By Ignaty Dyakov MCIL, CL, MSoA
Can I say that I have always loved languages? Not sure, but if one believes in the law of attraction, then - I suppose - I have always been attracted to languages, as I have studied quite a few. When somebody asks me how many languages I know, I usually respond, ‘None, however I have studied a variety of them throughout the years’. Having first been exposed to French in primary school, I managed to learn English, Latin, Ancient Greek, a bit of Swedish and German in my teens.
Whilst doing my A-levels, I grew fascinated by linguistics and thus enrolled to do a Degree and then Masters’ in Oriental and African Studies, where I specialised in Amharic and Geez, the modern and old languages of Ethiopia, and studied Arabic and Italian. Alongside that, I gained an additional qualification in Translation and Interpreting.
Whilst still doing my degree, I started working at the University of St Petersburg and in five years enjoyed trying various roles – from a research assistant to lecturer and head of schools in my Department.
When changes started happening in Russian politics, this affected the University too and thus I decided to take a break from my university career (and PhD, which was well under way by then) and moved to London to do a Masters’ at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) in 2008.
I still remember the morning of 15 September, when I landed at Gatwick and debated in my head if the decision to take up a loan to study in England was the right one. It cost me exactly as much as a black three-door 1.2l VW Polo (series 5, manual), which I had hoped to buy. That September morning 11 years ago I was trying to justify to myself that an MA from UCL would bring me more joy than a car. I am still not sure whether I received more joy this way, as I have never owned a black Polo, but the change to my life and myself has definitely been profound.
Upon graduation from UCL SSEES, I found myself co-founding an educational business. Fear, excitement, sadness, joy – all of these I experienced in the three years we were building the company. When the time came for me to part with it, I knew that my future would be the future of an entrepreneur and not an employee.
Business and linguistics merged into a linguistic consultancy for Western companies interested in moving into the Russian market. First, a self-employed tutor and translator, I soon got involved in market research and marketing, gathering business intelligence and accompanying my clients on field visits to Russia. Russia Local Ltd got a few awards and certain stature in the field. My colleagues provided consulting, translation, interpreting, editing, teaching services… Personally, I continued teaching Russian for business and authored a series of unconventional Russian language textbooks. I have humbly learnt in the past few years that my books are now used at universities and schools in the UK, USA, some European countries, as well as Chile and India.
In summer 2015, between getting into the final of ‘The Best Russian language Teacher outside of Russia’ award and recording my third audio-book, I popped to the hospital to get an annoyingly persistent pain in my tongue checked. Three weeks later, I went back to get the results (certainly, it couldn’t be anything serious, as I didn’t smoke, lived a relatively healthy life and so on). I was working on the email to my client in the corridor, when a doctor approached and greeted me, inviting to his office. I must say I got a bit confused by how he glanced at my laptop. Well, the glance was explained three minutes later when I heard the word ‘cancer’. That’s how chapter two of my life finished – a language consultant and public speaker got diagnosed with an aggressively spreading tongue cancer.
Big evil-looking events are proven to bring an array of opportunities with them even though they aren’t immediately evident. Through the months of surgeries and radiotherapy, then rehabilitation, I couldn’t see what positive could potentially come out of a situation in which lose a chunk of my life together with a third of my tongue, see my energy depleted and a number of treatment side effects growing. I was incredibly lucky that some of my clients loyally waited for me and even brought projects my way or referred to me for advice, which I could do even from a hospital bed. It not only sustained me financially, but helped enormously to stay strong emotionally and mentally. The time came for me to take to rehabilitation and healing more proactively. And what better way is there to recover than going camping in Europe in the middle of winter for 45 days and then venturing even further to the Himalayas? There, atop of the world’s roof, through exposure to different cultures, as well as different therapies, I came to realise that: helping people live better and healthier lives; helping them learn about a variety of options available to them to support self-healing; and helping them to feel more confident and motivated, would be my new role in the world. Linguists help people understand each other; my new role as a life and health coach would be to help people understand their mind and body.
Fast-forwarding three years, I have moved out of London, seeking a quieter and more balanced life; I have gained my qualifications as a life coach (on top of being a business mentor, which I did years ago, having happily mentored start-ups and self-employed) and an Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant, I have studied nutrition and naturopathy, as well as various complementary therapies in the UK, Thailand and India. I have set up my practice Life Sensei UK (www.lifesensei.uk) in the Midlands and started working on-line with clients from all over the world.
I support clients, who want to change their lifestyle, gain more energy, reduce the impact of chronic diseases or stresses of outgrown jobs, divorces, moving to a new country etc. They want to hear what their bodies tell them and communicate their self-respect and love through better eating, movement, sleep, relaxation. We work together to make this happen – myself not as a guide, but as an informed companion and aide.
I still write educational textbooks and, in this capacity, serve as Chair of the 900-member strong Educational Writers Group of the Society of Authors. I keep teaching Russian as a foreign language and work as an ad-hoc English to Russian translator for a small number of my old clients.
This continuous linguistic work reminds me of the importance of speaking the same language – with your friends, business partners, politicians, but also your own mind and body.
My talk ‘Introduction to health for linguists: a holistic approach’ is on Friday, 15 November at 4.30pm at The Language Show in London Olympia