This Man Speaks 32 Different Languages

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reineke
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Re: This Man Speaks 32 Different Languages

Postby reineke » Sun Apr 09, 2017 4:44 pm

"Ioannis Ikonomou is one of the hundreds of translators that work for the European Commission. What makes him stand out though is his thorough knowledge of dozens of languages and the enthusiasm with which he expresses his passion for learning languages.
‘I don’t learn languages to have them in dictionaries gathering dust’ he explains. Languages are learnt to be lived. And the best part of learning a language is that it enriches your life, it allows you to travel to different places and communicate with the locals in their own language, to delve into new cultures, new mentalities, and different ways of life.
Language learning should begin from a young age, from the moment the mind can start soaking up new words and new worlds and when the sound of different tongues serves as a stimulus for a life of globe trotting. That is what happened with Ikonomou who says that it was the sounds made by foreign tourists on his home island of Crete that inspired him to start learning languages. Indeed, learning to communicate in the language of the ‘other’ opens up more doors than a ‘common’ language ever will. The late Nelson Mandela said, ‘if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’
Ikonomou tells me how his knowledge of languages has helped him read literature he would have never been able to discover had he not known the corresponding languages. He says that many Hungarian, Turkish, Polish, Romanian and other great writers have not even been translated into English. When you invest time to learn a language, you expect to reap the fruits of your labour – and just as money breeds greed, language learning breeds a burning desire for life experiences, memories, and friendships. This is what it really means to be European. Breaking monolingual language barriers and stepping into the realm of the ‘other’ – that’s what it’s all about. By learning languages you allow yourself to engage and interact with different cultures, values and traditions."

http://www.cafebabel.co.uk/lifestyle/ar ... uages.html

Curiosity started early

He learned English at age five, German at seven ("Frau Rosi, a German lady on Crete, taught me"), Italian when he was barely 10 ("a school friend started to take it, and I wanted to be better than he was"), Russian at 13 ("I loved Dostoyevsky"), East African Swahili at 14 ("just for fun") and Turkish at 16. "I didn’t want enemies," he says. "I wanted to be able to talk to people." At the time, there were no Turkish textbooks in Greece. "So my parents found Mrs. Ayse, an architect who had emigrated from northern Cyprus. She was strict."

But it wasn't just his curiosity that turned Ikonomou into a language nut. Nor was it his intellligence, which won him membership in the high-IQ society Mensa International. "My friends all listened to the same Greek songs and ate souvlaki," he says. "But I wanted to get away from souvlaki, from my culture, from my roots...

After Turkish, he learned Arabic and became a Sufi, which is to say an Islamic mystic. "The rules of a language are only the beginning for me," he says. "I want to understand everything — the food, the music, the religion, the traumas of a people." Then he took a quantum leap: Ikonomou suddenly became fascinated by India, and studied Urdu, Hindi and Sanskrit. For 18 years, he was a strict vegetarian and lived by Hindu rules.

"But my mother went crazy," he recounts. "She said, 'Enough with this Indian music. And why do you have to eat with your fingers?' My parents always supported me, but too much was too much. Sometimes I think they would have been happier if I'd been completely normal and listened to Greek pop music."

Despite this, he pursued his interests. "At some point, it became clear to me I'd never be a real Hindu." Today Ikonomou no longer believes in any god, eats meat to his heart's content, and occasionally drinks alcohol. "What's important is doing some good," he says.

Ikonomou recently made a discovery. He found out that the word "rain" in all Slavic languages comes from Old Iranian. "That got me so excited I would have loved to discuss it with somebody," he says. "I'd also love to talk about the ancient Mayan inscriptions in the museum in Mexico City or the teachings of King Darius, who lived 500 years before Christ. But I can't think of anybody to have the discussions with. Sometimes I feel lonely, but that's the way it is."

"I’m not a geek," he says. "I have friends that have never even heard the words Old English or Sanskrit. We go out and have a good time." But at some point, when the friends are gone and Tomek has gone to bed, Ikonomou disappears into his world. On his PC, he watches Chinese or Hungarian TV, anything that's on. He chats for hours in Russian, Turkish, Bulgarian and even with Amharic speakers from Ethiopia.

