Hyperpolyglot & HYPIA Scholar
Name: Ruben Clos
Nationality or Ethnicity: Spanish / Japanese
Where do you live?: Japan
Languages: Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, French, English (fluent), Spanish (mother tongue, intermediate, formerly fluent), Korean (intermediate), Portuguese, Italian, Russian, German, Hebrew (basic).
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Probably all started with adventure movies, curiosity towards secret codes, exotic writing systems, country flags, and the fact that one of my parents is bilingual (despite having been raised in one language). At the beginning of high school, I bought my first conversation guidebooks and started teaching myself Japanese. Having no access to the Internet and living in a not very international environment, I had some difficulty to find resources so I just used whatever I could find. Then I went to university majoring in translation studies with a strong interest in Chinese. Then, since 2014 I have been living and travelling around different places around East Asia. Currently I am doing my PhD in linguistics while also teaching about the languages and countries of the world. In the future, I would like to travel the world, create something like a language museum, keep learning and helping others find their passion for languages.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Probably endangered Japanese languages such as the Ryukyuan languages and Ainu. I would also like to improve my speaking in Korean, Russian, German, Farsi, and Arabic.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Although I have already searched for the basics of some of these languages, I want to improve my knowledge and fluency in languages of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Also, Amharic, Xhosa and the Scandinavian languages seem interesting. Papua New Guinea could also be an amazing place in terms of language diversity.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I have not thought about any language in those terms. If asked about which language I feel relatively good while speaking it, then due to subjective phonetic preferences (e.g., the presence of nasal sounds and some fricatives such as [ʒ] and [ʐ]), I would say I find certain aesthetic value in speaking languages such as French, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian and Hebrew.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Probably the feeling of increasing my level of comprehension both while listening and reading, as well as the feeling of accomplishment when finally managing to speak without too much effort. Besides, I enjoy finding points in common among languages (who doesn’t?). I also like teaching and making other people happier by helping them find a language they may like.
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?
Depending on what is understood by “a few languages”. It is a fact that the number of languages is rapidly decreasing due to the hegemony of several languages. Still, I do not believe that all people will ever speak a single universal language, since there will always be variation from person to person. In any case, more efforts should take place to protect, preserve and promote languages.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Do not compare yourself with others. Things like age, schedule or “innate talent” should not deter you from learning. Be humble, make mistakes, relax, find your own method, and follow your pure curiosity wherever it may lead. All languages can have value. With interest and time, anyone can become a polyglot. 頑張ってください。
Ruben is also member of the HYPIA Research group.