Name: Richard Levine
Nationality or Ethnicity: French
Where do you live?: Paris
Languages: French, English, Korean, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, German, Japanese, Italian, Cantonese.
Learning Hungarian, Polish, Tamil, Indonesian, Tibetan, Hindi, Armenian.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
It all started with Korean, back then I wanted to try something new, something different, a language that had no common feature with European ones, one with a different alphabet, etymology, history, culture, everything.
I went to a bookstore and leafed through many language-learning books, they looked scary, especially Chinese & Thai; and when I opened the Korean one, it was so different from what I expected, with all its geometrical forms: squares? Circles? How does that work?
I got started and before I knew it, within two weeks I was addicted to Korean, I was spending at least seven hours a day on it (even though I had four hours of university in the morning and a job in the afternoon); within a few years later I got really good at it, and I then craved this feeling of non-stop discovery, I thought how about Chinese? What is it like?
So I started Spanish and Chinese, and it's so beautiful, you keep learning and it never ends, you just get more and more curious, and you keep starting other languages.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Tamil, Armenian, Hungarian and Tibetan;
Tamil because I really like how it looks and how it sounds, but it feels like it will take forever to get comfortable with, it’s just so different in many aspects, and the heavy diglossia in Tamil is also a considerable issue.
Armenian and Hungarian because I'm pretty confident I could get decent at them in a short amount of time (as I have strong grammatical bases in these), but I'm unfortunately not focusing on them as much as I should.
Tibetan because the alphabet and its pronunciation rules are a challenge already, by far the most challenging alphabet I've ever encountered so far!
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Kazakh, Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Shanghainese, Teochew, Turkish, Dutch, Portuguese, Mongolian;
I would also like to learn how to decipher the old Korean 향찰 and 이두 systems (I need however a much deeper understanding of old Chinese and its characters, and the evolution of their use in medieval and pre-medieval Korean to even get started though).
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I think it is impossible to give an objective reply to that one, a language's attraction is strongly influenced by our environment and criterias for beauty; most French people would reply Italian but in the Middle East most would reply Persian or Urdu.
It also depends on how much our ears have been exposed to a language: Chinese didn't sound appealing to me at all before I learned it, it was even quite unpleasant to my ears.
But now it's one of my favorite languages to listen to, I find it beautiful, you only start realizing how beautiful it is after getting used to it.
It also mainly depends on the person who is going to say a sentence in the desired language, and with which intonation.
With the right voice and intonation, any language becomes the sexiest.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
There are so many of them, the greatest pleasure in learning is in all the small details, the way some words are used in a peculiar way indifferent languages, it broadens your view on words and meanings, which in turn leads to bigger questions on life;
I love how in Korean they casually use 마음에 들다 to say they like something, when it literally means "it enters my heart", I find it so poetic.
The greatest pleasure in speaking them is when you randomly meet people from all over the world in everyday life or when you travel and start talking to them in their language,
the connection is so much deeper, the conversation so much more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
Another great pleasure is the language community itself, it is like a big family, the bonds you create at the events are so strong, you get to make friends all over the world, and when you meet each other in a different country it's just fantastic!
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 wouldn't be that dramatic, it won't be down to a "few languages", I really hope not, but the fact that the languages are dying at an alarming rate is a reality.
We also should be aware it's not just a "language" issue, every time a language is lost we are losing parts of our human culture, history and heritage,
we lose our access to the customs, traditions and knowledge related to it.
Language is the strongest medium of culture, and most of the time when a language dies, the culture related to that language mostly dies with it.
Languages arecurrently dying at a rate of about one every two weeks, which is a real lot!
The hope lies in the locals' effort of language revival, there are some people out there who are fighting for their language not to go extinct, they deserve more recognition, and the issue should be something more known and talked about.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Go and do it! Don't be settled back by your environment if they are not being supportive, or worse: if they are discouraging you.
When I was learning Korean, most of my friends and even family were telling me that I was wasting my time, that I would never master the language, and that even if I actually did, it wouldn't ever be of any use anyway.
Well, learning Korean was the main turning point in my life, and living in Korea a few years later was another major turning point in my life.
It was the main trigger for everything.
As for the learning itself, don't try to rush it, don't try to find shortcuts because languages are very reciprocative, they give you just as much as you invest in them,
also don't do it as a means to an end, just learn something you will enjoy, something you will truly like, something you are curious about, no matter whether it is a popular one or not.
Never doubt your ability to learn, you can do it! Also, never give up, no matter how hard or frustrating it gets at times; in the end it's always worth it :)