Name: Navraaj Sandhu
Nationality or Ethnicity: Punjabi-Canadian
Where do you live?: Montreal, Canada
Languages: English, Punjabi, French, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, Gujarati, Albanian, German, Persian, Kalderash Romani
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I have always been fascinated by languages - probably starting from the times as a child that I learned French words from Sesame Street. Punjabi is my mother tongue. English became my first language. I learned French in school because I live in Canada. My Hindi came mostly from Bollywood. I learned Spanish to travel to Costa Rica, Cuba, and Spain. I lived with Albanian roommates for two years in Toronto. I already knew lots of Persian words because Punjabi is full of them. English helped me learn German, Spanish helped me learn Portuguese, and Hindi helped me learn Gujarati. And finally, all of these helped me to pick up Romani: the thousand-year old removed cousin tongue of ours that wandered over half the Earth, absorbed flecks and shades of other languages into its colourful, history-soaked mosaic.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Arabic, I am still quite a beginner in this language and would love to develop it to at least intermediate fluency.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Mandarin (I already know the basics), Russian (or at least some Slavic language), Bengali, Plains Cree, Hebrew, Swahili, Amharic, Korean.
These are dreams, but in reality, my brain is getting full.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
This is constantly changing. At the moment, Arabic.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
It’s a fascinating exercise of the brain to craft your thoughts into sentences in a new language in which your lack of fluency presents a new challenge. I also love phonetics and the way it feels to produce the different sound inventories of different languages. And finally, it’s fun to communicate with people from different backgrounds.
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?
Hard to say. On the one hand, people are making conscious efforts to preserve their native languages, and on the other hand, the forces of globalization and the associated linguistic homogenization are strong. I sincerely hope that we will preserve the richness of our species’ linguistic variety.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Try to incorporate language practice as much into your usual life so that your non-language learning-related activities overlap with your language practice.
And have fun.