Coffee break with polyglots #2

Hello everyone! I am back with a new interview. Those who missed the first one can find it here: Coffee break with polyglots
My today’s guest is Robin Turtle, a polyglot how speaks 40 languages! He is an example of great work on daily basis and huge passion for languages. So let’s get to know Robin better.

Could you please tell me a couple of words about you?
I have been a language enthusiast since my childhood, ever since I was 8 years old, and have been teaching myself languages for more than 30 years now – it is my great passion that I pursue on a daily basis. I write the blog “Polyglottando”, which is about languages worldwide, especially the ‘minor’ languages that are not so popular with learners and which are not studied so often, and it is also about the culture(s) associated with these languages, as well as multiculturalism and multilingual life in general.
My educational and professional background is rather eclectic and is in entirely different fields: I have a BA and MA in Art History with Heritage Studies and Archeology as minor subjects, but I also studied some science, and I have an education in the Fine and Applied Arts. Currently, I work as a freelance illustrator, writer and artisan, and I am also developing some language learning materials.

How many languages do you speak?
I am a so-called ‘third-culture-kid’ and have grown up in various places in western Europe, but I am not from anywhere in the strict sense and there is no place I’d call ‘home’. I am rather a ‘hybrid’ and don’t really belong anywhere in particular. I am bilingual and bicultural and my native languages are both English and Dutch, but I also grew up with French and German, which are my ‘second languages’. I have studied over 40 languages to date, of which I speak about 15 at an advanced level (C level of the CEFR), another 10 or so at intermediate level (B1-B2) and the rest at basic level, but my ultimate aim is to reach a high level in all of them. Languages are mainly a ‘tool’ for me to pursue my other interests with, rather than a ‘science’, and are mainly my hobby and a ‘lifestyle’.

Your interest in languages, where does it come from?
My interest in languages comes from my ‘hybrid’ background and from growing up with and in different cultures and countries and seeing life in different places firsthand, so that I experienced and saw cultural and linguistic diversity from an early age on. This intrigued me as a child and grew into one of my greatest life-long passions.

Tell me please, what was the most difficult language to learn?
I think the most difficult language for me to learn was probably Russian since it is so very different from my native languages and the other languages I already spoke and because of its complicated grammar and all the cases. At the time when I learned it (in the 90s) there were also hardly any good learning resources available for it, it was pretty much still an ‘exotic’ language to learn for someone in the West…. Luckily things have changed since then!

Being Ukrainian it is always interesting for me to find foreigners who speak the Ukrainian language. What is your level now? Is this language difficult to learn?
My current level in Ukrainian is lower intermediate, I think, but because of my knowledge of Russian and of other Slavic languages, I can understand most things already and it is not too difficult to learn for me now.

You have a great experience in self-study. Could you give some advice for people who also learn languages by them-self? What is your secret in self-study?
I think the most important thing in self-study is to show up daily, i.e. really every single day, and learn and practice at least a bit, even if you are tired or do not feel good that day and even if it is just 5 or 10 minutes. These small, or ideally longer, regular learning sessions will add up to a considerable amount of studying in the long term. Another piece of advice is to use any ‘unused’ time for language practice and learning, like the time you spend waiting in a line or at the doctor’s, commuting, doing manual tasks and chores, etc. I use this time that would otherwise be lost for listening to language tapes for hours (when I am at home) or for learning vocabulary while on the move. My only ‘secret’ for self-study is that I show up every single day and learn, revise or practice things on a daily basis – and that year in, year out!

How not to loose the motivation?
I rarely lack motivation myself, because languages are my great passion and I simply enjoy using and learning them (usually for no particular purpose), but if I ever feel unmotivated for whatever reason, I remind myself why I want to learn a language and what I want to achieve in it, and that it simply cannot be achieved without hard daily practice. This usually suffices to get me learning or practicing again. And if you learn multiple languages at the same time (or keeping them up), it is essential that you practice, revise or reactivate them on a regular basis – it does not have to be daily when it is not your current target language but at least once a week (ideally more often).

You told me that languages are your passion, but could you tell me what exactly passionate you about foreign languages?
What intrigues me most about learning languages is the insight into different ways of viewing the world that one gets when learning a foreign language, especially if it is one that is very different from one’s native language/s and culture/s, and also to discover the historical connections that exist and developed between different languages and regions of the world. However, I learn my languages for no particular practical purpose or ‘reason’, more for their intrinsic interest value and appeal of being a way to see and understand the world. It is not really important to me if a language I learn has any ‘practical’ value in my life since I don’t ‘need’ my languages for anything.

How does the knowledge of several foreign languages help you in your life?
The knowledge of different foreign languages helps me in so far in my life that I can read and understand books and articles and media from many different sources and countries in their original language and that I can communicate with many people from all over the world in their own language/s and so get a kind of ‘insider view’ into their culture. By getting one’s information from many different original sources, one can get a bigger and clearer picture of many issues facing the world today. And speaking foreign languages also has practical use value when traveling or meeting people from other countries, of course.

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6 Comments

  1. Great interview and great advice. Only, it should’ve been longer! I’ll go check out his blog. 40 languages, that’s just amazing. Did you have the opportunity to chat in Ukranian? (I see he also writes about my native language Danish on his blog!)

    1. OK, I noted your remark 🙂 Yes, this person is really incredible with all the languages that he speaks! We discussed in English, but he wrote me a couple of words in Ukrainian. It was interesting to talk to him. I’m glad you liked this interview, thanks for your comment!

  2. Great interview! I especially identify with the feelings of being a ‘hybrid’ and not really belonging to any one place

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