Spotlight: Famed young polyglot Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia

Juan Carlos Manning

Today’s interview involves a polyglot (yes, it means someone who knows many languages) from PUCP University. In his case, he knows more than 10!

Spotlight: Famed young polyglot Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia

Luis Miguel checking out one of the books in his library. (Photo: Luis Miguel Rojas)

Accompanying us today is Luis Miguel Rojas Berscia, a linguistics student who happens to be a known polyglot and an important representative of the Universal Esperanto Association.

He is barely 21 years old and is already teaching Chinese at the Confucius Institute in PUCP University.

So Luis Miguel, I am sure people ask you this a lot, but how many languages have you happened to learn fluently?

That happens to be a very difficult question due to the fact that it is pretty uncertain when someone really knows a language.

I speak fourteen languages, but I wouldn’t be sure to say I speak all of them fluently. This group includes Spanish, English, French, Italian, Esperanto, Chinese, Romanian, German, Portuguese, Piedmontese, Quechua, Latin, Catalan and Classic Greek. At least I can deal with almost any type of conversation and texts in those languages, but, as I usually say, there’s still a big path to follow so as to achieve complete fluency.

I also have some knowledge of other nine languages, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Frisian, Japanese, Korean, Galician, Ligurian, Paleo-Babylonian and Russian, which I am trying to improve this year. People sometimes think I’m crazy, but I just think it is a matter of hobbies.

How and when did this passion for languages begin?

Since I was born I had contact with three languages, Spanish, Italian and Piedmontese. By the way, Piedmontese is a language spoken in North Italy, region of Piedmont. Italians tend to consider it a dialect; however, it’s a language in all senses. That was really an advantage because I was able to understand more than one language since very young.

When I was at kindergarten I had always some type of curiosity towards the difference between languages. I remember once I was talking to my mother when I was three years old. She was looking at a world map in a world atlas. I remember me asking her about our language and where it was spoken. After she told me our language was called Spanish and we lived in Peru, I started to ask her about other places and their languages. I was fascinated! I really wanted to learn all of them. I told her one day I was going to learn all those languages. It was some kind of promise.

She obviously laughed thinking it was just a joke, but maybe she thinks till now I’m a spoiled kid trying to fulfill an impossible promise, haha. However, nothing of this would have been possible without the constant help and support of my grandma. She always pushed me forward so as to continue in this difficult game. One thing I will never forget is the fact she taught me Piedmontese. It was a very important nexus with my ancestors.

It has come to our attention that you\‘ve been asked to speak both in book fairs and radio programs. How did it feel to stand in front of interested people and know that you would be heard by thousands if not tens of thousands of people in Peru?

Sometimes people come by and say: Hey! You are the polyglot! I don’t like that. I’m Luis Miguel and that’s all. Maybe afterwards we can have a coffee and we can speak about languages and so on. However, it feels great when people appreciate what you, as a person, do. I have great experiences regarding that issue.

Thanks to these languages I learnt a lot about people around the world, but the most important thing is I met lots of people which became great friends and very patient language teachers. I remember Mr. Wu, Mr. Sorin Rîpă and Mr. Rainer Grimm teaching me Chinese, Romanian and German respectively. They were great teachers and I learnt a lot about language and life thanks to them.

Have you at some point felt the need of taking a break from learning languages? Or have you ever confused one language with another?

No. If that happened, it would be because I’m sick, haha. Of course I like doing other things. However, as I told you before, learning languages is my passion and I love doing it. Fortunately I have not confused languages yet, and I hope I won’t. It’s something many people ask. I think the most important thing is focusing on the language you are speaking in that precise moment.

I remember once speaking with friends from Germany, the USA, France and Peru at the same time. They said something at once in their own languages. I was really confused, but not in the sense of mixing languages, but in the sense of not understanding even a word! I felt completely blocked! I felt I could not even utter a word in Spanish, haha.

What plans do you have for when you finish your bachelor studies? Perhaps a Master’s degree?

I want to continue with my Master’s degree at PUCP but since my major interests are Historical Linguistics and Typology I’m planning to go abroad. Thanks to my faculty teachers, I developed some kind of interest towards the origin of language. I think the best way to know how that cultural phenomenon called language works is learning as many languages as possible.

That is even what the founder of modern Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure said. I don’t believe linguistic theories aspiring to get some knowledge of what language is will get too far just being based in one language. Many would call me a functionalist, but I don’t care…haha

And finally, to wrap up this interview, what thought or advice would you like to share with our readers and perhaps even with other fellow linguists?

My life’s passion is learning languages, but maybe it goes far beyond that, due to the fact I’m a linguistics student. I love language per se. I think people should do what they want to do in life. I pursued my passion and I’m still doing it. Nevertheless, there is one thing I’d like to mention before we run out time. Peruvian society (or maybe Lima or coastal Peru society) is mostly monolingual. I think Peruvians should try to learn other languages.

That would be the best way to understand other cultures and learn from them. One thing which is really astonishing is many Peruvians ignore the existence of a vast linguistic richness in the Andes and the Amazonia. Maybe we should try to preserve those languages and, why not, learn them.

Many problems could be prevented if we knew those languages. Thanks to the Fieldwork course at PUCP I’m learning some Awajun and I’m planning to do fieldwork in the Amazon this summer, so as to study the Shawi language. It may sound crazy, but doing what you like is the best path towards happiness and self-achievement.

Thank you a lot for the interview. We hope that soon enough you will be able to fulfill your linguistic dreams!