Name: Ryan Boothe
Nationality or Ethnicity: American
Where do you live?: United States of America
Languages: English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, French*, Afrikaans*, Hungarian*
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
It was not until I became a missionary in Southern Chile that I really started to get into languages. I had seen how people treated immigrants in my own country when they did not learn English - or didn't learn it well. I didn't want to be treated that way. I tried my hardest to blend in, learn the customs, learn the language, become Chilean. I spoke almost no English for a year. When I had been in Chile for almost two years I decided it was time for another language. I bought a short course (in Spanish) on learning Italian. After returning home to the USA, I was at the store, buying eggs, and felt bad because I could only understand a little of what some women were saying in Spanish. I soon realized that they were speaking Portuguese. That got me taking Portuguese classes. When I discovered people like Luca Lampariello and Richard Simcott I decided I wanted to continue learning more languages. I am currently conducting a study on the kinds of work multilingual people do.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of my languages except Spanish and English, which I already use in my daily life. I have had many opportunities to use Portuguese in my professional life but would like to use it even more often.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
That’s like asking an alcoholic what kinds of liquor he’d like drink one day! Chinese and Arabic are two that I would love to learn. Russian and the Scandinavian languages have been calling my name for quite some time. Dutch would be fun, since it’s so close to Afrikaans. A Bantu language (like Xhosa or Zulu) would also be great. I like the idea of studying Persian too.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
It has more to do with who is speaking it than the language itself. I used to think German was a very ugly language. I remember being in high school and asking a girl why she would study such an ugly language. She replied by saying something in German. I didn’t know German at the time so I didn’t understand what she said but it was absolutely beautiful.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Connecting with people. Something magical happens when you can speak someone’s language. Empathy becomes so much easier. I also get a sense of accomplishment. Even though it gets easier the more you do it, learning a new language still takes effort.
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, relatively speaking. Right now there are around 6,000 languages spoken throughout the world. One estimate is that, in 100 years, there will only be around 600. Many of the languages that will die off are the ones spoken by a few hundred people on islands and in small, remote villages. I know there are linguists dedicated to preserving those languages in audio and written form. I hope they do because when those languages die we will lose a small piece of our collective human heritage.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
Do it! The benefits of knowing multiple languages are fabulous! Language learning requires humility and persistence. Humility because you will sound silly and not be able to express yourself freely in the beginning. Persistence because language learning takes a while. You can enjoy the journey as you go along, but solid fluency takes a year or two. Don’t get down on yourself if, after a few months of consistent practice, there are still lots of things you cannot say. Praise yourself for what you do know how to say and continue learning. It’s worth it!