Name: Ilker Aslan
Nationality or Ethnicity: Turkish / Swiss citizen
Languages: Turkish, English, Danish, German, Greek, French, Dutch, Spanish
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. I have been living abroad for the last 21 years in 6 different countries. I have started college in Germany and completed in the US. After my undergraduate degree, I got a scholarship from the Greek government to study Greek intensively before I started my masters in EU Law in Denmark and learnt Danish. During my masters, I moved to Belgium as a exchange student where I learnt Dutch and French and worked at the European Parliament in Brussels. Afterwards, I moved to Switzerland and did my PhD in Economics at Switzerland’s only bilingual (German/French) university. Simultaneously, I have learnt Swiss-German dialect as well as Spanish and Greek through self-study and private lessons.
I have also been interested in other languages but I was really blessed by the fact that I have had the opportunity to speak and use these languages on a daily basis with my friends and colleagues from different linguistic backgrounds. My goal is always to keep these languages relevant in my daily life in one way or the other. Even if you do not have a conversation partner, even watching movies or documentaries on YouTube or Netflix in the original languages can prevent your skills from getting too rusty.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
Greek would be on top my list. It is a gorgeous language, however you need a meat-cutter to go through the grammar and learn all the accentuation, conjugation and nitty-gritty of the grammar rules. It is a language spoken by roughly 14 million people. I wish I would have more of an opportunity to practice it. Second would be Danish, which I have learnt during my studies in Denmark. However, outside Denmark (except Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland), Danish is not really a widely studied language. I am a member of a rowing club in Zurich where many members hail from Norway and Sweden so these days my ears have gotten used to hearing Norwegian and Swedish. Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are by and large mutually intelligible so when we communicate with one another, we use a common “Scandinavian” vernacular.
3. What are some languages you would like to learn in the future?
My goal is to learn Icelandic first. Hopefully, my exposure to Danish will help me. I have also wanted to learn Italian for a long time. I have been living in Switzerland for 14 years now and Italian is one of the 4 official languages, besides German, French and Romansh. I am fluent in German and French. I also speak the local Swiss-German dialect well enough to get myself in and out of trouble. After Italian, I would like to learn the Romansh language, which is unfortunately a dying language in Switzerland. It is a beautiful and melodic language and I would like to help to preserve it.
4. So let’s be honest, what is the sexiest language?
Tough question. However, there is something magically melodic with Icelandic and Greek. However what makes a language sexy is defined by the linguistic competency of the speaker.
5. Some people say the world is really going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is true?
I am afraid this is going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the speakers of disadvantageous languages give up their native tongues to seek employment or education opportunities. Large dominant languages are gaining ground against the smaller and undefended languages. The situation is even more critical for those languages which are not officially recognized state languages.
6. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there are interested in studying multiple languages?
Never try to find a reason why you should find a reason to study a specific language. Create the reasons yourself! Make your target language(s) part of your daily routine. Keep the language relevant in your life. Travel to that country. Read its literature, listen to its music. Even if you are not the religious type, take part in their religious holidays. Learn their history. Taste their cuisine. Connect with the native speakers on social media. If possible, join their expat or student groups in your home country. You will be amazed to see how rewarding such an immersion could be and how welcoming people are who take the effort to learn their language.