Interview with Don Cristian Ramsey

Today we’ll introduce¬†Don Cristian Ramsey aka “Legend of Polyglot” from Finland who already speaks an impressive number of languages for a 25 year old.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I’m a native Finnish speaker with Finnish and Sri Lankan parents. I have lived in three countries during my lifetime and travelled in quite many countries, mainly in Europe and the American continent. I’m the author of the “Legend of Polyglot” Facebook site and the manager of a DJ (FB: Amourtech). On Legend of Polyglot I record everything about my language learning journey.

This journey began already as a child when we moved to England and Estonia. There I was forced to learn foreign languages just to survive at school, which was quite tough at first. I could say that life taught me my first 5 languages and then the rest of the languages I started learning intentionally.

I’ve got a lower degree in Medicine but I dropped out before graduating in order to fulfill my real destiny and purpose in life. My language learning is an obsession and one part of that is also studying the history of every single country in the world and their culture to understand our world better. Other major passions of mine are sports and learning about technology especially as a tool for my imagination.

I practice my body which I call Taj Mahal, because our body is the temple of our soul, and my body will be the Taj Mahal of all bodies. I’m learning web design, programming, photo and video editing to bring my ideas in life in interesting projects. These aforementioned passions keep me occupied most of my time.

What languages do you speak?

I’ve got 8 languages in which I have experience in speaking, reading and writing nearly a decade in all of them except Portuguese.

Finnish – mother tongue
English – C2 – started learning in 1996
Estonian – C1 – started learning in 1997
Spanish – B2 – started learning in 2007
Swedish – B2 – started learning in 2003
Portuguese – B2 – started learning in 2012
German – B2 – started learning in 1997
Italian – B1 – started learning in 2007

I’ve got 6 languages in which my communicating is restricted and I’m still on a beginner level

French – A2 – started in 2013
Dutch – A1 – started in 2014
Hindi – beginner – started in 2014
Mandarin – beginner – started in 2014
Arabic – beginner – started in 2014
Russian – beginner – started in 2015

What is your definition of fluency?

My definition of fluency is that you’re capable of transmitting your ideas and thoughts to the other person in a certain language. Sometimes you don’t find all the words but in these cases you know how to say them in a different way or ask the native speaker how to say the thing that you want to say. The capability of getting by in almost any situation with the language skills that you have. Nobody is 100% fluent, there are so many words in even your own language that you’re not familiar in, so the important thing is to become a bit more fluent every day.

How has your strategy to learn new languages changed over the years?

The best and most efficient way for me to learn languages was when I lived abroad and I just had to learn the language in order to communicate with other people. I don’t remember anymore how it happened.

In high school I started learning the first languages with the intentional purpose of learning them, they were Italian and Spanish. After a few courses I forced myself to speak Spanish with a Chilean exchange student. It worked out perfectly, in the end of his exchange I could communicate fluently in Spanish.

Maybe the biggest change in my strategy was in about 2013 or 2014 when I started concentrating quite seriously on language learning. I began using different resources for reading and learning languages. I started reading texts out loud for myself and translating different articles, which I reckoned interesting. Nowadays I sometimes speak to the microphone to hear more clearly my pronunciation in order to correct it and make it sound better. I also write down all the words that I don’t recognize while I read some foreign newspapers for example.

How has speaking multiple changes changed you as a person?

It has definitely given me more self-confidence and trust in myself because I know now that I could go basically anywhere in the world and survive because I got the skills to communicate and the intelligence to solve tricky situations. It’s also quite hard to answer because I’ve been a polyglot already since my early childhood so speaking multiple languages has been actually a part of my identity nearly all of my life. I knew four languages when I was 10 and five already when I was 13. Before high-school I didn’t even think this multilingualism part of myself that much because it’s quite common in my country to know four or five languages because everyone should speak at least the three mandatory languages which are taught in the elementary school and in addition many people take one or two optional languages. So somehow the change hasn’t been that big even though I’ve learned many new languages in the past years.

What keeps you motivated to keep learning?

