Interview with Natalia, or why it is possible to combine different interests with language

This week, I interviewed Natalia W. from Kraków, Poland whom I contacted through Facebook (on a Polyglot group). She is a young woman who has managed to combine languages with her interests and gives us great tips for tech savvy language learners, especially if you are interested in Indian languages.  I do like to feature people who are just like any of you to share about their experiences with languages, so please if you would like to be featured, don’t fear to contact me.

BUW sanskryt

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?

My name is Natalia, I live in Kraków, Poland. The bigger part of my daily life is made up by studies in two different faculties – Indian Philological Studies and Musical Composition. Within the remaining part, I try to squeeze a part-time job, classical Indian dancing and, of course, as much language learning as possible. The languages that I know or learn (at very different levels!) are: English, German, Spanish, French, Latin, Hindi, Sanskrit and Persian.

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

As most of my generation did, I started learning English already in kindergarten (so, I’ve been learning for nearly 20 years now!). My parents always claimed that learning languages was a very important (if not the most important) part of education, so they would pay for extra lessons in English, and later on also German. Apart from their support, the main motivating factor was my talent for languages – I have always learned them rather easily, and, like most humans, I mostly enjoy doing things that I’m good at.

Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?

As I already said – my parents always supported my language learning. It may come as a surprise then, that although they both studied German philology and my father works as a translator, they never wanted to teach me German themselves. As a child, I was very disappointed, but later I appreciated their decision – their expectations would be too high and they wouldn’t allow me for a slightest mistake. It was indeed better for me to have teachers who didn’t know that I should be a “linguistic child prodigy” and taught me like every other pupil… However, although my father always wanted me to join his “family business” and become a translator, he wasn’t too enthusiastic when I started studying Indian philology (“language – ok, if you really have to, but don’t you even think of going there!”).

My loved one is a linguistic nerd as well, so we do motivate one another to learn more and faster (“he knows a lot of Czech and I don’t? I have to pick up a list a bit!”). While talking with each other, we throw in, just for fun, words and phrases from different tongues (fortunately, we learn more less the same). It is great to have that one person on Earth who understands why do you begin a sentence in Polish and switch to German only to finish it in Hindi!

Did you ever face a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

Probably the hardest moment occurred when I realized the devastating effect of taking a break from learning a language – in this case, German. It was my second foreign language, I started learning it when I was 13 and after seven years achieved something around B2. But then other languages came (Latin, Spanish, later also Hindi and Persian) and I no longer had time for German lessons. The results became visible when I went for a short trip to Germany and, although I could still mostly understand written texts, I could barely carry on a basic conversation! I fell into despair, but then I decided that the only way to overcome it was to try harder. After coming home, I started using every possible tool for learning German – Duolingo, Memrise, reading magazines etc. – and using them systematically. That was an important lesson: never ever allow yourself for a break! Maintain a contact with the language you have learned, no matter how small it may be!

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your lifehacks for that language?

Currently, my biggest linguistic passion is Hindi. I even chose my Master Studies carrier according to that passion (I had done a Bachelor in Comparative Cultural Studies). That means that I have three 90-minutes Hindi language classes per week (including two classes with a native speaker), plus a translation practice class. This is already quite a lot of speaking and reading, but I don’t stop here. As an Internet addict, I tried to create a language immersion environment – my e-mail, Facebook and Web browser are set to Hindi, I repeat vocabulary every day using Memrise, I joined several Facebook groups devoted to language learning or Hindi learning exclusively and found friends there with whom I can talk in Hindi. Let’s finish the list with Bollywood songs and small news from BBC India that I watch in my free time.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you will not be able to learn it properly?

This seems to be the case with Sanskrit. There are several reasons why I became interested in it. Firstly, this is in the way the oldest Indo-European language and as such worth studying in itself. Secondly, as a Hindi learner I already knew the script. Eventually, my scientific interests led me to Sanskrit (every single teacher at the Indian Studies department kept asking me: “if you are interested in Indian classical music, how come you don’t know Sanskrit?”). So, this year I finally joined a Sanskrit class. Started learning declensions, conjugations, verb roots and all that fascinating staff. Am I excited with the new possibilities it opens for me? To be honest, no. I am rather discouraged, because it looks like no matter how hard I try, there will always be more roots, more declension patterns and more exceptions to learn and I will never be able to read a single text other than a pre-prepared story from the textbook (which still requires twenty or more footnotes to be understood).

Can you tell me a short, positive anecdote about your language learning history?

Let me tell you how I started learning French. To be honest, I never really liked that language. In my country, most students choose either French or German as a second foreign language (after English) and it is a strong division indeed. We have the “German sounds awful, like shooting” party and the “French has an entirely illogical orthography” party. I have supported the second one. But, last year, I made friends with a student from France who came to my city to study within Erasmus exchange program. We talked in English most of the time, but, unlike most Erasmus students, she was very interested in Polish culture and very eager to learn a language. After a year, she reached A2 level.  When she left, I thought: well, so she could learn my language, although it’s do difficult, and I can’t learn hers? What is so bad about French after all? Let’s give it a try! So I started learning French and definitely do not regret it. Not only am I able to talk with my French friend in at least three languages now, but I have also found a couple of French songs that I always liked and now can try to listen to them in original version! 🙂