Name: Marta Kiezik
Nationality or Ethnicity: Polish
Where do you live?: Currently in Poland.
C2-certified: English, Spanish, German, Russian
HSK6-certified (C1): Chinese
Passive: most Slavic and Romance languages
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I believe most people eventually end up gravitating towards things they’re naturally good at.
My Dad is a big fan of anglophone music, so at about 9, I found myself drawn to The Beatles lyrics and strangely compelled to pour over English grammar for hours. Back then, I had no way of knowing I would be good at languages one day, but the process had been launched.
In high school, I had a wonderful English teacher to whom I owe my first proficiency certificate, and who would not tire of mocking me for waxing poetic in my essays. Then came the decision to study Sinology, which was rooted in the realisation of my language skills. However, I technically did not become a fully-baked polyglot until the end of 2017, when I passed C2 certificates in Russian and Spanish. Attending a Polyglot Conference in Bratislava was another defining moment.
I have very different, sometimes personal reasons for each language I choose to learn, but two things have remained constant – the interest in culture and close friends are key to staying motivated and keeping a language ‘alive’ in my head.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
For pragmatic reasons, probably Chinese. Given its complexity, Chinese can be considered a language that is very 'possessive'. Reading, writing and speaking are not as interconnected as in the case of other languages, which means maintaining it requires a lifelong, hyper focused effort. Having special interests in other languages and cultures, I simply failed at keeping that dedication alive, so my Chinese is definitely worse than it used to be. I admire people who can commit fully to mastering one difficult/rare language (a feat no less impressive than speaking various languages at less advanced levels); I am probably just not wired that way.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Maintaining near-native fluency in a few languages and offering specialised translation means I haven't got much brain space left for acquisition of new languages. Finnish is an old, everlasting love of mine. Scandinavian languages like Icelandic and Swedish would be other candidates for this 'bucket list'.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I’d rather swap it for the most beautiful one, and it’s Finnish. I am inexplicably thrilled by its beautiful, open-vowel, echolalic elven sounds and the descending intonation.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
It’s the joy of being able to immerse myself in communication and enter the microcosmos of my friends’ lives: the multi-layered realities of their respective countries, the things they grew up with... Being a polyglot allows me to explore cultural, social and political contexts as well as grasp native humour in its original setting. It's fair to say that my anthropologist cravings are satisfied.
I have friends spanning various continents, languages and cultures; I feel like being able to speak their language or its variation (like country-specific Latin American Spanish) has helped nourish these relationships.
Through learning languages, I’ve learnt a lot about the world and how diverse it is, only to arrive at the conclusion that humans are practically the same in their core.
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?
While I don’t think it’s literally true, the overall tendency for most processes has always been to simplify. This probably isn’t something we could hold back in the long run, but thanks to the current tools, we can indeed do more than ever to preserve human linguistic heritage.
I can easily imagine a future where English will be even more ubiquitous than it is already; through social media and globalisation, we are witnessing this right now. At the same time, there's unprecedented ease of storing linguistic material and creating networks of linguists, speakers and aficionados of rare languages across the globe.
To me, it doesn't seem like our collective creativity would be impoverished if there would be fewer languages in a 100 years – it would probably just be rechannelled. This may sound disheartening, but the process is slow and we still get to define it and contribute to the preservation and appreciation of diversity.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
This isn’t talked about enough, but polyglottery is frequently correlated to neurodivergence. A lot of polyglots I know, myself included, have neurodivergent, or more precisely, hyperlexic/autistic traits. This often translates to prodigious language acquisition skills from a very early age. (You are very likely hyperlexic if you don’t even remember when you learnt to read, and you might have done so by yourself).
If you compare yourself to this level of skills, you might be in for disappointment. My message is: find your own way and honour your own unique cognitive process. I know someone who is a great language learner via auditory input in spite of being dyslexic. Others, like Sabrina Guerra, a nonspeaking autistic advocate, have mastered words artfully through typing. Amazingly, human communication is complex and diverse, and it goes a long way beyond words, too.
You might never be that guy from YouTube who can chat up twenty random foreigners on the street, but it doesn’t matter as long as what you’re doing is truly fulfilling to yourself, or if you’ve managed to enter someone’s heart through it. Numbers are impressive, but they can be misleading. A profound dedication to a single language is just as good.
So studying anything just to prove yourself isn't really sustainable – your ego will eventually rob you of the pure satisfaction of learning. Feed your curiosity without expecting anything and it will bring you beautiful things and a humbleness that will allow you to always keep your eyes open to new things. That's the beauty of language learning.