The moments when you realize that all the hard work was worth it.
The feeling that you get when you’re communicating fluently with people from other countries and you understand each other perfectly.
The ease of life while traveling when you speak the local language and have to handle situations which would be quite hard if you didn’t speak the local language.
The excitement when you understand a new language for the first time when you hear it in a movie or with a real person, you feel like a door has opened to a new world, which was locked before and the walls have vanished around this new exciting world.

Which resources do you normally use most?

I’ve used Duolingo since September 2013. I use it to strengthen my grammar and to learn new vocabulary.
I use occasionally Memrise for languages that aren’t still in Duolingo and for example to learn the scripts of Hindi, Arabic and Chinese.
Readlang is a great new resource which I found recently, I use it to learn more vocabulary.
LearnWithOliver was a great finding and I’m using it to learn Russian initially but I’ll definitely use if for other languages too.
ChineseSkill is a great application, which I use to learn Mandarin. The user interface is so pretty and simple.
I have Complete Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi books to get the basic understanding of the language and I like to learn using a physical book as well.
I also have to mention Google Translate which I use only in languages that I know to remind about the words that I might have forgotten but which I recognize when I see them.

Have you ever started a new language and then given up for some reason?

When I start learning a language it means that it’s a lifelong commitment. My language learning will continue until I die and I will try to reach as high fluency as possible during my lifetime. The only language that I haven’t continued was Latin, which I learned in high school for one course. I’m not a fan of dead or constructed languages. I will not put effort in learning these and I didn’t even have the intention of studying Latin much further than the basics.

I have the aim of learning ten most widely-spoken languages in the world and become as fluent as possible. Every now and then I’ve tried something in Duolingo, for example Turkish, Irish or Danish. So I haven’t quit any language that I have started seriously learning and the secret of my current language level is the fact that I have continued learning more every single language that I have started in my life.

How much time do you spend learning languages per day or per week?

It depends a lot now when I have school, but I aim to learn at least 1-2 hours per day. When I have more time it’s maybe about 3-4 hours. First I strengthen all the languages which I’ve studied quite long. Then I continue to the new languages with the intention of learning the logic of them as well as possible. I spend more time to learn new languages and the time that I put in learning my fluent languages I try to use it learning new things that I don’t understand yet. It’s important to go out of your comfort zone and search for more complex articles to become more fluent even though it feels quite uncomfortable not to understand what you’re reading or hearing.

Which language you learned did you find most/least challenging and why?

German is really hard grammar-wise, I can communicate in German quite easily but to speak grammatically perfectly is really much more demanding than in Spanish or Swedish for example.
Taking in consideration the script, I would say that Arabic and Mandarin are the hardest. I still have a lot of work in both of these. The hardest languages to pronounce are Russian, Arabic and French. Hindi and Estonian have also some sounds which are a bit hard to pronounce.
The least challenging languages are by far Swedish, Spanish and Dutch. Swedish and Dutch have the easiest grammar that I’ve seen but the fact that I spoke English and German already before learning these both helped me a lot to memorize the vocabulary of these languages. As a learning experience Portuguese was one of the easiest. I started Portuguese in 2012 and I was already fluent in Spanish and Italian, so only after a couple of weeks I could communicate with it. It’s no surprise because about 80% of Portuguese is the same than in Spanish. The hardest part was only to learn the logic how to pronounce the words in Portuguese.

Do you dream in a foreign language?

This is a great question because I have seen dreams in foreign languages for years. I have spoken so many languages in my dreams and many of these dreams I’ve recorded on my dream journal. Always when I’ve heard sentences or words in new languages I have seen dreams where I use them. This happened me at least in Portuguese and Chinese for years ago when I hadn’t even started learning them. Usually in my dreams I’m in a situation where I have to use that particular language that I’m speaking and sometimes everything goes wrong or I realize that I pronounced the sentence so incorrectly, then I wake up and pronounce it correctly.

Words stick quite well into my memory, I will see dreams about new words and sometimes they pop up into my mind and then I repeat them for myself. This repeating and visualizing different situations happens unconsciously nearly every day, so I’m practically repeating foreign words nearly all the time if I’m not occupied with something else.

To learn more about Don Cristian Ramsey, please visit his website and Facebook Page.

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