Interview with
Jolien Schittko

Name: Jolien Schittko
Nationality or Ethnicity: German
Where do you live?: in Germany
Languages: German, Dutch, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Esperanto, Danish, Norwegian Bokmal,
some passive knowledge of Turkish and Latin 


What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?

I was fortunate that my family moved to the United States for 2 years when I was in Elementary School. So I became fluent in English at only 7 - 8 years old. We moved back to Germany and I was fortunate again that my school offered me to learn  even 4 languages: English, Latin, French and Ancient Greek. In the 9th grade I spent a month in a host family in the Provence in France where I spoke only French with all the family members. Before my baccalaureate my parents allowed me to attend a language school for pupils in Bournemouth in Great Britain for 2 weeks with a stay in a host  family again.  So I graduated from school speaking 3 languages: German, English and French. After school my choice was to study at university. As a Law student I chose learning Dutch at university, which became my favorite language in life. In the semester holidays I took part in youth camps in the Netherlands and I was the only foreigner in these “under 25 years” groups. This was very language intensive. Later  I discovered “Leidse Onderwijs Instellingen” which offered qualification courses in Dutch by letter correspondence such as “Orienteringsfase Rechten” and “Basiscursus Italiaans” which I attended. My Law studies failed, I didn’t graduate. After some menial jobs I went to university again studying Romance Philology (Spanish, Italian, French and Pedagogics) without graduating as well.  My languages Turkish, Danish and Norwegian Bokmal I learned at the adult education centre (“Volkshochschule”) in Germany. Esperanto I learned by private lessons and by letter correspondence courses via The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. I needed to get professional diplomas to be able to find qualified work.  So I attended evening courses in business English and obtained two Business English qualifications.  I found work as an office clerk doing legal translations Dutch - German and Business correspondence in Dutch! 


Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?

My language philosophy is: “Language learning is my lifetime project and my aim is to keep all my selected languages active in usage!” I certainly don’t want to learn language B and forget language A! Sitting in the public library studying with a textbook  is one thing but integrating all kinds of language usage into my daily life such as speaking (for example on Skype), reading (for example a magazine in Norwegian), writing (letters to my penfriends in different foreign languages) and listening (for example to a You Tube chess course spoken in Spanish) is equally important. At some point I took the decision to abandon Turkish, because my grammar and vocabulary knowledge was only passive and I couldn’t find buddies online to activate the language. 


What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

I think keeping 9 languages active in usage and working on maintaining / improving  their levels requires enough of my attention so I will rather not start studying any new language from scratch. 


So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

I don’t find languages sexy, but enormously fascinating! No language is boring, each of them has its own beauty. 


What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

Languages open many doors, it’s a quite philosophical question. Your horizon is not limited to your own native culture. The internet is a miracle for me as a “home polyglot”! I have access to foreign media. I have Skypies with whom I can communicate  in language tandems. I can for example experience my hobbies astronomy and chess in different languages. On Skype we talk about the geography and weather of different countries. You can find like minded friends through Skype contacts or traditional letter correspondence. 


Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?

I have read that more and more smaller languages are dying and every single  language which dies out makes me sad. It’s like with climate change, if we do nothing, the worst case will occur. So language politics should preserve the variety of all languages, document the languages, explore the languages scientifically. Publish good dictionaries! It’s a very broad topic, but the last thing that I will lose, is my hope. HYPIA is excellent for creating more awareness for the value of all individual languages. 


What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

You cannot study too many languages at once. Choose one, two or three languages and stick to them for a long time. If you learn language A and then forget language A and then learn  language B and then forget language B, you have done something wrong. You should strive to maintain what you have learned. 

The International Association of Hyperpolyglots - HYPIA. (c) 2020

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