Name: Andreas G. Wolff
Nationality or Ethnicity: German
Where do you live?: Argyll, Scotland
Broadcast ability: English, German, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic
Interview ability: French, Italian, Portuguese
Colloquial ability: Russian
Basic ability: Irish, Scots, Latin
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Learning languages is cool. Remember James Bond in: “You only live twice?” When Miss Moneypenny hands him a course in advanced instant Japanese he looks at her pitifully and says: “Don’t you know I studied modern languages at Oxford?” As a young buy I wanted to be a little bit like 007.
I started learning English and French in school as most kids in Germany do. Some spend a year abroad in the US before their final exams, but I chose to spend half a year in France and half a year in Scotland. That’s when I first picked up a few words of Gaelic. Back in Berlin I had two years of Russian at school. Doesn’t sound much, but we had an excellent teacher. I studied Italian, Spanish and Portuguese in night classes at various stages and practised them during extensive holidays. Also did some Latin at university. From 2003 to 2007 I studied a BA (Hons) in Gaelic where we also had modules in Irish and Scots.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I really regret having let my French slip. I was once stopped by French police who almost arrested me when I presented them with a German ID card, thinking it was a fraud. Wouldn’t happen now.
My current number one aim is to improve my Russian.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I want to improve my ability in Scots, Irish and Latin and would like to learn Mandarin and Arabic (not sure which variant, though).
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I genuinely think any language can be sexy if mastered well. But maybe that just shows you how much of a nerd I am.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
If you speak the local language you’ve got the keys to the town and people open up to you. I also love the different world view every language conveys. Scots Gaelic e.g. has a different colour spectrum: grass is blue!
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?
There is scientific evidence that this is true. Many languages such as Scottish Gaelic will survive as a network language, meaning there will be scattered individuals who speak it. But will there be communities where the language is the lingua franca? Not if the current trend continues.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
My top language learning tip:
Say what you can say! Don’t look for the exact translation of a sentence in your mother tongue. You will get frustrated by so many words you don’t know. Unless you’re doing a translation of a scientific text, all you need is to say something appropriate: