What are your favorite Romance languages?
Interview with Jonas Morkus
“Learning languages for your own enjoyment. The benefit comes later - unexpectedly. "
Jonas Morkus, translator, journalist and leader of numerous educational projects, heads the multilingualism department of the Representation of the European Commission in Lithuania.
Which languages do you speak?
I speak English, French and Russian; I could brush up my knowledge of Hebrew, Latin and Polish in a short time. I hope to speak German soon. And I feel at home both in the standard Lithuanian language and in my Dutch dialect.
How did you learn these languages?
Learning Russian was a necessity: we only showed films in Russian, we were often only served in Russian when shopping, and Russian was taught at school from the second grade onwards. Russian was also spoken by the summer guests, with whom I always wanted to talk when I was in the country on vacation.
When I was eight I started taking experimental English classes for children; Learning the language of America was almost as good as going there yourself. As a teenager, I once sat at a table with a French-speaking celebrity, and the fact that I couldn't understand this person spurred me on to learn French too. A few years later the foreign borders opened and because I knew the language I had the opportunity to live in France for a year and a half.
I later studied in Jerusalem to gain an understanding of the diversity and dynamism of Israeli society; I learned Hebrew quite well in the process. I became familiar with Polish through reading books and magazines, and with Belarusian through Radio Free Europe programs. At the university I studied Latin texts - that gave me access to all Romance languages.
What is your favorite way to learn? What is your recommendation for foreign language learning?
It helps when I have a specific goal for my learning, interesting texts and a benevolent conversation partner.
What do you use your foreign language skills for?
In my professional life I have used all languages: those that I speak well and also those that I only have a basic knowledge of. Good knowledge of two foreign languages - that is the minimum today. Without my knowledge of foreign languages I would not have achieved what is important to me; they were the prerequisite for my career.
What does multilingualism mean for you?
Multilingualism - the ability to use many languages - is a prerequisite for me to get to know the world from different perspectives, and it also helps me to overcome some of my own weaknesses.
Do you have favorite words in other languages?
These are words with a huge emotional and cultural weight. When I hear them, I immediately and involuntarily put myself in another country.
Which languages do you like the most? Why?
All languages evoke different moods that I can hardly compare. I found Hebrew to be the most accessible, as it has a simple grammar and gives the speaker many opportunities to improvise. And I like the soft sound of modern Greek.
Do you associate your foreign languages with certain feelings?
Yes, for me every language is like a journey into the environment in which I learned and spoke it. I can only read fiction fluently in Russian, follow philosophical trains of thought best in French, and understand technical and factual texts easiest in English. Each language also reminds me of the tensions and values of another society. And of course the enthusiasm and effort it took to learn it ...
Which languages do you still want to learn?
I want to make friends with German completely. And then? I heard that it is not difficult for Lithuanians to learn Portuguese. I think that makes sense.
Do you find a certain language more difficult than others?
A language is difficult when the teacher or interlocutor does not have enough patience to talk to you. In addition, learning is made more difficult if the language has a different inventory of scripts or sounds, on which one has to grind one's linguistic tools for a long time. Every language has its own "defensive trenches" (rules that are difficult to understand) and its "locks", which you only need to unlock in order to fit easily into the community of its speakers.
What do you recommend to the younger generation?
Don't wait for the need to arise. If you find a language interesting, start learning it today. For your own pleasure. The benefit comes later - unexpectedly.
Translation: from the Lithuanian by Saskia Drude-Koeth
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Vilnius
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