The International Association
Name: Niko Aktas
Nationality or Ethnicity: German (of Kurdish and Slovak descent)
Where do you live?: Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland
Languages (in order of skills):
German, English, Italian, Spanish, French, Swedish, Dutch, Turkish, Slovak
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Growing up in a German city I was automatically exposed to several immigrant languages since my early childhood. Nevertheless I could just speak German and some English (plus some broken French) until the age of 17. Since my parents come from different backgrounds I also always passively got in touch with their languages but they never really taught me them.
Also I didn’t find the school system kind of effective in terms of language learning. So as a result I didn’t speak English and French on a high level after having learned it for years.
In 2006 everything changed when I started a school-based education as a foreign language correspondent with Italian as the main and French as a second language. Italian was the first language I really learnt intensively and after two years of language school and having spent a summer in Rome (with a scholarship), I was kind of fluent in Italian. My French has also improved significantly at that time.
After my diploma as a foreign language correspondent I trained as a hotel business man for 2 years where I could improve my English and spoke Italian on a regular basis bringing it to another level.
After my diploma in the hotel industry I started working at the German Railway System as a service manager on trains. We had regular tours to Italy, the France and the Dutch boarder. This sparked my interest for the Dutch language and I took adult-evening classes in that language. I did it for 3 months once a week and noticed that I was progressing really fast. Despite of that what really striked me as well was the fact that my self-studies/preparation for the classes at home were far more effective
than the lessons I took with a teacher.
At this crucial point I changed my language learning strategy forever. I just attended courses for some weeks in the languages I’ve learned afterwards. This gave me some quick insights into the language and after that just continued studying each language on my own.
I used that strategy throughout my time at the German railway system in my parent’s languages Turkish and Slovak,starting more or less from scratch. Within some months I reached an lower intermediate level in those languages.
In 2014 I decided to study languages at the University of Applied Languages in Munich/Germany and chose Spanish as a second language. English was the first language and as more than 50 percent of classes were taught in that language my English skills were elevated onto an academic level.
Since I spoke Italian and some French before, starting learning Spanish was not too difficult for me. The progress was really fast and, honestly, I didn’t attend the courses all the time. Due to my self-teaching strategy, which worked out really well, I was still one of the best students. Since I had to spend one semester abroad I decided to leave my comfort zone entirely and moved to Colombia where I studied linguistics and literature at the Universidad de Cartagena de Indias for one semester.
I sometimes felt bored and underchallenged in the Spanish classes back in Munich (although the teachers were amazing) and I looked for a new challenge.
In 2015 I visited my first Polyglot Gathering in Berlin, got in contact with a Swede who later became a good friend of mine and began learning Swedish doing a language exchange (Swedish-German) with that guy for more than one year on a regular basis.
Swedish was the first language I never took lessons in and after a 30-day-challenge I already had a basic level in that language as well. My knowledge of other germanic languages helped me too.
I also travelled to Sweden in 2015 and could practise the language at this time more intensively.
In 2017 when I did an internship for a big German company working in homeoffice I decided to benefit from being able to work remotely and went to the Netherlands (city of Zwolle) where I took my Dutch from a basic to an intermediate level.
In 2018 and the beginning of 2021 I did 2 other 30-days-challenges in Arabic and Russian. So that’s where I got a basic knowledge in these languages as well.
The 30-days-challenges really work out for me.
Since I currently live on the border of the French speaking and German speaking parts of Switzerland I’m currently improving my French and Swiss German and also get to practise Italian quite a lot (being one of the official languages in Switzerland as well).
As it is the case with many other polyglots I also have a passive knowledge of some languages which are related to the ones I already speak. I have friends from Portugal, Norway who always speak to me in their mother tongue. I answer them in other languages though.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I’d like to improve my Turkish and my Slovak at some point which are the native languages of my parents. Also my Russian and Arabic still need lots of practise, so I wish to be able to practise them more intensively in the future.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
First of all I’d like to enhance the languages I already speak on a conversational or basic level. After that I eventually would like to start learning Kurdish which is the language of my ancestors. I’m also interested in Southeast-Asian languages. Thai and Vietnamese are my favourites in this group.
Also Mandarin Chinese could be a language I’ll learn in the future. Since most of these languages are tonal languages, speaking one may help learning another.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
It’s Swedish, there is no doubt about that. It just sounds amazing!
Farsi and Hungarian are also noteworthy candidates.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Wherever I am, I always meet someone who speaks a language I know and I never stay alone this way. Speaking many languages and above all having the need to practise them in order to maintain my knowledge, I automatically also steadily enhance my communications skills which also helps me in other fields.
Also I feel that people treat me so much better once they know I speak their language/s.
So I guess the saying “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” has some truth in it.
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?
The first step towards such a scenario would be the improvement of the educational systems worldwide because then more people would be able to communicate in a lingua franca. Just in this case minority languages would lose their importance.
So I actually think it will be the opposite. You can see that in the several separation movements of many regions in the world. There will be lots of more languages which will gain in importance in my opinion.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
If you want to start learning new languages, never plan to do it in the future but start today! Language learning must not necessarily be a time intensive activity. There are many polyglots out there who have created such a multilingual environment which works for them that they don’t need to spend a lot of time of active learning. A good way to learn a language is to pursue your hobby in it. Do you read articles about sports on a regular basis? So do that in your target language instead of using your mother tongue. Get outside your comfort zone, practise languages wherever and whenever you can and just enjoy the process. If you do so, the results will come faster than you have ever imagined.