Our linguist of the month was chosen following a chance encounter I had with him on a recent visit to Barcelona. Àlvaro works as a tour guide at Gran Teatre del Liceu (Opera House of Barcelona), which is situated on the Rambla, and has served as an arts center and one of the cultural landmarks of the city since 1847. The Opera House provides excellent tours of its magnificent buildings for groups and individuals, in Catalan, Spanish, English and French. When I went with my wife to the Opera House to book a tour, I was greeted by Alvaro, and I was immediately impressed with the high standard of his spoken English. In conversation with him, I learned about his love of languages, developed at an early age, and his impressive CV, which includes a stint of study at the Université de Lyon 2.
Although only 21 years old, Alvaro Mira has acquired a solid knowledge of Spanish, English and French (in addition to his mother-tongue, Catalan) and I predict a very successful career for him in some field of language.
J.G.: Where were you born and which language did you speak at home.
A.M.: I was born in Barcelona and spoke Catalan to my parents and Spanish to my grandparents and great aunt.
J.G.: At what age was your first exposure to another language?
A.M.: At the age of 3 we were taught some basic English vocabulary at school, but it was only at the age of 12 that serious instruction was provided, and I complemented my English studies with private lessons.
J.G.: What motivated you to study English so seriously at that age?
A.M.: Initially my strong interest in English was triggered by the fact that I was a fan of Bruno Mars, Joe Jonas and other American artists, but after I outgrew that stage, my love of English remained.
J.G.: Were you able to practice your English outside of Spain?
A.M.: Yes, after hosting a Swedish student in Barcelona, I travelled to Forsheda, Sweden in 2013 and again in 2014, where I was a guest student for more than a week each time. My common language with my Swedish guest and then with my Swedish hosts was English. Between the two visits I gained a First Certificate in English from the University of Cambridge. I did two English immersion stints in California with Cultural Homestay International. That involved taking classes in the mornings and engaging in social activities in the afternoons. Also, I got to speak English with the American host family I was living with. It is so much easier to learn a language when you are having fun. Later I tutored students aged 12-18 in English.
J.G.: How did you acquire your fluency in French?
A.M.: I found French to be relatively easy when I studied it in high school. This was partly due to the common roots of Catalan and French, which make French closer to Catalan in some respects than French is to Spanish. But to build on my basic knowledge, I was applied for and was awarded an Erasmus Scholarship to study French-Spanish translation and Grammaire contrastive pour hispanophones. I am currently studying English and French Translation and Interpreting.
J.G.: What stage have you reached in your studies and what do you have planned?
A.M.: Since 2015 I have been pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting in English and French at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Once I obtain the degree, I plan to do a Masters, but I have not yet decided in exactly which field. I find legal translation and multimedia translation particularly interesting, although interpreting is something I am very comfortable doing too.
J.G.: What do you think of Machine Translation?
A.M.: I do not believe that it will ever replace humans, given the subtleties and nuances of each language and the need to bridge them. It is true that from the point of view of a translator, Machine Translation may be seen as a work tool. However, it should never be considered as the only means for translation.
J.G.: In a recent edition of The Economist, there is an article on Catalonia, which ends with the words: “What is clearer is that Catalan society remains split down the middle.” Do you believe that this situation has a language component to it? Would the situation be worse if Catalan did not serve as a unifying force between both camps of Catalans?
A.M.: Recent studies have proven that those who have Catalan as a mother tongue have a greater propensity to seek independence from Spain than those who do not have Catalan as a mother tongue. As far as I am concerned, I would like to see the Catalan language as a tool for everyone, not just for a few. I think everyone should be able to use both languages irrespective of their origin or political orientation.