The International Association
Name: Przemek Kocur
Nationality or Ethnicity: Polish
Where do you live?: Kraków, Poland
Languages: Polish (native), English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French (fluent), Modern Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Turkish, German, Hindi, Russian, Swahili (conversational).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I started to learn my first foreign language in the primary school, in the fifth grade. It was Russian. I think I was quite good at it. I learned it for 8 years, at that time nobody seemed to like it, including me. I regret not having taken it more serious. In the seventh grade I started German, but then next year, as my family moved to another place and I changed schools, I started to learn English.
In the secondary school, I continued Russian and English, and I took up Latin. But to be honest, although I liked to learn languages, I cannot say I loved it. Not until I began to learn Spanish. This was really something. I fell in love with Spanish and it remained my favourite for many years, until recently (replaced by Arabic).
After Spanish came Italian, French, Portuguese, Turkish, Hindi, Swahili and Arabic, and some others along the way with which I just flirted for a while.
My last love is Arabic. I learn Modern Standard Arabic, which is used in literature and media, and Egyptian dialect.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them! Languages are very requiring lovers (laugh). You have to dedicate them all of your time and efforts. If not, you risk not being able to find the right word or expression when you need it most.
More seriously, I would like to have more opportunities to practice Turkish and Arabic. Even in the Internet era, not working in an international company, not living in a multinational city, the biggest problem is to find people ready to practice with you on a regular basis.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Generally, I feel attracted to Middle Eastern languages. The highest place on my language bucket list occupies Persian. I would also like to learn Hebrew and Urdu (I can say I already know it a bit because of Hindi). Next is Levantine dialect of Arabic, most probably Syrian.
I would like to have more time to return to Hindi which I put aside some time ago and I am forgetting it.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I have never looked at languages this way, but if so... definitely Arabic. For me it’s the most beautiful language, especially MSA, which has these strange sounds some dialect don’t. Speak to me in Arabic and you bought me...
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Being able to communicate with people. Sure, English is a lingua franca you can use almost everywhere, but honestly speaking it’s not enough. There are many places where you can’t communicate in English because people haven’t had opportunities to learn it, or they just didn’t want to.
I will always cherish the moments I was able to talk with people in Hindi in a small village in India or just chatting in Spanish on the beach of the Mediterranean. Thanks to my passion for languages I met many interesting people from all over the world, from India to Brazil, from Saudi Arabia to Portugal.
One of the biggest satisfaction for me is being able to read a book in original or to sing along with my favourite Egyptian artists.
From time to time I have an opportunity to use some of my languages at work. English – very often, sometimes: French, Spanish or Italian. This is very satisfying.
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?
They say that one language dies every 14 days. For now, it looks that this process will continue. On the other hand, in the history we observed many trends which seemed to be stable and un-reversible, and then everything changed. Let’s hope that some of the languages we consider endangered today will survive. Because when a language disappears a part of humanity, of culture disappears with it.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Some people learn a language for pleasure – which is my case, some – only for practical reasons. My advice is: don’t be afraid to flirt with a language you are not sure you will ever need. Just go for it if it appeals to your heart. Learn it as long as it gives you pleasure. You may end up with a lifetime love. If it doesn’t “click”, it’s not the end of the world. Just stop where you are, think about the pleasant moments it gave you and look around for something else.
Another advice: don’t get frustrated if you don’t reach fluency in a planned timeframe. Take it easy and enjoy walking the path. Remember that walking is often way more interesting and rewarding than reaching the destination.