Name: Mikail Darbinyan
Nationality or Ethnicity: Armenian
Where do you live?: I live between the Caucasus, Spain and the United States
Languages: Armenian, Spanish, English, French, Italian, Russian, Turkish, Portuguese, Polish
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Languages and cultures have been a hobby of mine since childhood. I had always been exposed to different cultures, be it personally or through literature. However, I only started learning languages systematically from the age of 17. For reasons unknown to me (as I have never psychologically assessed why languages were so interesting to me) I just like speaking and hearing different languages, so I would start learning one, and whenever I had sufficient knowledge of it I would start another. Years of traveling and living in different countries surely helped me learn and progress in the different languages I have learned so far.
2. Which language do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
Armenian by far is one of the most difficult ones despite being my mother tongue. It is a language with more than 54 dialects and innumerable sub-dialects, with different verb conjugations, extremely flexible word formations, sentence structures and with a great contrast between the spoken (daily) and written (academic, official) form. Armenian in itself is a for me, the more you dig into it, the more you find how little you know it, sort of like Socrates’ “I only know that I know nothing” slogan…
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would like to finish what I had started earlier, Farsi and Arabic. Finding a grammar manual for these languages that adapts to your logic of learning is hard, plus, Arabic has so many dialects that learning one is not enough in order to understand the dialects spoken in more than 20 countries. After these two, Hungarian, Georgian and Albanian are other languages that interest me for their uniqueness, so maybe I will go on to those afterword.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
First of all, one must define the term “sexiest”. Does it mean a language that sounds more fluid due to an excel of vowels such as Italian(at the end of the majority of their words), or a language with plenty of literature and expressions stemming from the romantic period of the 19th century, i.e. French? I think every language has a romantic value of its own.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
By far the most interesting has been learning so many cultural expressions from speaking with natives of those languages.Finding out which region of the country is “the best”, which cities in a particular country “don’t get along”, jokes about particular regions or cities, who is the “hardest working” in a given country.They are not to be taken seriously of course, because many are based on stereotypes but it’s just interesting, as it shows how similar we humans are regardless of our ethnic community or geographic distance from each other. Communicating with so many people has helped me understand that people are the same everywhere, ethnicity, religion and/or social background make no difference whatsoever in determining “how a person is”, everyone everywhere has generally the same worries and wants the same thing in life.
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 a very short period for this to happen. Languages do die out due to many factors (forced assimilation, migrations, etc.), and some will die out before that. Nonetheless, almost all current languages will undergo changes of some sort, which is just part of the nature of languages: some will lose words, some will gain new loanwords (particularly technological terms), others will conjugate in a different way, others will spawn a few more dialects. So, in 100 years a lot can happen, but I don’t believe that only a few languages will be left.An interesting thing to watch though is how fast languages are modified in the globalised context. Currently, almost all cultures or ethno-linguistic communities are being slowly integrated in a trans-national culture-community, some quicker than others. This may have a boomerang effect in some communities, where the national language is given even more importance in the face of its downfall, and a foreign language is discarded. Everything can happen.
What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Many have said this, but I must say it too: every language has its own logic (sentence structure, word order, verb conjugation, etc.), submerge yourself in a given language to understand that logic if you want to master that language. Use time wisely, organise yourself to learn as much as you can beforehand. Languages are very practical tools, once you learn one you can use it for the rest of your life in any place, be it for work, travelling, academic purposes or everyday life. Take advantage of languages that are similar, i.e. from the same language branch, sometimes you can learn a few languages with little effort just by knowing a similar one.