The International Association
Name: Szymon Kasperek
Nationality or Ethnicity: Polish (Silesian)
Where do you live?: in Poland
Languages: Polish, Silesian (native), English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Bulgarian, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish
Conversant: Dutch, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian, Hungarian, Macedonian, Old Church Slavonic
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
It started actually with three completely different languages: German, Czech and Italian. German was the first foreign language. And it wasn’t my choice. My parents and all my family comes from Upper Silesia and because my parents were born before the Second World War and because they attended German schools they were both fluent in this language. And if they wanted to keep something in secret, for example a gift for me, they were communicating in German. I was so curious that I bought (thanks to my pocket money) a German conversation guide and a book for children “Ich lerne Deutsch” and I started learning in secret. My aim was to butt into the conversation and surprise my parents. But because I was an impatient child and because the German pronunciation was a bit difficult for me, I couldn’t keep my secret and asked (in German) my mother how to read some words. She was surprised and started helping and supporting me.
Although learning Italian started also with an Italian conversation guide, it had completely dissimilar beginning. I was, frankly speaking, in love with the sound of Italian. I heard it for the first time on TV and I was looking for any occasion to listen to it. I started writing Italian words and expressions I could understand, of course, not following orthography rules. I was a child, though.
The Czech language was the most mysterious for me. A real hard nut to crack: as a 6 or 7-years old boy, I was wondering how it is possible, that someone is speaking in a foreign language and I can still understand the majority of the text. An existential conundrum, for a young child, indeed. It also started with the radio and tv. Thanks to the fact, that Katowice is not so far from the Czech (that time from the Czechoslovak) borders, we could watch Czech TV without problems.
During my summer holidays, on the attic in my aunt’s house, I discovered four books: a Swedish and Spanish text book with grammar and conversation guides. I started learning both languages and it was a great attraction during rainy days.
I was so interested in languages that I started buying different textbooks and phrasebooks. My first step were always phrasebooks. I had there not only all the numbers, months, days of the week, but also a short grammar and sentence patterns. Thanks to it I was able to speak in a short period of time (to a limited extent, of course). Using this method I started learning Norwegian, Danish, Portuguese, French and Hungarian.
When I was twelve, we had guests from Russia. They came for two weeks and although I couldn’t even read in Russian, after two weeks I was communicating with them in their mother tongue and, as always, I started learning Russian seriously. It helped me later, during my language studies.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Well, to be honest, every language. When you don’t practise a language, you forget it soon. (But also you refresh it very fast when you come back to this language).
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I’d like to speak Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Armenian, Kyrgyz and Khmer. I have to find time for these languages as well as for improvement of the languages I speak or I have just started to learn. It takes a lot of time.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
If there is something like a sexy language, so it should be Italian. Definitely.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
There are many. I can read books in their original versions. I can communicate with native people during my journeys. In a foreign country you have more possibilities if you know the language. And the most important thing, maybe: you feel, you have no limits (in communication, of course).
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’m afraid, it’s true. But I also think that new languages will appear. There will be new pidgins, new dialects, new forms of the widely spoken languages. And I hope there will be more speakers of not so widely spoken languages like for example Celtic languages.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Learn new languages, not only English. It’s an excellent exercise for your brain, for your memory. Don’t hesitate even if you are not a teenager. There is no limit if you want to start learning something new. Learn also rare languages – it will help to keep them alive.