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Interview with

Yuen Hin Sing

Name: Yuen Hin Sing (Ah Sing)
Nationality or Ethnicity: Hong Kong
Where do you live?: Osnabrück, Germany
Languages: Cantonese (Native), English, Mandarin (Fluent), German, Japanese (Advanced), Spanish, Thai (Intermediate), Nepali (Basic), Classical Chinese, Pāli (Basic reading knowledge)

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

Growing up in post-colonial Hong Kong, I learned both English and Mandarin at school like most students, and by the end of high school, I could speak Cantonese, English, and Mandarin. Hong Kong is a multilingual society, and I grew up hearing various South Asian and Southeast Asian languages in my neighborhood including Tagalog, Indonesian, Thai, Nepali, Hindi, and Urdu. Intrigued in the relationships between sounds and humans, I did a double major Bachelor degree in music and linguistics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where I acquired German and Japanese.

After graduating from university, I received scholarships and spent one month studying German in Greifswald, Germany and two months studying Japanese in Kyoto, Japan. Even though I stayed in Germany for only a short period, I was amazed by the cultural richness and diversity of the country, and that’s why I now came to Germany again to do my Master’s program in Cognitive Science.

As I already spoke 5 languages, it is natural that I wanted to learn more, and I started learning Spanish in 2019 and Thai in 2020. In 2020, I also spent three months working as a volunteer teacher at a children’s home in Nepal, where the children taught me how to live in the moment, and of course, some Nepali.

As a follower of the Buddha, I enjoy reading Buddhist writings in Classical Chinese for inspirations. In 2020, I also started learning Pāli, an ancient Indian language closely related to Sanskrit, in order to read the discourses of the Buddha in a more “original” language, even though the similarity between Pāli and the language the Buddha actually spoke remains a debatable issue.


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

Thai. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. I always feel joy whenever I hear or speak this language, and I would love to have more opportunities to practice speaking it with native speakers.


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

Tagalog and Hindi. As I grew up hearing people speak these languages, the sounds of these two languages are so familiar to me. Probably that’s the main reason why I’d like to learn them.


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

Any language can be sexy. But if I must pick one, I might say Dutch. I travelled to a Dutch-speaking city of Belgium recently, and I simply loved the sounds of this language. As I speak German, I can understand some words here and there in Dutch, but that’s it. Perhaps being able to understand partially a language that you have never learned makes it more mysterious, charming, and sexy.


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

Languages enable me to connect with people from different corners of the world (sometimes even from a different time period!). This sense of connectedness makes my life more colorful, meaningful, and satisfying.


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. Research shows that one language dies every 14 days, and it is inevitable that we will have much fewer languages in the future. While some people think we should try our best to preserve endangered languages, some argue that the prevalence of only a few major languages makes communication between people easier. Even though people have different opinions concerning language preservation, I hope the purpose of we learning languages is the same – to promote mutual understanding, sustainable development and world peace.


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

Learning a new language requires a lot of time and effort. But you will also get to see the world and yourself from new perspectives, which is an invaluable asset. So if you want to learn multiple languages, go for it!