Interview with

Yves Trachsel

Name: Yves Trachsel
Nationality or Ethnicity: Swiss
Where do you live?: Switzerland
Languages: Bernese German (native), German (native), English (C2), Mandarin (C2), Spanish (C1), Portuguese (C1), Swedish (B2), Croatian (B2), Russian (B2), Cantonese (B2), Mongolian (B2), Italian (B2), French (B2), Japanese (B1), Icelandic (B1), Albanian (A2), Persian (A2), Manchu (excellent reading & writing skills), Classical Chinese (excellent reading & writing skills)

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

I grew up speaking Bernese German at home. I often heard German on the telly, so it was easy to pick it up at kindergarten and school. My first real foreign tongue was French, which we took up in fifth grade. I remember distinctly that I was not all too excited about learning French at the time. Maybe due to the atrocious glove puppets they used to teach us French or maybe everyone moaned about having to learn it. (French still has a rather bad reputation among most German-speaking Swiss). English followed two years later in seventh grade. The first language I wanted to study myself was Italian when I was 12: I talked my father into buying me a textbook and he reluctantly agreed, not without extorting the promise from me that I would do more sports (still trying to fulfill that promise more than a score years later…). At 15 I met some Chinese friends, and it didn’t take long before I held my first Chinese textbook in my hands. Two years later, Croatian followed (I met my best friend at the time and the harsh sounds of her mother tongue had me mesmerised from the start). This is when it started, and more languages have made it on my list throughout the years. I’m eager to pick up new languages, but before I do that, I’m working hard to lift the languages I already speak to a higher level (Needless to say, I’ve already bought most of the textbooks I’m going to need as soon as I’ve reached my goals – If I don’t succumb to the temptation sooner and start learning them before that).

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

All of them! But right now I’m working hard to bring my Croatian up to a C2-level and my Mongolian to a C1 level, so I mostly practise these two. I could use some extra practise in all of “my” languages, though.

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

I’m hopelessly promiscuous when it comes to foreign languages, so brace yourselves for the list: Tamil, Yiddish, Kalmyk, Korean, Welsh, Quechua, Turkish and Greek (not necessarily in that order). But some other languages might strike my fancy and lead me astray on the way.

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

For most people it’s the language their crush speaks in! For me, Mongolian is at the very top of this list (no crush in sight, though!) Its guttural sounds and especially the voiceless lateral fricative [ɬ] really do the trick for me.

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

Reading books in them, being able to use expressions that my mother tongues don’t have, seeing the joy in someone’s eyes when they realise that you speak their language…

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?

While it’s a saddening fact that many languages are disappearing as we speak/write, I doubt that there will only be a few of them left in 100 years. There are numerous vibrant communities of speakers of smaller languages who are doing their best to maintain their languages and keep them alive and well. I think it’ll be just fine.

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

Studying multiple languages is undoubtedly feasible, but it needs to be organised well. Also, starting out with two new foreign languages from scratch isn’t a good idea in my view, as one might end up confusing them. It’s best to reach a solid level (B1, maybe) first and then pick up another one. Studying languages at different levels works just fine for me.