Interview with Kyrylo Chuyko by Sharyn Collins
Imagine, dear readers, that you are taking part in some kind of spectacular language competition in China watched by over three million viewers. Yes, I did say three million and ……….. You win!!!
Well, that is exactly what happened to Kyrylo Chuyko from Ukraine and I was delighted to be given the opportunity to interview him for Neurolanguage Collective Magazine.
Kyrylo, first of all, thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to do this interview. I first became aware of you this year when you helped Rachel Paling to present the Neurolanguage Conference in May. Your vibrant personality came through immediately but when Rachel asked you to speak some Chinese, I was absolutely blown away by your fluency in such a difficult language. There and then, I decided that I had to interview you for the magazine but also for my own curiosity. Who was this bright young man? How did he speak such good Chinese? Where was he from? I just had to know.
So, Kyrylo, to get the full picture, could we start right at the beginning? I understand that you are Ukrainian.
Yes, that is correct. I was born in a small city in Ukraine called Mariupol, where my mother is an English teacher. Actually, she was my school English teacher and she has been a huge influence on my linguistic career.
I can imagine. Did your mum start teaching you English from an early age?
Yes, I started to learn English naturally with my mum from being a baby, but at the age of nine, I developed an interest in German and convinced my parents to buy me a distance learning course and by that, I mean listening to cassettes and posting off homework; there were no online courses at that time.
So you became a linguist and polyglot from a very early age.
In a way, yes. At the age of seven, my parents enrolled me in a school specialising in English and here we did so many classes in English literature, grammar and even scientific translation; I loved it.
Did your school offer Chinese?
It didn’t but, at the age of about 15, I started teaching myself a few phrases just out of interest. In the summer of 2008, I got the opportunity to practice when I helped out at a summer camp in Ukraine. There was a delegation from China, Georgia and the USA at the camp and I wasted no time in trying out my new Chinese language skills but it didn’t go as planned. Sadly, the Chinese delegate confessed that she hadn’t understood one word! We both had a good laugh, and that was the point where I learnt that Chinese is a tonal language, meaning it’s a language in which the pitch (tone) is used to distinguish the meaning of words. A single word or syllable spoken in several different tones can thus convey widely varied concepts. This made me realize how much I had a lot to learn, but I was encouraged more than deterred and in 2009 at the age of 17, I entered the Kyiv National Linguistic University to study Chinese full-time.
Wow ! A whole university dedicated to Linguistics! That is something we do not have in the UK. We always have a linguistic department within a university but to be constantly surrounded by so many linguists must have been a dream.
Was it easy to get a place at this prestigious university where over 23 languages were taught?
Not really, but I had been the top student in my region and third nationally and so that made it easier.
Can we now jump to 2013 when you had completed four years at university because, at that point, you entered what would become a life-changing competition. Could you tell our readers about that?
Certainly! In 2013, there was a worldwide competition for students studying Chinese. It is called the Chinese Bridge. I had won an award as the top student studying Chinese in my country and so I was allowed to enter with 122 students from 77 countries. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Did you go to China?
Oh yes, we had an all expenses paid trip. We stayed in top hotels and we had stylists and hairdressers. It was amazing. We had to compete in knockout rounds and each round included tests in Chinese speaking, writing and cultural tests, sometimes using maps to find things. There were lots of mini-competitions which made the programme interesting to watch.
Because it was a linguistic and cultural test, not a competition for pop stars or dancers, you might think that it wouldn’t have been a popular TV show and yet it was the most-watched TV show in China; full of dance, costumes, singers and so much razzmatazz!. We had to fly to different cities and we were filmed almost 24/7.
Gradually people were eliminated and I found myself down to the last 15, then down to the last ten and then finally…… First Prize!!
Congratulations! What an achievement!! And I love the photos. Did you win a prize?
The prize was an offer to do a Masters or a Doctorate in any university in China with all expenses paid; flights to and from Ukraine, books, tuition, everything. The proviso was that it had to be taken within three years.
It was a truly great offer, but I loved my university in Ukraine. I had been so involved as a student representative, I had friends and the massive experience in China had been enough for me. Therefore, I decided to return to my university in Kyiv to do a Masters but there was a shock awaiting me.
A shock? What do you mean? Hopefully nothing bad.
It was bad and really disappointing. Even though I was considered in China to be one of the best Chinese students in the world, my Ukrainian university would not allow me to do a Masters that year because I had applied late and all the places were taken. They were not prepared to make exceptions.
So, not without some anger, I decided to take a year off from academic work and get a job. Fortunately, I had made great contacts in China and so I was able to join a Chinese company where I still work today. I also started to do some interpreting work for the Ukrainian government and various companies.
I can understand that was hard on you given your achievements but at least you were able to earn some money for a year and learn something about the world of business.
That’s right and before the year was out, I had decided to do an interpreting and translation course in Mandarin at Nottingham University.
Did you move to England?
Actually no, I didn’t. I love England and have only spent a very short time there but I would love to work there and discover more about your culture. Nottingham University has a campus in China and so I spent the whole year in Ningbo city. It was actually a two-year course but I was able to cram it into one. I rarely use English which is a great shame, so thank you for doing this interview and allowing me to practice.
So, where are you now in your life Kyrylo?
Please call me Carl if my Ukrainian name is a problem to pronounce. Ordering a coffee at Starbucks convinced me that I had to change to a name which is easier to pronounce. Apparently, there is such a thing as the Starbucks Name Test, but I didn’t know that at the time. I just did it anyway.
At this point in my life, I work for a Chinese company called Happiness, I interpret for the government at quite a high level and I am, of course, a Neurolanguage coach!
Hence the reason why you were at the conference. Could you tell me about your journey to becoming a Neurolanguage coach? I love hearing these stories.
Yes, it’s an interesting story. When I was 12 years old, my parents sent me for an English course to Great Yarmouth on the east coast of England. There I met a young boy called Jacob and we became lifelong friends. Actually, he was the first to call me Carl. In the last few years, he often talked about his qualification as a Neurolanguage coach and so finally he made me curious enough to enrol on the course during the pandemic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and then had the honour to help Rachel to present the speakers at the conference in May this year.
Carl, what are your plans for the future?
Well, I continue to be a polyglot and I am now learning Spanish, Polish and Turkish and I have set up my own Ukrainian conference interpreter’s course for the Chinese language.
Simultaneous interpreting (Mandarin-Ukrainian) is not yet studied in Ukraine at university level and so last year I created the first course and we ran it for the first time with 6 students. It was hard work and the results were good and so I hope to continue with a new set of students next year. I would also like to make as many connections as I can in the world of education.
What a great goal Carl to finish with!
Thank you so much for allowing me to look inside your very interesting world. I am sure our readers will enjoy reading about you.