The International Association
Maria Luisa de la Puerta
Name: Maria Luisa de la Puerta Fernandez
Nationality or Ethnicity: Spanish
Where do you live?: I live in Aberytsywth, Wales
Languages: Spanish (mother tongue), English, Italian and German (C1), French (B2), Portuguese and Turkish (B1), Oshiwambo (A2), Welsh, Russian and Hungarian (A1).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I became interested in languages during my first solo summer abroad. My parents insisted on sending me for an intensive English course in Ireland when before joining the University. Till then, my only exposure to languages was the basic English and French we got in the Spanish School system. My English was terrible, I used to roll the “R” and aspirate the “H” so much that people could not even understand me. Nobody would have ever thought I actually had a talent for languages. But everything changed after that summer in Ireland.
It was then when I fell in love with Italian. There were many Italian students at the school, and I used to marvel at how they spoke. I would just sit and listen and write down words. I had an Italian notebook where I used to write words I liked and conjugate verbs. After a month, I could speak Italian. There was also a Belgian guy, who used to hang out with us, and I tried my luck with my rusty French knowledge. As you can imagine my English did not improve much that summer.
I came back from that trip, and I wanted to join all the language courses that my university offered. Everybody was worried about my academic performance. So, that year I joined French and English. For my surprise my French grammar skills were very good, I joined the B1 level and the examiner could not believe I had never lived in France. However, my communication skills were not good, so I convinced my parents to send me to a French summer school in Nice.
That summer I learned Turkish. Turkish was mind-blowing for me. The sole fact that Turkish was a language was already intriguing, I thought they spoke Arabic! It was my first contact with a non-Indo-European language, an agglutinative one for that matter. It was really hard. There were not so many online lessons or materials, so it was basically me, a grammar book and some Tarkan songs. Unfortunately, Turkish soap operas were not so popular then!
After Turkish came German, and after that Hungarian. And by that time, I had also completed some Danish, Arabic and Romanian A1 courses, and my best summer experience: Transylvania, no doubt.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All! I am so busy running my companies and doing my PhD… I would say Welsh because I am living in Wales and it would help me connect with the people, Russian because it is the key of a door to a hidden world. Russia is bigger than North America and we know so little about it, and finally, Turkish, because it is my favourite language, and it is the next language I’d like to have the C1.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would say like I said many years ago: I do not want to learn any new languages; I’d rather improve the ones that I know; but somehow, I always end up having a reason to learn a new language. So, let’s see what the future brings…Shona is a must though, due to family reasons. I would like to be able to speak Shona by the time I have kids.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Turkish, I think Turkish sounds super sexy, especially in a woman. I like speaking in Turkish because it makes me feel sexy, exotic. I do not know if it is its r, the vowel harmony, or its musicality but it is so powerful. However, I must say, I have always had a soft spot for German speaking guys.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The ability to see things in different ways. They say every time you learn a language is like putting on a new pair of glasses - you see the world in a different way. You start noticing little things that you did not notice before. So, in my case I have like 8-10 goggles when I look at something. It helps a lot with my business, truth be told but it also makes me enjoy life more. Believe me, I appreciate coffee much more since I speak Italian.
6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in 100 years, do you think this is really true?
No way! I work among other industries, in the agriculture sector, and I can ensure that it is not happening any soon. There are so many rural areas that have no contact with major languages like English, French or Spanish. Even though I speak many languages, I have needed translators on many occasions. Besides there are many countries where they have mechanisms in place to make sure that does not happen such as in Wales, they are making a great effort to fight that, and I can only praise them.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Just go for it, it can help you in so many ways you cannot imagine. Workwise, personal wise. Just do it for fun, choose the language you like, not the one you are supposed to learn and find things you like, music, series, I even challenge you to cook a dish!