Interview with

Stephan Behringer

Name: Stephan Behringer
Nationality or Ethnicity: Germany
Where do you live?: Wuerzburg, Bavaria, Germany
Languages: German, English, French, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish, Croatian, Romanian, Chinese (order of fluency)

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

I  grew up only speaking German and hardly travelling outside of Germany  until my early 20s. For the first three years of school I went to  Waldorfschule (a special school form without any grades) where I had  English and French lessons from class one, but rather playing games and  singing songs in those languages. After leaving Waldorfschule I only got  English as subject again from level 0 in 5th grade at regular German  high school and French from 7th grade. I kept both languages up to my  A-levels meaning English for a total of 9 and French for 7 years. I was  quite good at languages because I enjoyed conversation with mother  tongue speakers, mostly around my region in Germany and some rare visits  to France for a couple of days or a week with school in London. After  graduating neither during my year of civil service with the Red Cross  Germany nor throughout my 3 years of university studying business  economics I got in touch with a new language.

It  was only on a Sunday afternoon early October 2006 one day before my  first regular working day in my life (I was almost 25 by that age) that I  set myself the goal to travel to a total of 100 countries and speak 10  languages by the end of the next 10 years. First language was Chinese  which I studied a Chinese student having 2 h of individual class over  one year completed by a 10 day trip to China. To be honest Chinese is my  weakest language today as I am lacking practise but I can still get  around with it pretty well. My next language was Spanish which I started  to learn in a language school during a 1,5 months trip to Cuba and  which I almost perfected over the years with heavy travel to South  America and Spain and working with Spanish people over the last 5 years.

Coming  up next was Russian which I learned during several language courses in  St. Petersburg with a total of 3 months in class. Frequent travel to  Russia for business and love made me quite fluent in this quite hard to  learn language, while I am still not a friend of Russian grammar today  to be honest.

After  Russian I made an attempt at one of the probably most difficult  languages that exist meaning Arabic. I went to Damascus Syria as the  Arabic spoken there comes closest to “Fusha” the standard or high  Arabic. To be honest it was the first language I did not really advance  within four weeks and which I hardly remember today. After these two  rather exotic languages I went back to the Roman languages world  learning Portuguese first for one month in Floripa in the South of  Brazil and later for 2 weeks in Lisbon. As many polyglots know it is not  that hard to jump from Spanish to Portuguese. Same goes for Italian  which came next with a two weeks course split between Calabria and Roma.  With the exemption of using a Spanish word here and there without  noticing I think my Italian including pronunciation is quite fluent.

Next  on my list was Turkish which I tried for one week in Ankara but again  as with Arabic I did not pursue it further for the moment and only can  do some small talk. In order to reach my goal of 10 languages I then  chose Swedish which is quite common across Scandinavia and which is  really easy to learn for a German speaker. Almost the same goes for  Croatian which has many elements of Russian. At first I wanted to learn  Serbian but because of the Latin alphabet permitting me faster progress I  chose Croatian in the end with two crash courses in Dubrovnik.My last  language Romanian is kind of a mixture including lots of Italian,  Spanish and Russian thus it is not that difficult to be understood or  read I just need some more practise to get fluent.

Next  on my list is Korean which I shall learn in a 3 weeks course in  Pyongyang next summer if Donald and Kim don’t interfere with my plans  and maybe Japanese going forward. I think up to 15 languages would be a  great achievement before my death.

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

Swedish. They are all that good in English and usually even answer automatically in English.

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

Korean, Japanese, Bahasa and of course Esperanto!

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

Italian.

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

I can talk to one third of the world total population in their mother tongue.

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?

I  think we have around 6.000 languages being still spoken today.  Unfortunately many are going to die out. English is still on the rise as  lingua franca as Esperanto did not make it due to the First World War. I  can indeed image it to be a few languages especially reduced to less  and less world – greetings from 1984…

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

Don’t  be afraid to make mistakes. Open your mouth and talk, even starting  with only one word or phrase at one time. Focus on the “easy” 80 % of a  spoken language which you can learn with 20 % effort – you all know  Pareto I assume. Meet as many foreign people as possible and gets  friends with them and travel as much as you can whilst still being  young!

The International Association of Hyperpolyglots - HYPIA. (c) 2020

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