Name: Elias Aamot
Nationality or Ethnicity: Norwegian
Where do you live?: Trondheim, Norway
Languages: C-level: Norwegian, English, German B-level: Estonian, Spanish, French, Mandarin. A(minus)-level: Russian. Learning: Greek
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I suppose I’ve always had a certain curiosity for languages. When I was in primary school I practiced Judo for a while. I remember they gave us a booklet with Judo terminology, in Japanese. Names of body parts and so on. I tried to learn those words by heart because I found it interesting, even if I didn’t have any intention to actually learn to speak Japanese.
School gave me my first foreign languages. English is a mandatory foreign language for everybody in Norway. In high school everybody has to pick a second foreign language to learn. I chose French. In my French class I had a classmate who was into the polyglot scene, and his passion slowly carried over to me. It was through him I first heard about the Michel Thomas method, and famous polyglots like Steve Kaufmann and Richard Simcott.
Love is responsible for bringing the next two languages into my life. First my brother married a girl from Colombia. This triggered a wave of Spanish learning in my family. Shortly after, I met the girl who is now my wife. She is from Estonia, so I started learning Estonian, a language that we are using more and more of at home, in order to teach our son.
Work brought the next language. I lived and worked in Germany and German-speaking Switzerland for almost 7 years, so even though I wasn’t the most dedicated student - and despite spending too much time hanging out with other foreigners - German dripped its way into my life. German is relatively similar to my native Norwegian, so getting to a high level of comprehension was easy. Learning the grammar, on other hand, was a completely different story.
Mandarin is basically the only language I speak that I deliberately decided to study. Between my bachelor and master degrees, I decided I wanted to dedicate a year to learning a new language. I listed Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Russian as options, and landed on Chinese as the most useful of those. As a bonus, Chinese was climate-wise preferable to freezing to death in Russia or dying from heat under the Arab sun. It also helped that a family friend advised me to apply for a Chinese government scholarship which paid for the stay there.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Most of them. I get more than enough English in my daily life, but I would love to have more of all the others.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I have a long list (like most other language learning enthusiasts, I believe): Persian, I am very intrigued by its long history and centuries-long role as lingua franca between the east and the west. Croatian, because I have many Croatian (and Serbian) friends. Dutch and Italian, because they are similar to languages I know. I also want to learn a Celtic language at some point in my lifetime. Finally, as a Norwegian polyglot, I absolutely want to learn a Sami language too. However, I recently picked up Greek, so I need to get somewhere with that before I jump at any of these next challenges.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Sexy is more about what associations you have with the language, rather than an intrinsic quality of the language itself, so it is a highly individual thing.. As a joke, I like to say “Every language is sexy, except French”, as French is an overrepresented answer to this question.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
It has to be the energy I get when I participate in Polyglot events and get to practice a bunch of languages with other like-minded people.
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 believe that, unfortunately, the world will indeed lose a huge number of languages in the next 100 years. Hundreds or even thousands of languages are spoken by only a few handful people, and these are likely to disappear. Languages die because people stop using them, and people stop using languages if they are perceived as low status, or if people have to change languages for educational or financial opportunities. These are all things that can be changed, so it is possible to reverse the trend and minimize the number of languages that have to die. Polyglots have the potential to contribute a lot here, but in practice, I feel that polyglots more often contribute to the harmful status quo than help fight it. As an example, polyglots tend to learn the biggest, most commonly spoken languages. This makes sense from the perspective of the individual language learner, but it does strengthen the position of the major languages vis a vis smaller local languages. Statements like “If you learn Russian, you can communicate easily in all the post-Soviet states” (or the same for other regional languages in other parts of the world) and “Luckily, they learn the standard language in school, so you will be able to communicate with people in the entire country” are examples I often hear from members of the polyglot community. These also make sense from a language learning perspective, but one should be aware that they have an adverse effect on the minority languages at the receiving end of such statements.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Go for it! It is not always easy, but it is definitely worth it!