Name: Catharina Meier
Nationality or Ethnicity: German
Where do you live?: Barcelona, Spain
Languages: German is my native language, I retain fluency in English, French, Spanish, Italian as well as Catalan and reached a conversational level in Swedish, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Arabic (MSA), Hebrew, Hindi and Russian. Recently started learning Swahili.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
By the age of 16 I discovered my passion for languages. I spent the summer at a language school in South England to improve my English. In my class we were students from all over the world. This was the first time I really got to put my language knowledge into use and in return learned a lot about different cultures. Back home I decided to become a language professional. After graduating from high school, I moved to France for my 3-year Bachelor studies. I was convinced to become an interpreter and translator. Over the course of the years I got the chance to study at universities in 6 different countries. Thanks to these experiences I had picked up close to 10 languages by the time I finished my Master’s degree.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I wish I could take my conversational Modern Greek to the next level. For years I have been “playing around” with this beautiful language but never really got the chance to dive deeper into it.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I recently started to learn Swahili. Thanks to its Arabic influences I could understand quite a bit from day 1 which gave me a lot of motivation to keep going. So, I would like to take it further in the future…
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Russian. I love the interchange of hard and soft sounds which, in my opinion, makes it a very melodic language.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
There are many great moments I had thanks to knowing various languages and using them whenever I got the chance. I find most pleasure in the tiny moments – whether it’s in my everyday life or while travelling abroad – when I see the surprise in people’s face as I start talking to them in their native language. Especially rewarding and unforgettable are those moments in which I could use a language for the first time in a real life situation, like speaking Hebrew to a taxi driver in Tel Aviv, trying out my Arabic on local markets in Middle Eastern countries, or simply asking for directions in Swedish while visiting Stockholm.
I also enjoy the interchange with fellow polyglots at international language events where you meet a lot of like-minded people and I am always positively surprised at how many people share the same passion as me.
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’m sure many smaller or indigenous languages are at high risk of dying out over the course of the next century. Therefore, it’s great to see a growing number of initiatives from the polyglot community organizing online classes with native speakers and making resources accessible for everyone interested. Technology will make it easier to preserve a language even though the number of its native speakers is in decline. Despite it all, more and more efforts must be made to actively promote the study of endangered languages.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
“We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly.” (Kató Lomb)
I love this quote because it brings to the point what makes language learning so valuable. It is my motto whenever I embark on the journey of learning a new language. Fluency should not be the primary goal, but rather the ability of making yourself understood and engaging in basic conversations. This can already be an extremely rewarding experience as you see how far you can get after only a few months of studying. It also means that there is no real limit as to how many languages someone can study. If you’re interested in a variety of cultures, countries and language families, then there’s no reason not to study multiple languages at the same time.