brazil to start my own China-sourcing business. I lived on the border of Brazil and Paraguay, with my work being on the Paraguay side, while I lived on the Brazilian side. 3 years in, I was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. Life would later take me to Angola, Africa where I would spend 2 more years, before finally settling down in Hong Kong. Currently working as a Regional Business Development Director utilising my languages constantly.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Spanish, French, & Hokkien
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Italian, Japanese, & Slavic
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
All languages sound alike when Siri or any AI is reading it. Language is not the sexy part, the delivery & tone mixed with the right body language is what makes it sexy.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Too many to pick just one. I would say mainly is the exposure of new cultures, and all the new experiences that come from it. Every culture have their own music, movies, jokes, values, recipes, and many more aspects for you to explore. Every language is a key to a whole new world.
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?
100 years is relatively short, that’s at max 3 generations. It will take a few more generations to really kill a language. The main thing I look at is the population of each language, the smaller the population, the easier it is for them to abandon teaching it to the next generation. As they see no use in it. If you look at the top 100 languages spoken by population count today, even at the 100th spot there are still Millions of people speaking it. So I don’t think the “a few languages” phenomenon will happen in the next 100 years.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Attach each language to something you love, or else it will be hard to stay motivated. For example, my love of Spanish started when I first heard reggaetón music. I started reading the lyrics and wanted to understand them, and a love for the language was developed and stayed strong till today. The love of that specific thing, will bring you back to the language over and over again. Whether it is a Japanese anime, Italian cuisine, or the mystic Chinese Qing dynasty that intrigues you; use it as a starting point to learn a new language, it will make it that much more fun and exciting.