Artykuły Learning Personal

Exploring the World Through Languages: A Personal Odyssey

Written by Ioannes Oculus

There is nothing more important in achieving a long-term goal than deep motivation. As Tolkien once wrote No language is justly studied merely as an aid to other purposes. It will in fact better serve other purposes, philological or historical, when it is studied for love, for itself. I have also discovered this in my language-learning journey. If there is a goal that is deep and really mine, the journey continues and no matter the difficulties I keep going. If it is superficial, the motivation disappears. There are situations when the circumstances are very difficult and slow me down, but so far I have not given up on any language. Coming across the quote from Tolkien’s English and Welsh essay inspired me to look at my own goals and reasons for learning languages.

One of them is my general interest in language and how it works. I am fascinated by linguistics and language history, so I chose to learn Uzbek to gain an insight into a non-Indo-European language and ancient languages like Latin, to have a better diachronic perspective. The word diachronic (‘through time’) is a better one than historical as it sounds more dynamic, and invites one on a journey into the story of language change. This is a way of fulfilling my dream of studying linguistics which I currently cannot do. So I learn languages and about languages as much as I can. The diachronic fascination led me to Latin, Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Coptic. I also want to embark on the Old Church Slavonic voyage.

Ambitious Language Projects

The study of ancient languages for scientific curiosity is not the only reason I learn them. I want to write a science fiction novel in Latin one day and an LLPSI like textbook for Old Church Slavonic (I would definitely use one if someone else wrote it before me). I have a strong urge, which many would describe as weird, to use ancient languages to describe the modern world and even the future. That is why, after writing my science fiction novel, I will write its sequels in other ancient languages. I can only regret that life is too short to include other tongues like Hittite.

On our way to modern times, there are many other interesting places I would like to visit. Old English is one of them and mediaeval Polish is another. Both Polish and English are languages whose history I would like to know really well and, another of my strange desires, be able to speak their different dialects and historical forms. That is why I like the Silesian dialect of Polish so much as it has preserved so many old Polish words and forms.

Among my languages, I consider two as my native languages. These are Polish and English. Polish is my real native language, and English (British variety) is my adopted one. I had my first contact with English when I was very little by watching cartoons my father brought from his travels to earn some money (as Poland was under communist regime at the time and life was really difficult in this dystopian system). I consider myself very lucky as not many had a chance to have a video recorder like we did. Those two languages are my family and I want to know them better every day. I love the taste of English, the smell of Polish, and the breathtaking views they offer.

The Challenge of Learning German

If English is my ‘adopted’ native language, then my first foreign language will be German. How difficult our relationship is! I started learning it at school when I was about 16. The teacher was… not the best. Sufficient to say, I had to take extra private classes to understand what was going on with the grammar. Luckily, it did not stop the growth of my language interest. I ended up taking my final exams (matura) in Polish, English and German. It has been more than 24 years of learning German and I still struggle with it, mess up der, die, das and forget so much. My C status in German is very fluid – sometimes I feel I can understand and express everything, and sometimes I discover that German consists of 70% words that are unknown to me. So what keeps my relationship with German alive? In my family tree, you can find the surname Reichards de Reichardsperg who were Austrian nobility. Some of them moved from Budapest to Galicia in the 19th century and decided to become Polish. Yet, this ancestry is one of the reasons I wish to keep learning and I wish to learn an Austrian dialect too. I still do not know which one is the closest to the one my ancestors used and this question opens another area to study – the linguistic world of the 19th century Austria. I asked Chat GPT and it suggested that the Vienna accent might have been used among the Austrian nobility in Budapest.

From Theology to Linguistics

When I was finishing secondary school we had to pass the final exams (matura) and then entry exams to the university where we wanted to study. I chose to study theology, not yet fully aware that languages would become my biggest interest. While preparing for the exams I came across many Latin quotes and phrases. I started to note them in a notebook with their translations. I wanted to understand them without translating. Somehow, my love of languages started to awaken. At the university, I was more interested in taking extra language classes than in studying theology. I had great opportunities there and I studied not only Latin but also Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Coptic. I took many more semesters of Latin and Greek than required and the other two were completely not obligatory. My master thesis was in Church History, another fascinating subject, and the sources for my research were written in 6. and 7. century Latin. Instead of complaining about the poor quality of the language, I found it fascinating that I was experiencing the moment when French was being born. Somehow I also found time for some Italian and I even attended a summer course.

When I graduated, I knew Polish, English, some German, a little Italian, some Latin, a little bit of Ancient Greek, very little Coptic and even less Hebrew. I was already a person interested in languages. There were, however, other goals on my mind. I was still to realise that the means of human communication is what I want to do.

Embracing New Opportunities

After a few years I changed my career and my English helped me get a job for an international corporation. Part of their bonus system was free language lessons and I made my first steps into Swedish. Then I opened my second-hand bookshop and I managed to have a nice selection of foreign books. As the business did not go very well, I started teaching English. It was not the first time I did that. I had taught it for the first time when I was 17 and had done it from time to time to help others or earn some extra money. In the bookshop, I organised a weekend with Latin once and a short-lived Swedish course.