It's that way every night. Around four in the morning he goes to bed and sleeps for four or five hours, which he knows is not good for his health. "But it's the way I keep up with the languages," he explains. "I don't have to keep practicing my vocabulary. I'm not a student anymore. I'm somebody who makes use of these languages in real life."

Total dedication

Ikonomou's work requires him to translate primarily official documents, but he listens to worldwide chats, Internet TV, radio on his iPod in the mornings and evenings on the way to and from work, always in different languages. Lately he's been keeping up with the news in Chinese. "That's particularly important for me." The EU Commission requires ever more translations from the Chinese. In his office there's a board with Chinese characters written on it.

"Chinese is my favorite language," he says. "It's completely different, the Mount Everest for Europeans." He’s been to China a few times, and learned more of the language each time. The costs are borne by the Commission, mostly. There are some countries whose languages he speaks that Ikonomou has never visited, including Ethiopia and the Congo. "I just don’t have the time."

He now wants to learn Albanian. The country recently became a candidate for EU membership. "I always need an incentive," he says. His goal is to understand the news on Albanian radio within three months. He doesn't need a vocabulary book for that, instead preferring electronic dictionaries and the Internet.

"For several months I've been focusing on Albanian, learning words, making cross connections. Then I store them and use them right away in chats or when I read the newspaper." He calls this method "total dedication"..."

https://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-soc ... -languages
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Re: This Man Speaks 32 Different Languages

Postby outcast » Mon Apr 10, 2017 12:06 am

s_allard wrote:Second, how well does the person speak each language? Or rather, what is the threshold required for speaking a language? I say this with reference to my pet theory that one can speak a language relatively well using a small core of language components, i.e. grammar and vocabulary. I maintain that this is basically what hyperpolyglots do.


But to be a translator it certainly is not possible to perform as a job with a small core. So in the languages he does translation work in, he or any translator must be truly "armed to the teeth".

And I agree with you it is possible, but for some reason I can't do it. I have no way of expressing what I want to say with any degree of precision or comfort with let's say "B1+ / B2" components, and using those to sound as if I am C1. That is what I admire from those who can do this mastering of the most useful grammar patterns to sound fluent.
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Re: This Man Speaks 32 Different Languages

Postby s_allard » Mon Apr 10, 2017 1:52 pm

outcast wrote:
s_allard wrote:Second, how well does the person speak each language? Or rather, what is the threshold required for speaking a language? I say this with reference to my pet theory that one can speak a language relatively well using a small core of language components, i.e. grammar and vocabulary. I maintain that this is basically what hyperpolyglots do.


But to be a translator it certainly is not possible to perform as a job with a small core. So in the languages he does translation work in, he or any translator must be truly "armed to the teeth".

And I agree with you it is possible, but for some reason I can't do it. I have no way of expressing what I want to say with any degree of precision or comfort with let's say "B1+ / B2" components, and using those to sound as if I am C1. That is what I admire from those who can do this mastering of the most useful grammar patterns to sound fluent.

When we read that someone speaks 32 languages fluently, I'm sure most of us around here ask how is this humanly possible. Sure, one can start at an early age and have a gift for languages, but let's say you did a language a year, that's 32 years. And here we have endless discussions about just learning one language at a given time.

And how does one maintain those languages? It seems to me that just keeping those languages current would be something of a full time task.

Unless one believes in superhuman ability and talent for languages, there is an explanation in all this. First of all, I think it's quite clear, although the articles do not say so, that this person does not speak these languages equally well. What I believe is more realistic is varying levels of ability. Using the CEFR scale, I would guess the situation is more like: 2 o 3 languages at native productive skills, 5 at C2, 5 at C1, 10 at B2, 10 at B1, etc.. Obviously, these numbers are just for illustrative purposes.

We could also be more specific and look at the various skills such as reception, production and interaction. It would also be interesting to look at what languages are used professionally.

A second point is that this person makes his living from languages. I would say that he is a professional language learner. We learn for example that he travels to China to learn Mandarin at the expense of the European commission.

My comments are in no way meant to diminish the admirable achievements that we see here. It just that I don't believe in miracles. The results we see here are the results of lots of hard work and some specific circumstances.
Last edited by s_allard on Wed Apr 12, 2017 2:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: This Man Speaks 32 Different Languages

Postby Richworth » Wed Apr 12, 2017 1:47 am

That is just amazing. I wonder what level of proficiency he's reached for all 32 languages.
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