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Interview with

Niels Iversen

Name: Niels Johannes Legarth Iversen
Nationality or Ethnicity: Danish
Where do you live?: Denmark
Languages: Danish, English, German, Swedish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Castilian, Catalan, Italian, Romanian.
Close calls: Esperanto and Modern Greek, in snippets also Norwegian and Icelandic.

Active, but definitely not fluent (can read them and to some extent write in them): Low German (Plattdeutsch), Afrikaans, Latin, and -at a lower level - Irish, Albanian, Indonesian.

Currently studying half a dozen of Slavic languages in parallel: Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian (and Croatian), Slovak, Polish and Ukrainian. Have recently also added Czech to the list.

Member since:


  1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages? 

I got into school at the age of 6½ years, and I have been told that I could read the subtitles on TV before that time - but don't remember it myself. Four years later the school finally decided to teach me English, with German one year later, but around the same time I had also started to learn Italian and Spanish at home from text books. I was interested in paleontology as a child so I also studied Latin vocabulary, but not the syntax - that only came in 'realafdelingen' in school when I was 13½ years old. I ordered the all catalogues for the vertebrates home from the Natural History museum in London on my mother's library card because I couldn't do it on my own before I was 13 years old - so my English (and Latin) at that age must have been quite reasonable. 

And then I studied comparative literature (2½ years) and French (4½ years) at the university in Århus, Denmark from 1973 to the end of 1980. During that time I also followed regular courses at Italian and Old Norse/Icelandic without being inscribed, but couldn't do it in Spanish because that section already was full of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro fans. Besides we suddenly got a native Romanian guest teacher, and then I followed his courses for a year. After that year we got a new teacher, and I was the only pupil left so I got 2 years of solo tuition 2 hours per week in Romanian (at my request). I also followed courses in Old French, Old Occitan and Catalan. So I could speak something like 8 languages when I left the university

Near the end of my study I bought dictionaries and textbooks and grammars for Modern Greek and Russian, but didn't get to use them yet, the reason being that I discovered that all the good university level jobs in French had been occupied by the 68 generation. So I chose NOT to be a part time or lewer level teacher and dropped ALL language studies from 1981 to 2006. Instead I was unemployed for some time, then took most of an academical level exam (HD), but got a job before the last thesis - and then I worked for 29 years as a computer consultant in public service without ever having absolved more than one elementary 2 week course in DOS and an obscure office suite. 

In 2006 I planned a trip to Romania and Moldova and accidentally hit upon the HTLAL forum, I suddenly realized that I could have been fluent in a dozen languages and decided first to revive my atrophied Romanian - not in time for the first trip, but on my next trop i 2009 I ONLY spoke Romanian for a week. Later in 2006 I bought a trip to Cabo Verde and decided to learn Portuguese (which I hadn't studied at the university). I was not able to speak exclusively in Portuguese 3 weeks later, but did so in Moçambique one half year later. And since then my criterion for "speaking a language" has been that I could do a monolingual trip of a week or so in a language - and not just doring things like asking for a bread, but having the kind of conversations I normally would have had in for instance English.

HTLAL has fizzled out since then, but right now I'm active at it successor LLORG (, where I have got a second multiconfused log where I to date have written messages in at least two dozen languages. Where appropriate I illustrate them with my own paintings and drawings, but unfortunately those are only visible to people who are logged in. However at least the texts can be read by anyone, and there I write about things I have done, but I also once published a whole language-learning manual in five parts, and I regular comment on study techniques. I mainly use written sources (including bilingual texts made using Google translate), and I do wordlists and produce my own grammar sheets and things like that without following courses, and so far I have basically covered the Germanic and the Romance languages and a few more in that way, and I'm currently studying the Slavic languages - but so far without trying to speak them in public. Greek, well, my last trip to Crete was almost monolingual, so that language is close to being accepted on my language list - but not yet. But of course I have also spoken snippets of other languages during travels - it's just not my primary goal to be able to parrot some tourist phrases - if I can't speak the language all the time it doesn't count. 

2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising? 

Right now my main concern is to push the Slavic languages to a level where I can speak them on a journey. My Germanic and Romance language seem to survive on mere maintanance (reading, listening, writing them at home and speaking them during travels ). I'll return to Latin, Albanian, Irish and other peripheral projects once my Slavic project is further ahead.

3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

I would like to finish Europe with Finnish, Hungarian .. and the remaining ones at least passively. 

4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

I don't see languages as sexy - they are just there and deserve to be learned.

5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

Not so much: using them as learning them.

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?

Most of the small languages will die out, and barring a nuclear war that terminates all international communications there is no way to stop that development.

7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

Just expect to have a nice hobby that can kill a lot of your spare time. Don't expect to earn a lot of money from that hobby.

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