Polyglot Vladimir Skultety: Motivation is the key
He listens to news broadcasts in foreign languages daily and simultaneously translates them into Slovak or other languages for practice.
He is 31 years old, was born and grew up in
Kosice, Slovakia, has lived in several countries and for the last five years in . Vladimir Skultety has a Master’s degree in International relations and a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese studies. He currently works as a translator and interpreter of Chinese, English and Slovak. Czech not included, he can speak 10-11 foreign languages. Polyglot (Greek polys – many, a lot; glotta – language) – a person speaking several languages. Taiwan
‘It is difficult to express the number of languages I speak with a number, because I speak some of them better and some of them not so well. If you are familiar with the A1-C2 language proficiency scale (A1 basic conversational abilities – C2 near native speaker abilities), in my life I have spoken about 8 – 9 languages at a C1-C2 level’ says Vladimir Skultety.
When it comes to individual languages he can speak, he has provided us with a list starting with the ones he speaks best: Slovak (Czech), English, Chinese (Mandarin), German, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Spanish, French, Polish, Portuguese and Farsi (Iranian, Persian).
‘I have studied other languages as well (Japanese, Romanian, Dutch, Serbian, Cantonese (language of
Hong Kong and surrounding area), Hokkien (southern Chinese dialect), but I never reached more than basic fluency in any of them.
You have to have a correct mindset
How to learn a language if a person does not grow up in a multilingual environment? ‘Simply put, I think the most important thing is motivation. If a person learns just because he or she has to, the learning process will be very difficult, regardless of whether that person is talented or not. It is also important to spend time with the language consistently and regularly. Read, write, listen, speak and review regularly. Without one’s active approach to language learning, the language will simply not be learned. It also greatly depends, which foreign language a person is learning. If we, as Slovaks would like to learn Serbian, it would be a loss of time to use textbooks and it would be much more effective to try and use the language right away. Speak, read books, newspapers, chat with someone online, listen to news broadcasts or radio/TV interviews. What if we want to learn Chinese for instance? ‘I’m hesitating with the answer, because on one hand it is not a bad idea to use textbooks, which explain rules of the Chinese grammar, but on the other hand, since Chinese is so hard and different and there are so many rules that need to be learned, the student will simply get completely lost in them. I also think, that most of the complicated of rules are impossible to explain, one must simply understand and ‘feel’ them and it is thus ironically more effective to absorb the language naturally, as with easier languages, without the use of textbooks. As far as learning a language in a monolingual environment goes, almost everything a student needs can be found online –audio, movies, books, newspaper, language exchange partners...”
Internet is of great help
If you want to speak two or three languages well, it greatly depends on the type of languages you choose to learn. If these languages are closely related, the hardest one to learn will be the first language from this or that particular language group. “For each next language from the same language group, it might be enough to read a lot, regularly listen to news broadcasts or other audio material and use the language as often as possible, whether orally or in a written form, until one understands how the language works. If a person is learning several languages at the same time and these languages are very different from one another, the whole language learning process will be much more difficult and learning each new language will be almost as difficult as learning one’s first foreign language.”
When it comes to closely related languages, the whole process is much easier and all that is left to do is to figure out, how these closely related languages differ from the languages one already knows. “A Slovak Person will learn Czech, Polish and even English relatively fast and easily, but Chinese will take that same person years of hard work. A Chinese person from
Hong Kong will learn Mandarin Chinese (a northern Chinese dialect) very fast, but English will take the same person years of hard work. It should be thus relatively easy for us Slovaks to learn any European language, except for those, that don’t belong to the Indo-European language family (Hungarian, Finnish, Bask), if we are well motivated, have good learning conditions and an internet connection.
Is it even possible to maintain several languages at a level high enough so that a person can actually use them for work? “I personally train myself daily by listening to news broadcasts in foreign languages, simultaneously translating them into Slovak, or translating Slovak news into foreign languages. This system is not perfect, but it is good practice.”
A stay abroad will help learn a language faster
A stay in a foreign country where the language one is learning is spoken is of great help. But how long should one stay?
“It depends on the goals one sets out, but in general I think it can be said that if someone would like to learn a language fast and well, a stay abroad is necessary. Mainly with difficult languages, cultural differences play a great role in influencing language difficulty. For instance Chinese changes in quite a complicated way, depending on the person one is talking to – a higher ranked employee, lower ranked employee, older students in school or college ect. The sentence structure and word order changes in a fairly complex manner, which is something that a person cannot learn from a textbook or by talking to one or two foreign friends at home.
When it comes to easier languages, maybe it would be enough to stay in the foreign country for a few months. If the languages are more difficult, it is necessary to stay in the country for several years,” Skultety adds.