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Interview with

Philip Reiber

Name: Philip Reiber
Nationality or Ethnicity: German citizen, ¾ Swabian/German, ¼ either Prussian/German or Polish(unknown)
Where do you live?: Lisbon, Portugal
German (native), English (C2), Spanish(B2/C1), Russian(B2/C1), Portuguese(B2/C1), French(B2), Ukrainian(A2/B1).
Basic level in Hindi/Urdu, Turkish, Italian, Arabic, Dutch, Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian, Czech, Polish, Japanese and Swahili

Member since:


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

There are several reasons for how and why that happened. I’ll first tell you some of the reasons and then give you a little of the chronology of it all.

When I was a kid I watched the Asterix movie “The twelve tasks” a lot. I loved this one specifically. There is a scene in the beginning which is more of a meta kind of thing. The narrator talks about Asterix, who knows him and in how many languages Asterix had been translated. Then Asterix goes to greet the audience in several languages, the language spoken being indicated by a little flag next to him. 

As if this wasn’t enough to trigger my curiosity, I really liked playing video games as a child. Most of those allowed for the game language to be changed.

These two things sparked my initial interest, a vacation to Spanish and growing up hearing Russian immigrants speak to each other did the rest.

I had to take English in school at age 10 and started taking French two years later. Said vacation in Spain compelled me to buy a self study course for Spanish at age 11, even before getting into French. Honestly, my Spanish sucked for many years after. I wasn’t particularly good but no-one demotivated me. I guess that was pretty vital. No-one told me I was too stupid or it couldn’t be done until I had first hand experience of what could and couldn’t be done.

Then at age 15 I started learning Russian. I knew plenty people who spoke it and spent a lot of time with them, so it only made sense to me. This turned out to the breakthrough language for me. As a native German speaker you can get away with not understanding a lot of the grammatical concepts in English, Spanish, French and you will still understand a lot or be able to acquire the languages over time. With Russian, without a deeper understanding of the structure, I felt completely lost and breaking through the case system really expanded my mind. Language learning became a very different experience after. It was just a lot easier.

After school and after a failed attempt at a physics degree, during which I went to France within an exchange program, I switched degrees. First to Spanish as a major and Slavic studies as a minor, switching once more to major in Slavic studies and to minor in Indian studies during which spending some weeks in India and a year in Ukraine to do language courses. I did some research on Old Czech modal verbs and learned some Czech for that, almost all of which is now forgotten but I did get paid for that job at least.

After finishing my bachelor’s degree I wanted do a master’s degree and I wanted to do it in Portugal. This is where we are now. I haven’t elaborated on all the languages and on every detail but the bigger picture should be clear.

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

Literally all of them. After spending two years in Ukraine, I am bummed that my Russian and Ukrainian are not where I would have hoped them to be. My French fossilized around my current level after my student exchange to Marseille a decade ago. But yeah, in all honesty, apart from my Portuguese, those three, and Swahili. That maybe is a bit much isn’t it.

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

I want to perfect the ones I already started learning, add Greek and Mandarin. Who knows, maybe also one of the Scandinavian languages, I mean the Germanic ones or Finnish. I would really love the experience of a (for me with my knowledge) very unintuitive and new type of language becoming intuitve, like Finnish, but on the other hand, something like Norwegian would be fun because I’d learn it faster and I’d get to use it effectively. Choices, choices.

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

Spanish, specifically the rioplatense or Cali accents and English in an Australian accent. Although I must add, I usually love the accent of the person I love.

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

The biggest pleasure is the way my conception and perception of any given language changes in the process of acquisition. Cryptic letters and near unpronounceable sequences of sounds become intuitive after a while. I don’t translate from a language I know anymore but instead there is a direct link, a channel, between my thoughts and the language. This is one of the most fascinating things to me.

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?

Languages die. There will be fewer. Nevertheless, not enough will disappear for us to learn out of new vocab to learn.

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

Follow a study plan you can consistently follow, try, fail, don’t give up, don’t judge yourself and trust me when I say that you CAN actually do this.

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