The girl who speaks 17 foreign languages: I see languages ​​as music and colors


Eva Spekhorstova, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

“I started learning English in primary school, but my passion for languages ​​started when I was 13 – that’s when I started learning Spanish and French.”

Surely you must have started earlier than that… what languages ​​did you speak as a child? What is your native language?

“My mother tongue is Czech and German and I would also say English. My mother is Czech and my father is from the Netherlands, so I have always spoken with him in German but since this year also in Dutch and with my mother only in Czech.

So until the age of 13 you only spoke three languages ​​and in two years you absorbed everything else! Most people learn one or two foreign languages ​​– the ones they need – and stop there. What prompted you to continue?

“People supported me. I don’t learn languages ​​so I can brag about it. I want to talk to people, because when I talk to them in their native language, they open up, they’re so warm and welcoming and friendly and it’s wonderful to see their faces. I like to see them happy that I know a few words and can communicate with them in their own language. So that’s my ultimate goal – just talking to people.

So what languages ​​do you speak?

“I speak Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, I’m learning Norwegian – I started this year – and also Turkish; I have a passive knowledge of Greek, I can communicate in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian… am I forgetting any?

Eva Spekhorstova, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

That’s more than enough, really. What made you choose more exotic languages? What made you learn Korean?

“It was phonetics. I love phonetics and Korean has such a unique phonetic system. It’s unlike any other. The language family is very distinct. Spanish has the same phonetics as Italian, and Italian has the same as Portuguese and it’s kinda related, but Korean phonetics are so unique that I haven’t heard anything like it, I wanted to try it and it really is a wonderful language.

How do you perceive it? Do you perceive languages ​​as music?

“Yes, I perceive them as music. I have attended music school since I was five years old and both my parents are music teachers. I therefore perceive languages ​​as music, but above all as systems. I have to break the language down into pieces and before that I can’t go on. Many people learn one sentence, then they add another and so on. I have to break the sentence down into several parts, into grammatical parts.

So how to go about it? Do you first listen to what the language sounds like? Because you are self-taught, aren’t you?

“Yes. The first week I just try to absorb the language as much as possible – I listen to plays, music, just to hear what it’s like. It might not matter. air, but having the right accent is extremely important.

So you’re sitting there, understanding, not understanding a word – just listening to the music of the given language?

“Yes, some languages ​​are based only on phonetics. And if you don’t understand phonetics, you can’t move forward. So you have to absorb the language, see how people act, how they speak, for example Italians use a lot of hand gestures, while Koreans are pretty closed off. You have to absorb it all so that even if you’re not a native speaker, you have to try to sound like it.

A Czech saying goes “Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem” which means “the more languages ​​you speak, the more lives you have”. Do you think knowing a certain language gives you more insight into the culture, the way of thinking of a certain nation, just by the way they denote things, the proverbs they have and so on? As in Czech we say “happy as a flea” while the English say “happy as a lark”. Do you feel it enriches you?

“It enriches me enormously. In each language, I tend to be different. So when I speak Korean I tend to be introverted like Koreans, but when I speak Italian or Spanish I’m so outgoing and I tend to respond differently too. That’s the fun part, because you’re always discovering a new side of yourself that you didn’t know existed. Languages ​​are basically people’s history, people’s culture and you can jump into their language and experience a whole new world. When I speak in Italian with my Italian friends, they see me as an Italian – they don’t see me as a foreigner and I think that’s nice. It’s the best thing I can do. »

You said that you see languages ​​as music, but you also see them as colors. Is it correct?

“It’s true, I choose languages ​​according to their color. Romance languages ​​– like Spanish – are more colorful, like red, yellow, orange, while German is a pretty blue just like Greek. Turkish is dark red, Korean which I see as purple mixed with blue, Japanese is a soft pastel pink. I started learning Indonesian because it’s a rich green color – like trees and flowers, it’s so beautiful.

So when you hear a language you don’t understand, do you see a color?

Photo by Eva Spekhorstova, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

“I see a color, yes.”

Do you paint?

“Yes. I try to paint the aesthetics of language, so I choose a language and I paint an abstract painting of that language.

It’s incredible. Which language was the hardest to learn?

“The most difficult in my opinion is Arabic. Although I haven’t started actively learning it yet. But I looked at the grammar and writing and it just blew me away. Korean is difficult to understand. You need to understand the system because some words, grammatical structures cannot be translated. There are topic markers, there are topic markers, there are grammar rules that cannot be translated into English – you have to understand the context. But once you understand it, you understand Korean. It’s easy from there, but in the first learning phase, the language is really difficult to grasp.

Is there a language for which you have developed a passion?

“Italian. I love the language, I love the people, I love the phonetics. But I can’t say that I love one language more than another. I love each language in its own way. J love German, I love Japanese… I really can’t say which language I love the most, I can only say that I have developed a great passion for Italian.

In what language do you think?

“It differs. When I’m nervous, I tend to think in English. When I’m angry I find myself thinking in Italian, when I’m hurt I tend to think in Korean.

Why is that?

“I have no idea. I’d love to tell you, but I have no idea how it works.

Do you speak enough Korean to allow you to express these emotions?

“I talk enough to communicate freely with people. I may not know the Korean textbook, but I can talk to a Korean for a week. And I just don’t know why I switch to Korean in my head when I feel hurt.

You must have an extensive library. Do you read in all these languages? Because otherwise they rust, don’t they?

“I have books in English, German and Czech and I want to buy French books and Italian books. But social media is also a great help in this regard. You can just install a single language app and get out of your comfort zone. Once I was setting up something on my phone and clicked on Italian and right away everything in my phone was in Italian! But it helps you passively absorb the language, which can also be a problem. It happened to me with French. I was just reading books and I could understand everything, I could understand movies, people when they were talking, but I couldn’t say a word. It’s even worse than starting from scratch. You know the words but you cannot use them; it’s really frustrating.

Talking is therefore preferable. You must have lots of friends around the world.

“Yes, I do, I do.”

Do languages ​​also come into your dreams?

“Yes, if I listen to German music in the evening, I have dreams in German or if I text a friend in Italy, I tend to have dreams in Italian and once when I have watched a korean drama, i had a dream in korean, but that was an exception, i usually dream in czech, german, english and italian.

What about your future career? Will it revolve around languages?

“I want to study archaeology. Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and I want to study the Etruscan language because when I was studying their alphabet I noticed Asian signs and symbols there. And I thought to myself: how can Etruscan have a grammatical structure and symbols similar to Korean? How is it possible? So I want to know. For example, when I started learning Turkish, I realized that the grammar structure was completely the same as Korean. Without Korean, I couldn’t understand Turkish. So I’m amazed at how the different languages ​​are intertwined. So I really want to study ancient languages.


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