Name: Akarsh Prasad
Nationality or Ethnicity: Swiss/Indian
Where do you live?: Zurich, Switzerland
Languages: Native: Malayalam, English, German,
Conversational: French, Spanish, Russian, Swedish, Italian
Basic: Hebrew, Mandarin
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Despite growing up trilingual and between two multilingual societies (Swiss and Indian), I only developed a strong passion for languages in my mid/late twenties. I stumbled into it while trying to reactivate the French and the very basic Spanish I learned at school. I found a method that works for me and, quite encouraged by the results, I tried picking up Russian, since I was always intrigued by the language and today it’s one of my favourite. Mandarin came next and still is a long term project as it’s testing the limits of my current approach. In parallel I added Swedish and Italian, which were a bit easier learn given prior knowledge of related languages. As of 2023, I’ve started learning Hebrew.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Surprisingly, the hardest I find to practice is French! I’m surrounded by French speakers, even in the German speaking part of Switzerland, but we somehow end up defaulting to English/German. Otherwise I generally don’t find it very hard to practice any of the other languages. I’ve always worked in large, global organizations with a very diverse workforce, very conducive to language exchanges, so hardly a week goes by when I don’t practice many of the languages I speak.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
It’s hard to say, I never planned out my linguistic journey, sometimes I just like how a language sounds and then I start looking into it. The only long term goal I have is to get my Mandarin to a good level. Most of the time I spend currently on languages is to retain my current repertoire.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I’d say Spanish.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I think nowadays we have gotten quite used to speaking in linguae francae such as English, but speaking to people in their native languages really allows one to establish a much closer bond. While travelling it allows you connect with people who come from entirely different backgrounds. Language are windows into different cultures and speaking and reading literature in different languages are great ways to discover our world’s cultural diversity.
6. 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 think that multilingualism is soaring in today’s hyper-connected world, at the same time a lot of minor languages are under immense pressure, and many of them are definitely at risk. I think today we also have a lot of unique technological means to preserve the rich linguistic heritage of our world, but it requires a strong dedication from linguists and native speakers to leave enough materials so that languages can be passed on from one generation to the next.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
As someone relatively late to the language game, I agree it’s never too late to start learning a language. Nor do I think it is impossible to learn multiple languages at the same time. I think you always improve your chances if you are comfortable making mistakes, even look silly at times. It’s also important not be put off by cold reactions from native speakers. I’ve always preferred immersive methods and a vocabulary before grammar approach, and also to speak with natives as soon as possible.
The trickiest part of learning languages is the long slog between the early stages and the point when you achieve relative fluency. It’s the point when the initial enthusiasm and excitement fades and any gradual progress is not as visible as it is at the beginning. I think pushing through is period is crucial but ultimately being able to speak a new language is a very rewarding endeavour!