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Interview with

Nathasjja Elyarmuren

Name: Nathasjja Elyarmuren Takanashi
Nationality or Ethnicity: Indonesian
Where do you live?: Grenaa, Denmark
Languages: Indonesian (native), Javanese, English, Italian and Danish (fluent), Mandarin Chinese (intermediate), French (basic).

1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?

I started with English. I was raised in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, during my childhood (2000-2015), the education system in my hometown was deplorable, and for the most part didn’t accommodate my language learning. We didn’t have any exposure to foreign languages, that is until I turned 13-14, when my father introduced me to the internet, and cable TV. I discovered a whole new world that’s unfamiliar to me. My parents only spoke Indonesian to me, and didn’t speak any other languages. I found solace in being able to speak to myself, write, and document my life in a way that was only accessible to me. This catalysed my parents’ interest in learning English as well, and as time progresses, I lost what I would describe as a screen partition between me and those around me.

I came into contact with an expanded network where more people understood and spoke English, I felt I had to create another space where I could be in complete solitude. I started learning French in 2017, whilst still working continuously on my English. But quickly abandoned it in favour of Italian when I met my first long distance boyfriend, who was half American, and half Italian. He spoke a bit of Italian, and I thought it would be a sweet gesture if I learned Italian. What I already knew then in French gave me a decent head start, I learned Italian alongside Latin, and eventually came to an epiphany that I’ve always had a particular love of patterns. I joined various forums and online language exchange platforms, made friends who spoke Italian, French, and English.

I was introduced to worlds upon worlds, made to feel irrelevant in my own existence – a tragically beautiful, humbling feeling that kept me on a pursuit to no end, of learning and discovery. By the end of 2017, I had received a CSC scholarship to study in Beijing, everything was paid for, and my courses would be conducted in English. I didn’t feel the need to learn Mandarin, as I had no interest in it to begin with. However, outside of university, I was forced to plunge into the Chinese society where most people refused, couldn’t, or would rather not speak English. I was pretty insistent on not wanting to learn Chinese, but eventually succumbed to it as I was continuously exposed to the language, and I started taking Mandarin classes.

In March 2019, I was introduced to Danish. I found the language to be the most alien thing I’d ever heard, which made it even more fascinating. So, I began teaching myself Danish intensively, and in June 2019 I visited Denmark for the first time, for a two-week vacation where I tried to use what I’d learnt the past few months. The challenge kept me interested, and as I returned to my routines, I continued teaching myself to the point where I felt like I was stuck – this is the point where I decided to finally move to Denmark in June 2021, to find the feeling of being in between disconnected and connected again.


2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?

I wish I could spend more time practising French. I had invested so much time and energy into studying it in my earlier years, but for some time I felt out of touch with it. I lost interest for a while, mostly because I found it difficult to maintain while I was living in Beijing.


3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

If we’re talking about realistic goals that I would actually achieve, I would say Portuguese. After reaching a certain level of fluency in Danish, I would like to start learning Portuguese, and eventually move to Brazil to immerse myself in the experience. But if I could spend my entire life with all the resources I need to learn a language, it would be Sanskrit.


4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

This one is difficult... I used to think French was, then I learned it, and it didn’t seem so sexy anymore. The same thing happened with Italian, and Danish. But throughout my whole language learning journey, if there’s a language, I consistently find sexy, it would be Polish. I think Oscar Wilde described it best, “I hear hissing, rustling, and hushing, and my eyes start to bleed”. It’s menacingly seductive!


5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

It’s funny how I started my language learning journey out of the desire to feed my solitude and need for discretion, yet now the reason I keep going is my fascination in how it shapes one’s reality of realities – how they think, and see the world. It gives me the ability to peek into another person’s world, to connect, even.


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?

I would hope not. I try to surround myself with people who share a similar interest in preserving, appreciating, and discovering the potential of languages – so when I say no to this question, my judgment may be skewed. But I do believe it’s equally possible for the world to develop in either one of two ways – that we would find a way to integrate our means of communication, which will lead to the extinction of most endangered languages. Or, we would relive the experience of Babel – as the world of conlang, neography, semantic experiments, etc... expands, so will everything else that relate to it. Speaking of the Babel reference, I’m not religious, by the way.


7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

1). Language learning, much like the process of learning anything, happens through a very similar process of neurons creating a new pathway. No one is born with a talent for languages, and the idea of someone being given a gift, a talent, discounts the consistency and persistence that comes with learning. 2). No pace is better than the other, there’s no faster, or slower. Often the best part of learning is the faculty of being in the process itself. 3). Life is terrifyingly grand in itself, and in continuation to this there’s a Czech proverb I found when I first began my language learning journey that truly resonated with me, “Those who know many languages live as many lives as the languages they know”.