Living a multilingual life -- Part 1: Interview with A.
I've written some articles about multilingualism and multilingual persons. But now, I would like to talk WITH multilingual persons and we get started with A.
We can talk much about multilingualism and multilingual persons, but it is also interesting to speak WITH multilingual persons. And that is what I did. I've been talking to several multilingual individuals with very different beackgrounds. Let me first introduce A. The talented non-professional pianist is 28 years old and born in Moscow where he stayed until he attended the first grade of school. At the age of 8, he moved to Germany, where he went to school. After his A-level, he studied mathematics and is now working in Liechtenstein while living in Austria with his Belarussian girlfriend.
Hello, A. Tell our readers something about you. You were born in Moscow…
Yes, and at the age of 8, I came to Germany where I attended the first grade of elementary school again.
But before your arrival, you grew up monolingually?
Yes, my parents only spoke Russian to me. I just started to learn German in Germany.
But you learned it quite fast…
After one year and a half I didn’t have any problems with that language anymore.
And then you have skipped a class?
Yes, I’ve skipped it then.
Did you learn German only at school or did you take German classes as well?
No, I only learned it due to the contact at school. I didn’t take any classes.
Would you say that German is your educational language, at least during your school years?
Yes, I think so. At school, I also learned English and French.
Apart from your first year at school in Moscow, have you been educated in Russian again? Did you take any Russian classes?
Did your parents already have a connection to the German language or Germany before you came there?
No, my father came to Germany as a contingent refugee in 1992 and later my mother and I moved to Germany as a family reunification.
Imagine that I offer you a book. Would you prefer to read it in Russian or in German?
I prefer reading it in the original language.
Alright. And if it is written by a Russian-German author in both languages simultaneously?
(Laughs) Then I would read it in Russian.
Great and now imagine that I give you a scientific article.
In this case, I would read it in German.
While studying you also learned Italian and Spanish. How did you learn it?
I started to learn Italian with Babbel and then I went to Bologna for a semester abroad. There I spent my time nearly only with Italians.
Sometimes it is not that easy to spend time with the people from the respective country during Erasmus because one is in their Erasmus-bubble…
Yes, but I actively wanted to establish contacts outside of that bubble because I couldn’t identify so well with the Erasmus-students. But in that way, I learned much Italian. Concerning Spanish, I started to learn it with Babbel as well, and then I was looking for friends and language tandem.
Great. And thanks to Babbel, you also learned Portuguese, Turkish and Polish...
Have you had the opportunity to use the languages?
I had a Portuguese language tandem last year but we haven’t met so often yet.
A multilingual writer once said that she imagines the individual languages as rooms whose doors she can either close completely or leave open to varying degrees, depending on how she wants the languages to influence each other. Do you like this metaphor or do you have a different image in mind?
It is a good metaphor. For example when I am in the Spanish-room I start thinking and dreaming in Spanish. My rooms are also related to certain subjects. I have watched many chess videos in English and it is now my chess-language. When I am doing something related to chess, my mind switches directly into English.
What about the doors? Can you keep them open or do you have to close them?
I don’t understand the door-metaphor.
Italian and Spanish are an example of two languages that are very similar. As far as I'm concerned, I have to close the doors so as not to confuse them. But sometimes I open a door to get linguistic influences, for example to be able to see the structure of a language, etc. How do you go about this?
These are two different situations. While I am speaking, the doors are completely closed and there is no cross-linguistic influence. I do not close the doors knowingly but they are closed. On the other hand, I like to compare languages which I do very consciously.
What does your multilingual everyday life look like? Which language do you speak with your girlfriend?
We speak Spanish together which has developed into the language of our relationship.
But it is a foreign language for both of you…
Yes, but she feels the most comfortable with Spanish.
Alright. And which language do you speak at work?
At work, I speak about 60% German and about 40% Italian because a colleague of mine is Italian.
Which language do you speak with your parents and brothers and sisters?
I only speak Russian with them.
You don’t have any children yet. But could you imagine raising your children multilingually or do you already have an idea or a wish how you want to handle this?
I absolutely want to speak Russian with my children.
Okay, Spanish as the language of your relationship will also be omnipresent then for your kids…
Yes, this might be possible, but I leave it to my girlfriend which language she will speak with the children. Nevertheless, I want to speak Russian with my children. If I don't pass the language on to my children, no one will. Nobody wants to learn Russian voluntarily.
Oh, I know some people…
Do they speak it well?
I don’t know. I just wanted to say that I know people who are motivated to learn it.
I know more people who live in Germany in the second generation and have completely forgotten Russian. They don't want to learn it either.
Do you miss some expressions you can only say in one language?
Yes, I miss many expressions in the other languages, which only exist in Russian. There I know expressions, words, idioms and jokes I cannot say in any other language.
Do you feel different when you speak another language?
No, I don’t think so.
Is there anything you wish for yourself or your family regarding multilingualism or its promotion, for example from policy makers?
I think we have all the possibilities. We live in Europe. Babbel is not expensive and anyone can learn languages in this way. There are already enough possibilities.
If you don’t have questions anymore, I am grateful for your answers.
This interview is not sponsored by Babbel
Photo credit: Amir Doreh via Unsplash
More articles by this producer
Today, a German-Kenyan family tells us about their multilingual everyday life, how their baby is growing up in a trilingual environment, and what a jigsaw puzzle has to do with language.