Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia is someone who’s rarely lost for words, for the simple reason that he is a polyglot, someone who speaks a great number of languages.
Born in Lima, Peru, Rojas Berscia has traveled the world and has made languages his profession and his life. He’s studied linguistics and literature in Peru, Germany and the Netherlands. He’s taught Chinese in Peru and he completed his doctorate in the Netherlands before leaving Europe to study indigenous languages – Kukatja and Yidiny – in the Western Australia outback.
The languages he speaks, besides his native Spanish – we’ll return to that – are Catalan, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Piedmontese, Portuguese, Romanian, Southern Quechua and Shawi. He says he has “conversational” skills in Galician, Japanese, Russian, and Selk’nam, as well as a good grammatical command of Ancient Greek and Latin. Oh, and…
“I have a decent grammatical command of languages such as Korean, Sanskrit, Frisian, Hebrew, Persian, Swabian, Paleo-Babylonian, Awaruna, Ligurian, Icelandic, Cantonese and Hakka,” Rojas Berscia told Scandinavian Traveler over the phone from Australia.
While all languages are different, Rojas Berscia is firm on one rule that always applies.
“Language learning is only successful when there is an ecology for it to be used in. In other words, you have to be immersed in it,” he says.
Traveling to Spain to brush up on your Spanish is probably a good idea and a wonderful experience, but to truly learn to speak it, you need to be fully immersed in the language and its culture.
“Learning the language spoken in another country also shows that you appreciate the people there, and their culture,” Rojas Berscia says.
“The aboriginal people here mix what we’d call five, six, even eight different languages. There’s another kind of fluidity in play over here.”
As someone who’s dedicated his life to languages and to learning new ones, the lines between a native language and others also get blurred.
“To a linguist, I’m a native speaker of Peruvian Spanish, and specifically the Spanish of Lima, my hometown. However, I’d rather speak of my languages as registers, pertaining to whom I am talking to, classified by person, place, and the situation.
“We speak English [during the interview], but 20 minutes ago I was having a conversation in Kukatja with a consultant, and 20 minutes before that I spoke Chinese with a friend in Taiwan, and before that I spoke Lima Spanish with my mother while chatting in Italian with my friends from Italy,” he says.
And that’s the beauty of languages, he says.
In fact, it’s even deeper than that.
“We make up our linguistic repertoire throughout our lives and that’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes the human existence. Native languages don’t exist. You make a native repertoire out of your entire life. In the traditional sense, I’m not a native speaker of most of the languages I know – but they’re what makes me me.”
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5 RULES TO LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE THE POLYGLOT WAY
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN IT
“You need to talk and write the language regularly. Otherwise, it’s just a beautiful exercise,” Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia says. And even if you never become as fluent as you’d like, traveling “teaches people how diverse our world is.”
INTERACT WITH OTHERS
When Rojas Berscia traveled to Malta, he found people he could rely on to talk to. They were his coaches, in a way. “When I learn a language, I choose one that I know I can use in the future, so I also know I can interact with people who speak it.”
“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re putting boundaries on yourself when you’re speaking that second language. The beauty of mistakes is that they’re the product of what’s beautiful with all languages – they change. It’s mutation – and mutation is evolution.” And evolution is life itself.
BOOKS AND COURSES ARE THERE FOR SUPPORT
“If you have a book and take a course, they’re the support system. You can’t learn a language in a classroom, you have to speak it. Talk to people. Make friends.”
TAKE IT EASY, BE PATIENT
“You need to have family or friends with whom you can use the language regularly. I try not to give up with any language I learn, but no one is perfect. I’m still struggling with some grammatical aspects of Sanskrit.”