The International Association
Name: Stefani Kostadinova
Nationality or Ethnicity: Bulgarian
Where do you live?: Bulgaria (currently; I’ve moved around quite a lot)
Languages: Bulgarian (mother tongue), English (native-like proficiency); Spanish, Portuguese, Italian (fluent); German, French, Greek (conversational); Russian, Swedish (beginner)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I grew up in a monolingual household (Bulgarian-speaking) and studied 2 languages at school – English and German. English was emphasized much more though, so I didn’t have as many German classes.
I’d say to a large extent my success with those languages is thanks to my efforts outside of the classroom. Even back then, although unlike now I didn’t know much about methods, I intuitively knew that it’s not about tutors and private lessons. Many around me took private lessons (in English mostly), but I just did my own thing at home. This helped me figure out my own methods.
In high school, I really wanted to learn Spanish, as I was obsessed with the culture, but there were no Spanish classes at my school. So when I was 16, I started to dabble in Spanish by myself. That opened up the whole language thing for me. From then on, I was hooked. I realized I had no need for classes in order to learn a language – that I could learn one by myself. Spanish proved this to me and it is thanks to this language that I am a polyglot today. That is how I realized I can do it by myself in an efficient and fun manner and take my learning into my own hands.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them. Unfortunately, time is never enough. Well, OK, perhaps not English, because I use it even more than my native language on a daily basis, but other than that, the answer is “all of them.”
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I have a thing for ancient history, so for sure some ancient ones – e.g. Ancient Greek, Latin, ancient languages of the Middle East (there are so many). I’d also like to learn Persian, Serbian, potentially Sanskrit… I actually have a list with dozens of potential future languages, but those are my top ones for now. We’ll see, I always go by interest and passion when it comes to language learning. Who knows what mood will strike tomorrow…
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Mix Greek and Spanish in the same sentence. I don’t think it gets any sexier than that, but then again, that’s a super subjective question.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I am not sure. I could say it’s getting an insight into different cultures, connecting with people from those cultures on a deeper level, experiencing all the neurological benefits speaking many languages brings… And all of that would be true. But it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Sure, I agree with that and some more. But at the end of the day, I felt the lack of languages in my life when I left school and the compulsory classes, and I hated it. I need to always be learning a language. It’s just who I am. I guess it’s hard to say why we enjoy the things we enjoy.
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?
To be honest, I really hope not. At the end of the day, it’s hard to make a prediction to a large extent, simply because we’ve never lived in such times as we live in nowadays – so interconnected. Since language evolution is always happening, perhaps some languages will disappear, but who knows, new ones might form. I don’t think we are headed towards a mass reduction in the number of languages spoken, but more towards change. That is not so different from what has always happened.
I am quite intrigued by the topic of the next lingua franca. I have heard many theories – it will be interesting to see if English retains the crown or not.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Your mindset is the single biggest determiner of success in my opinion. Start with getting that right. Have the confidence that you can do it. Take time to unlearn all of the myths that you have heard about language learning and start with as much of a blank slate as possible. Then do what feels fun. Language learning is a marathon. You cannot sustain it with methods you don’t like.