Name: Siru Laine
Nationality or Ethnicity: Finnish
Where do you live: Barcelona, Spain
Languages: Finnish, English, Icelandic, Esperanto, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Basque, German, Swedish, Latin (and lower levels in French, Sardinian, Russian, Ancient Greek, Romanian, Norwegian, Danish, Faroese and Portuguese)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
When I was a kid, my mom was studying Finno-Ugric languages in the university. I sometimes got to skip school and go to the university with her – I remember sitting in an Estonian lesson, thinking about how cool it sounds, and browsing her Komi grammar and Sámi dictionary out of curiosity.
The education system in Finland is well-known, and that’s what made it possible for me to get into languages: I started with English at the age of 9 (on the 3rd grade), like most kids in Finland do, and then I added new languages into my schedule whenever they became available (German on the 5th grade, Swedish and Latin on the 7th grade, etc.). It was not until I had graduated upper secondary school with 9 foreign languages in my diploma and had already started with two new ones that someone referred to me as a polyglot. I did not even know that term existed!
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I would love to spend more time with languages that I used to speak well but have then forgotten, like French and Russian. I have recently started learning North Sámi and Quechua – it would be great to have a native speaker of either language who I could annoy with my questions about grammar and pronunciation.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I would love to learn Hungarian, Scottish Gaelic and Hawaiian! I have done some independent studying in some languages but I don’t count them as languages I know, even when I can read in them, because I’m not conversational in them – therefore I would love to attend a course in Portuguese and Faroese in order to actually learn how to speak them. There are also languages that I would like to learn in order to understand how the grammar works, like for example Turkish, Greenlandic and Swahili… To be honest, I do not think there is a language that I would not want to learn!
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Until recently I would have said Italian, but now I’d say Spanish – especially the way they speak in Madrid.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The greatest pleasure I get is when I make an etymological connection between two words or understand where a certain word has come from. I absolutely love historical linguistics and bombarding my friends and family with random etymological trivia.
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 understand that some people are concerned, but I don’t think it will happen. Sure, we are using English and few other big languages for easier communication worldwide, but language learning has never been this accessible! There are hundreds of apps and websites for learning languages, and thanks to globalization, people become more aware of languages and cultures they would not otherwise even know of.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I always say two things – age is not a limit, and motivation is the key. And if you truly want to do something “crazy”, such as choose a challenging minority language or start learning multiple ones at the same time, there might be people who doubt you or think you’re nuts – but that tells more about those people and their abilities, not you. Go for it and do not let anyone tell you otherwise!