Name: Petra Spetko
Nationality or Ethnicity: German
Where do you live?: Germany
Languages: German, Slovak, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Catalan, Chinese
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born and raised in Germany, but my parents are from Slovakia, so I grew up bilingually. My love story with languages started early: My parents told me that I already spoke in full sentences in both languages at the age of 9 months. When I was 4 years old, I asked our French neighbour to teach me her language. And ever since I have been like a sponge with languages, wishing to absorb them. In school I took all language classes offered, even voluntary ones and, after my A-levels, I studied to become a translator and interpreter for French and English. Spanish and Italian I learned as an autodidact and my latest adventure is Russian, which I started to learn 5 months ago. The thing I love most about languages is that it gives you the opportunity to connect with people in a way you wouldn’t be able to without speaking their native language - learning things about different countries and cultures in the process.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of my languages to be honest, as I can never get enough of practising languages. And I feel different depending on the language I speak, like a switch of personality, mood, sound of voice, gestures, etc. I am currently mainly focussing on speaking Russian, because I want to become fluent in it, in order to be able to have conversations about any topic and express my thoughts on a deeper level, like in the other languages I speak.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I am considering several languages: Catalan, Japanese, Bulgarian, Romanian, Turkish, and Swedish - some of them from entirely different language families than the ones I have learned so far, so a different kind of challenge, and I do like challenges a lot.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
French is considered the “langue d’amour” - the language of love - so it would certainly qualify as the sexiest language from that aspect and does without a doubt sound sexy and romantic, but in my opinion, all of the languages I speak have something sexy about them: German poesy is really beautiful, a British accent is very elegant, Spanish has a very explosive sound to it, Italian is like singing a song, Russian sounds cool and impressive at the same time and Slovak is the language of my heart, so they are all sexy to me, each in their own way.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I love being in a multicultural environment and being able to address each person in their own language, connecting with them in a very personal way. It makes me feel like I am on vacation, as if I was travelling to their country.
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 sincerely hope that that is not true. I have read many articles about it, but, on the other hand, also about tendencies in many countries to revive languages almost forgotten, so that I am hopeful that people will see how beautiful it is to cultivate the language(s) spoken in their country and not follow the tendency of all just reverting to one language. English has become a universal language and for business purposes that is also very practical and useful, but one should not think of other languages as less important or valuable for that matter. Languages change and develop over time and that also makes them interesting, but not all trends are good in my opinion, e.g. the abundant use of anglicisms, even though many words exist as well in the respective language. So I hope very much that the trend for the future will be rather protecting than abandoning languages, as they are part of the culture of a country.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
It is never too early or too late to start learning languages. You can learn them throughout your entire life. I think it would be great if languages would start to be taught in Kindergarten already, in a playful way, then there would be a much more natural start when beginning to “seriously” learn them in school. And I think that also applies for many adults, they just remember the method taught in school and if that approach didn’t work for them, later on they won’t even try again. But there are so many different methods to choose from and once you found the right one(s) for you, learning multiple languages is not a problem and one can enjoy the process rather than just aiming at the result.