Name: Annette Flottwell
Nationality or Ethnicity: German/ Belgian
Where do you live?: Belgium, I work in Luxembourg.
Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, some Serbo-Croat, Bahasa and Russian. Understands Italian and Catalan.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
When I was a kid, some members of my family spoke different languages, but alas I wasn’t exactly encouraged to learn them. That changed dramatically when I ran away from home at 15 and ended up in France. The teacher gave me books to read and soon enough I hardly noticed that it was a different language. Soon enough I thought in French, which worked fine. I stuck to that through the rest of my life as a mechanic and engineer, through 6 countries, the motor trade in Belgium, Germany, France and Costa Rica and 4 relationships. Yes, I learnt Spanish mainly from repair manuals and in the garage. I wrote articles for various automotive magazines in English, French, Dutch, German and Spanish.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Russian and refresh my Serbian. I’d love to improve my basic knowledge of Bahasa Malay.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
Bahasa Malay properly and Arab; Urdu or Hindi would also be great. I’m afraid I am to dumb to learn Chinese, I am unable to remember the characters.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Difficult. Portuguese and Spanish touch my heart, but so does Russian. Arab in devotional music does the same. (Conversation between my ex and me: If we were to live in Malaysia, I couldn’t stand listening to the Muezzin every day. Me: Why, I love it)
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
A quick witted answer or a tongue in cheek joke in 6 languages.
The ease to learn the next one and to be able to pick up conversations in so many situations. And, for the first time in my life at 60, I earn my living translating technical texts.
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?
Nope. We may have only 2 or 3 languages for written international communication such as English, Chinese and Russian. 500 years ago this was Latin, Arab and Chinese. But the better communication also means that kids have better access to education in their own culture or language. Many native American languages have only recently received proper schoolbooks and didactic material. So there is a wealth of traditional knowledge out there, waiting to be conserved and taught.
Also there are many things which are much easier to express in a languages different from English.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Just do it, don’t worry too much about grammatical exceptions and minor details to start with. Read, read and listen to radio stations. Get somebody like a workmate to improve your pronunciation or grammar.
Never book a package holiday. Learn to ask for directions in a train station, to decent food or a place to stay in Bahasa, Macedonian or Greek. This is how I leaned some Serbian 40 years ago.
Then, don’t ever stop learning. I am learning new words every single day at 60.