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Interview with

Thomas Summers

Name: Thomas David Llewellyn Summers
Nationality or Ethnicity: Welsh
Where do you live?: Newport, Wales
Languages: Welsh, English, Italian, Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Danish, German, Russian

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

I was born into a bilingual Welsh-English household, but I was forced to move schools from my Welsh language school to an English language one which was closer to home. In this new school, I breezed through Welsh language lessons (being native) and since one language often leads easily onto another, being bilingual made learning concepts such as grammatical gender, subjunctive cases, and obscure tenses easier. Since Welsh has a gendered language system, I found French and Spanish a lot easier than my friends. In college, I became the Welsh Language assistant, and I spent a lot of time and effort promoting the use of the Welsh language at school. When I went to university in England to study Modern Languages, I was given the opportunity to choose between German, Italian or Chinese as a third language option, and after much deliberation between Chinese (for its usefulness) and Italian (because it would be easier) I chose to study Chinese. A few months later, I met my partner. She is from Rome and none of her family speaks English, or any language other than Italian, so I started learning Italian. I have since spent many summers in Rome, and being immersed in the language, I found learning Italian a really easy, quick and enjoyable process. Next year, I am going to start my Master’s degree in Comparative Literature in SOAS in London, and I will use this as an opportunity to take advantage of the university’s Swahili and Mandarin Chinese modules. I hope to reach fluency in language number 7 soon!

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

I wish that I could spend more time practicing Russian because a few years ago I became obsessed with the language, but now I barely speak it at all. I can still say basic sentences, and it’s frustrating that I’m able to have a basic conversation in Russian, but I never get the opportunity to do so. It would be amazing to one day be able to read classics like Anna Karenina and War and Peace in their native language.

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

I would love to learn an extremely endangered language because I’d like to play an active role in language preservation. It would be amazing to be a part of an extremely small, tight-knit community of native speakers of an endangered language.

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

I would have to say Italian (but I am biased).

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

I love reaching out and speaking to new people. I have always been timid, ever since I was a child, and I have never been the kind of person that would have enough confidence to go up to and speak to strangers, but whenever I hear someone speaking in a language that I can understand, it’s almost as though my excitement overcomes my nerves and I start conversation as though I were incredibly confident.

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 that’s up to us. People like us that speak all of these languages have a duty to protect languages that are dying out because, without these languages alive in the world, we have been robbed of a piece of our culture as the human race. I think that, with the nationalisation of languages and the protection of language integrity through institutions like L’Accademia della Crusca, linguistic diversity will live on. A monolingual world is not one which I wish to inhabit.

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

To young people that are interested in learning languages, I would say not to pigeon-hole yourself. I had in my mind for so long that I would only ever speak European languages but learning Chinese has opened my eyes to a whole new culture that seems alien to us westerners. I would say to take the plunge and do something adventurous. Language learning doesn’t need to be memorising grammar tables, conjugations and treigladau! Surround yourself with native speakers and allow yourself to make mistakes! The best part of learning a language is learning something new every day.