Randy Van Mingeroet
Name: Randy Van Mingeroet
Nationality or Ethnicity: Belgian
Where do you live?: Tenerife, Spain
Languages: Dutch, Flemish, French, English, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Swiss German, Ukrainian and I can manage in Greek and Portuguese
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I grew up speaking only Flemish Dutch in a small village 30 minutes from Ghent. My parents are monolingual and they did not encourage me to study at all. When I was 5, I taught myself to read (Dutch) and when I was 6 or 7 I got a self-study book from the library to learn Swedish. I have a very good memory and now, 35 years later I still remember the very basic Swedish I learnt back then. As all Flemish kids, I had to learn French from age 11 onwards. I loved it and I never looked back. American English came to me naturally, of course from television and video games. At age 14, I formally started learning English at school, but by that time I was already fluent in it. I had German too, in grade 5, but only for 6 months. I learnt that it was not compulsory for my group and I preferred going to the bar with my friends after school, rather than going to that stuffy German class. I figured that if needed, I could always pick it up later, it is very similar to Dutch anyway.
At age 18, I moved to Ghent and studied to become a translator. I chose English and Russian. I did an exchange program in Russia, 3 months. When I came back, I was fluent. I later had a big group of Russian-speaking friends in Belgium, so my Russian always got better. I backpacked a lot in this period and would usually travel for weeks or months. When I noticed I was broke, I needed a job badly, and I joined Ryanair as a flight attendant. They promised me that my base would be in Belgium but 4 days before the end of the PAID training course, they said I had to go to Germany or Sweden. I moved to Germany where I finally picked up German. I was fluent within a month or so, but yet again, for Dutch speakers it is not that difficult. I worked on a roster with always the same people, mainly Italians and Spaniards. I learnt Italian first, from my colleagues at Ryanair. I would fly 2-3 times a week with Patricia (she is Spanish), and she taught me. She is still a friend now. My Italian improved very quickly. I bought a booklet with the grammar and crammed those verb times on my jumpseat while working. My Italian was fluent after 3-4 months. I then booked flights to Argentina. I decided that I needed to learn Spanish quickly. I bought a Spanish grammar book for Italian speakers and a vocabulary builder and taught myself Spanish on the flights to Buenos Aires. At passport control in Ezeiza, I already spoke quite a bit of Spanish. Then again, it is easy if you have a good grasp of Italian. At that point I was going out with many people, traveling the world with my backpack and I just kind of leeched onto them and absorbed their language. That went on for several years. I changed companies and started to work for a “real” airline: Swiss Airlines. There I had to speak German, French and Italian on a daily basis. I also quickly picked up Swiss German, which is completely different to German. I met a girl from Rome and moved there. I lived there for about 1 year. Of course my Italian improved. We split up and I bought a house in Ghent. I felt like I was done flying and started to translate. My supervisor at Swiss persuaded me into cutting back my hours and I reduced to 70%, later to 60% and finally to 50%. I met my wife in Athens and I moved a week later to Athens. She is Ukrainian, bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian, and she also speaks Greek very well. We always talked in Russian and I taught her Dutch. I picked up quite a bit of Greek during those 2-3 years in Athens. We moved to Belgium and our kids were born there. We decided to raise them in Russian and Dutch. But then COVID happened… We already had a holiday house in Tenerife at that time and after the 1st wave of Covid I felt so deflated that we decided to move to Tenerife. I am quite the anarchist and I could simply not accept the fact that people thought it was OK that the bloody government told us that we were not allowed to see our own parents or brother or sister etc. We still spoke Russian at home when evil Russia invaded Ukraine. Suddenly, speaking Russian all the time did not sit well anymore and we are currently in the progress of shifting towards Ukrainian. Finally, I still fly for Swiss, 6 months a year, my favorite flight is to São Paulo. I do it very often. And in 2022 we traveled in Brazil for 6 weeks. So yes, I can also speak quite a bit of Portuguese. So I fly and work as a translator. That is about it.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practicing?
There is no need for me to wish for that, as we speak 4 languages at home, 4 at my job in Swiss and I translate from 7 languages.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I am kinda done at this point. I feel my head is full.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Italian of course, no question.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I like it that I don’t have fear speaking a new language and usually people think I am fluent, when I am really not (yet).
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?
Yes, I think English will take over in most of Europe.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Usually people who speak many languages like criticizing you because your French is not 100% fluent or whatever. Just ignore that. My English is very good, almost native level, my German and Russian too. I am happy with that. The other languages I speak well, and I like that. To learn a language you don’t need fancy courses or practical lessons. Just learn the grammar from one book, learn the vocabulary from another book and combine those and voilà you’re speaking. It won’t be perfect but don’t take it too seriously, listen to native speakers and engage with them, and you’ll be speaking very well very fast.