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Interview with

Simon Ager

Name: Simon Ager
Nationality or Ethnicity: British
Where do you live?: Bangor, Wales, UK
Languages: English (native), French, Welsh, Irish & Mandarin (fluent), German, Japanese, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic, Esperanto, Swedish & Dutch (intermediate)

Member since:


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

I grew up in the northwest of England speaking only English. I was aware of other languages – we had neighbours and friends who spoke German and French, and my mum has tried to learn Welsh, the language of her ancestors, several times. I think I first got interested in languages through collecting stamps – I learnt to recognise the different names of countries on them, even those in different scripts, though never imagined that one day I would be able to read all those scripts, and speak some of those languages.

I started learning French at secondary school at the age of 11. It was compulsory for the first three years, then optional after that – I opted to continue studying it until the age of 18. I also chose to learn German from the age of 12 to 18. Initially I was planning to study European languages at university, and was offered a place to study German and Swedish at a college in Wales.

After leaving school I worked for a year in various parts of England, France and the Channels Islands, during which time I became fluent in French, and picked up some basic Portuguese from colleagues in Jersey (Channel Islands). I decided to study Chinese at university in the end, and was given the chance to study Chinese and Japanese when applied. I spent the next five years studying those languages, as well as some Chinese and Japanese history, politics, literature and other topics, at universities in England, Taiwan and Japan.

After graduation I got a job with the British Council in Taiwan, and worked there for four years. During that time, I became fluent in Mandarin, learnt some Taiwanese and Cantonese from friends, and started teaching myself Spanish and Scottish Gaelic, which I got interested in through music.

Since then, I’ve taught myself some other languages, with varying degrees of success. I learn languages when I visit new countries, and out of interest. I’ve taken a few weeks of classes in Welsh, I spent a week or two in Ireland every summer from 2005-2019 learning Irish language, songs and music, and I regularly go to Scotland to learn Scottish Gaelic songs, and to practise speaking Scottish Gaelic.

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

I would like to speak all the languages I’ve studied and dabbled with better. At the moment I’m studying Finnish, Japanese, Scottish Gaelic and Spanish.

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

Languages I’d like to learn one of these days include Hawaiian, Greek, Latin, Swahili and Zulu.

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

To my ears any language can sound sexy if spoken by someone I find attractive with a nice voice. I decided to learn Swedish and Finnish mainly because I like the sound of them. I do like the sound of Italian, Brazilian Portuguese and Czech as well.

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

Being able to understand and communicate with people from all over the world feels great, as does being able to read texts in a variety of languages.

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?

About 40% of the languages currently spoken, or 2,895 languages, are considered endangered, and many of them have fewer than 1,000 speakers [source]. It’s unlikely that they will all still be spoken in 100 years’ time. On the other hand, over the past 20 years or so 18 languages have become extinct, and efforts are being made to revive half of them [source]. If that trend continues, maybe 200 languages will go extinct over the next 100 years. Even if all the languages currently considered endangered were to cease to be spoken, there would still be 4,222 languages, which is rather more than a few.

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

Learning a language is a way to make connections with others. Even a few words can open doors, hearts and minds, and the more you know, the deeper and more meaningful those connections can become. It takes time to learn a language, and can be frustrating and difficult, but it is well worth doing.

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