Interview with

Sylvia Niederberger

Name: Sylvia Niederberger
Nationality or Ethnicity: Swiss-Canadian
Where do you live?: Switzerland
Languages: Swiss German, German, English, French, Norwegian, Spanish, Icelandic, Rumantsch (Vallader)

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

I’ve always been fascinated by languages. I often went on camping trips with my family and I enjoyed listening to all the different languages around me.

I grew up speaking Swiss German. I learned Standard German, French, English and Latin in school. Later, I became fascinated by Norwegian history and culture (I wrote my high school graduation paper on Norway during World War II). That is why I have started learning Bokmål. In the summer of 2004, I went to Barcelona to study Spanish at a language school for a month. During my studies in Calgary (where I lived for 7 years), I have taken a semester of Japanese and a couple of Spanish classes. I also learned a tiny bit of ASL (American Sign Language) for an interdisciplinary theatre project (Noise / Verb Theatre).

Because of COVID-19, I could not travel last summer, and I decided, that it would be the perfect time to finally study the fourth language of Switzerland. Therefore, I have taken two Surmiran summer courses. I am still studying Rumantsch, but I have since shifted to Vallader simply because it is easier to find resources or people to practice with (there are five, quite different, variants of Rumantsch: Sursilvan, Sutsilvan, Surmiran, Puter and Vallader). Another Corona-project of mine is Icelandic. I started it through the Language Jam challenge, and then decided to continue learning it. Furthermore, I am dabbling in Esperanto because, as a linguist, I am curious to find out more about how it is constructed. In addition, I am working on improving my Spanish skills.

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

All of them 😊

For me, Icelandic and Rumantsch are currently the hardest to get enough practice time because I know fewer speakers and there are fewer materials and resources available.

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

I am interested in learning Dutch as well as a Slavic language. I might also have another go at Japanese.

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

I’ve never really thought about ranking languages in terms of their sexiness. But since you’ve asked, I’d say: all foreign languages intrigue me.

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

For me, languages are like windows into a culture. I feel like I get a richer understanding of those cultures. Also, when you travel people really open up to you - even if you just know the basics.

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 that there is a push towards supporting minority languages for example by creating resources for learners who are interested in learning them. I have heard that they had to open extra Rumantsch courses for the summer as well as for the online courses that take place throughout the year. Let’s hope that this trend will continue. Finally, it also depends on if the language gets passed on to the next generation or not.

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

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