The bookshop went bankrupt, and languages were what I was left with. After some time I went to study English-Polish translation at WSZOP University and got my bachelor’s degree. I also had a closer look at how linguistics works. During my studies, I also got my TESOL and started teaching English and Polish on italki. That was the game changer. I got more and more interested in how language works, in how Polish works. After my BA, I did postgraduate studies in teaching Polish as a second language and the theoretical part of it (e.g. grammar) was one I found most interesting. I also did a few online courses and had a great English teacher on italki who was a teacher of sociolinguistics at university. We had great chats about linguistics and he introduced me to R.M.W. Dixon’s book Basic Linguistic Theory. I enjoyed our lessons so much when I read a chapter for each meeting and we would discuss it in depth. I regret that I had to quit those for financial reasons.

The studies at WSZOP introduced me to Spanish. My ambition was to reach the B2 level in a year. I did not achieve it but the craziness of the idea helped me to learn it quicker than I would just by following the university course.

Where are my Swedish and Spanish now? Swedish is dormant, like Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Coptic. I buy a new book from time to time but lack the actual time to do anything more. Spanish is much more alive as I use it with my friends and watch TV series or interesting videos on YouTube. What is my inner, deep motivation? There are many people who I like to be in contact with and who want to communicate in Spanish. There is also something magical about films, series, and books like El Ministerio del Tiempo, La sombra del viento and others. Learning Spanish made me unable to use my Italian anymore. I still understand some but I cannot speak.

The Uzbek Challenge

All of the languages happened to me. I decided to continue learning or had to put the process ‘on hold’ but I either had to or had a direct opportunity to learn them. It was different with Uzbek though. I chose that language on purpose, without any other reason than my own decision. I wanted to learn something I could use in my home city, Katowice and something that was not Indo-European. I did not have many choices but there was an Uzbek kebab near my home, so without knowing how difficult it would be, I started learning Uzbek. It was a few years ago and there were nearly no resources available, no teachers, nearly nothing. Uzbekistan had been quite a closed country and had just started to be more open. I struggled and I still struggle. It is not directly useful, I do not have many contacts and I still do not know the culture well enough to find these points of interest that could grab my attention and fuel my motivation. I cannot fake understanding it, like I can with Spanish or Czech. Watching and reading native sources with understanding is not possible. I spent hours learning, I found teachers, bought some books and even edited one myself (Uzbek Anthology 2ed, Simple Texts for Language Learners). However, because of this, I have been spending less and less time learning the language. I really want to go back to it. I see how the Uzbeks are hard working and building their businesses and I decided that I will choose Uzbek as my business language. I want to read these popular business and self-development books in Uzbek. There are some podcasts on the topic too.

Subtle Acquisitions: Russian and Ukrainian

I have left Russian and Ukrainian out of this story so far because they came to my life more subtly. I met some Belarussians years ago who taught me the alphabet. Then I asked my grandfather, who spoke Russian, to teach me a little bit. Then I went to Ukraine where I was immersed in Ukrainian. I slowly acquired the languages, kept mixing them and faking by making my Polish sound more Ukrainian or Russian-like.

Future Language Goals

The last few years witnessed my attempts to learn other languages – French, Turkish, Indonesian, Portuguese (which I had also learnt shortly while going to Capoeira classes) and Mingrelian. There is not a single one of them that I would like to abandon and there are a few more I would like to learn. I would like to learn a click language from the Khoisan family. There are other more popular (like Xhosa) but as far as I know clicks have not been original to this language family but borrowed from Khoisan languages. I want to explore the feature that is probably with humans from the very beginning of our existence. Another exotic language I want to learn is Basque, Euskara – the language of Europe from before the advent of Indo-European languages. If you want to ask that question, the answer is yes. I have already ordered some books for Basque…

Conclusion: A Lifelong Journey

So what is my deep, inner motivation for languages? I want to know how they work, how we, homo sapiens, have developed the languages and the languages. I am also interested in pre-homo-sapiens abilities as they also might have been able to use language.

If I won enough money, I would probably stop teaching or just keep a few students (I really like them all and it would be hard to reduce the number of my lessons) and would study languages full-time. I would go to university to study historical linguistics, raise my language levels to the highest C possible, write the books I want to write, and study things that are good PhD ideas. Yet, even though I cannot afford that, I think I am lucky. I can work with languages, I can study them and about them. In this imperfect world, I think I am quite lucky!

About the author

Ioannes Oculus

I am addicted to languages, both modern and ancient. No language is dead as long as we can read and understand it. I want to share my linguistic passion with like minded people. I am also interested in history, astronomy, genealogy, books and probably many others. My goals now are to write a novel in Latin, a textbook for Latin learners, Uzbek-Polish, Polish-Uzbek dictionary, modern Uzbek grammar and textbook for learners. My dream is to have a big house in UK or USA where I could keep all my books and have enough time and money to achieve my goals.

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