Name: Jonas Haller
Where do you live?: Switzerland
Working proficiency: Swiss-German, German, French, English, Finnish, Danish, Tajik.
Limited proficiency: Italian, Russian, Swedish, Romansh, Latin, Estonian.
Previously better, but deteriorated proficiency: Ladakhi, Ancient-Greek.
Intermediate beginner level: Chinese (Mandarin)
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
In middle school, I started learning French 🇫🇷, Italian 🇮🇹, English 🇬🇧, Latin 🏛️ and Ancient Greek 🇬🇷.
That was middle school. Then came high-school, and for my second year of high-school, I was able to go on exchange for a year, and so, I went to Finland 🇫🇮, where I lived in a host family and went to a local school where the instruction language was Finnish. There, I also started with Russian 🇷🇺, and took up some Swedish classes too 🇸🇪, as in Finland, everything is written in Finnish and Swedish, this facilitates picking up the language on the side.
Back home, I continued with Russian classes for another two years, together with French, English and Latin. Then, I went studying in the French part of Switzerland, in Lausanne at EPFL. After my bachelors, I went on an internship in Ladakh, India, where they speak Ladakhi, a language derived from Tibetan ☸️, so I acquired some conversational skills in that too, as well as the writing. At university, I also took some classes in Chinese (Mandarin) 🇨🇳 for a year.
For my master thesis, I went to Denmark, where I, of course, couldn't neither resist learning the language 🇩🇰. And thereafter I went to work in Tajikistan, where I picked up the language 🇹🇯 quite easily, as the grammar is not very complicated (unlike French, German) and pronunciation is straight forward (unlike English). While working, I took a course in Romansh 🇨🇭⛰ at the university, as I always wanted to learn this language. 😊 I then headed the translation of a one time newspaper of 4 pages into Romansh.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I would say all of them. But maybe at this point Danish and Finnish.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
At the moment, I’m still working on improving the language skills I have, but in the future, I I would love to learn more languages, and work in more countries. Maybe that would be Arabic or some Turkic language of Central Asia.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Finnish – It's at the time complicated, but very logical and the sound is amazing!
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
The possibility to speak with many people in their mother tongue is great, and allows me to make connections with people very quickly.
Also, having learned a few languages, has provided me with the tools to learn additional languages, so that I know exactly what words and constructions to look for, which is usually not what they write in the language guides. :-)
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?
No, more and more people do see the advantage of practicing their local traditions and using their local language. In many countries, the multi-ethnic nature of the states is cherished. There was always a lingua franca, which is used in international communication and in science. In Europe, this was Latin, then German and French, and now mostly English. Nevertheless, the less spoken languages are still used and in no way of decline. However, in other parts of the world, e.g., in the Americas, or in Africa, there could be in fact a tendency of decline in language diversity, mostly due to migration to urban centres and instruction languages in school even in rural areas. The language starts to be in decline, as soon as parents give up speaking them with their children.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
The more languages you learn, the more easily it gets learning them! Just start speaking with people as soon as you can. The local people will be very happy, if you speak with them. Also, reading children’s books is a very easy way to read some texts that are not too advanced.