Though he grew up speaking only English and Kiswahili, Felix Antonio, a public relations officer at Venezuelan Embassy, speaks 10 languages fluently
While many struggle to converse even in their vernacular, 24-year-old Felix Antonio can speak 10 languages fluently. But Felix, like many millennials, grew up speaking English and Kiswahili at his home in Umoja, Nairobi. It was not until he was done with Class Eight that he came across another language he had not been taught.
“After my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2008, I had a lot of time on my hands and I borrowed a book from a friend because I am an avid reader. It was a beginner’s French book with words and pictures. I remember being so fascinated by the fact that it was a language I did not know,” he recalls.
Consequently, he began to read the book and thanks to his somewhat great memory, he did not forget what he read. His only issue was the pronunciation of words. “I then joined Aquinas High School and in Form One, usually, one is assigned different classes and I landed in Agriculture.
I still used to read French books and one day, four weeks into the term, I was strolling when I passed by the French class. I was glued to the door as I listened to how the teacher articulated the words. Words that I had read and were still in my mind, but I did not know how to pronounce them,” he recalls.
The teacher noted Felix and they later on had a chat. He switched classes to be in the French class. “After learning French, I spoke it so fluently that some people were convinced I was Rwandese,” Felix adds. In 2009, he represented his school at the Kenya National Music Festival.
While there, he met other students participating in different languages competition. “I was fascinated. I thought I knew something different until I met others speaking other languages, even German,” he said. His interest was pent up. He now wanted to learn another lingua.
“After high school, I got a private tutor for German. I had lessons thrice a week at Sh2,000. My close friends and family always pointed out that I was good at languages. When I realised I could speak French and German well, I decided to explore other languages,” he admits.
Felix signed up at Utalii College in 2014 to study tourism and it was there that he learnt Chinese and Portueguese. “In college, we had an opportunity to study a variety of languages and I chose Chinese and Portuguese. I also learnt Japanese as well,” he intimates. While on attachment at the Mara, Serena, he met a Russian family and not being able to communictae with them broke his heart. “I knew I had to learn Russian too,” he laughs. He speaks Italian too.
“I met an Italian family and I got interested in learning the language,” he says. Felix can comfortably speak English, Kiswahili, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Portuguese. “I am awed by the fact that there are so many languages in the world and I can’t wait to learn more,” he adds.
“I get to watch international news from all around the world and just recently, I landed a job at the Venezuelan Embassy as an interpreter at first,” he notes. Now he is in charge of public relations. “It was while at a gig, last year in September that I met the Venezuelan ambassador to Kenya.
We had a chat in Spanish and he was impressed. The following week, I got a job as an interpreter. Being able to talk different languages makes me feel like I assume different personalities and it feels awesome,” Felix beams with pride. He has had his fair share of challenges and top of the list is practising to speak foreign languages.
“I can’t practise by myself so, having someone to talk with in diffrent languages is quite a struggle,” he notes. Felix hopes to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with his apparent love for languages, he wants to study Polish, Arabic, Czech and Korean, as if 10 languages are not enough!