Speaking and Striving in German, English, Japanese, and Romansh

An Interview with Luca Denser (my Brother)

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post about what it is like to grow up in three different countries (“On Anxiety and Assimilation”). Luckily, I did not have to go through this experience on my own, as my brother was also exposed to the same language environment as me, with, however, some crucial differences. While I settled down in Switzerland—or at least for the time being—, my brother decided to move to Japan and start a life as a photographer (and various other things; to see what he has been up to,
check him out on Instagram: @lucadenser). Already having learned Romansh (one of the four official languages of Switzerland) as a child, he is now tackling Japanese. Here is a glimpse into his language learning process:

Kristina Denser (Kristina): Which languages do you speak and for what reasons did you want to learn them?
Luca Denser (Luca): German (mother tongue), Romansh (fluent), English (fluent), Japanese (conversational).
Learning these was pretty much due to situational circumstances, like moving to the countries where the corresponding languages are spoken. I’ve been studying Japanese semi-seriously for about one and a half years now, mainly due to the reason that I want to communicate with the locals and make my life as easy as possible here, without the problem of language barriers. I also regard it as a sign of respect and thus top priority to study the language of the country one has been welcomed in.

Kristina: Out of these languages, which one is the closest to your heart and why? Do you feel like you act differently according to the language you are speaking?
Luca: Switching between languages sometimes feels like switching between personas. But of course, it also depends on the person you are talking to and how that relationship shapes your behavior. Still, I would say German and Romansh seem closest to my heart, probably due to friends and family. But I think the more fluent one becomes, the closer a language gets.

Kristina: Did learning a new language change the way you were perceived by native speakers of these languages? Did you feel more as a part of a certain community?

Luca: Yes, absolutely. When it comes to socializing and getting to know people better, speaking the same language only comes with advantages.

Kristina: For German speakers, Japanese seems to be perceived as a rather hard language to learn. How do you feel about this?
Luca: Yes, definitely not easy. But I think the hardest thing is to establish the
linguistic basis. After that, it seems to flow more easily. As soon as there’s a basic understanding, a lot can be achieved much faster.

Kristina: Were there frustrating moments when learning Japanese? What kept you motivated?
Luca: Living in Japan surely keeps you motivated. Being exposed to the culture, the people, and everything related to the language makes learning much more exciting and also keeps the motivation up. Like I said before, it feels like a responsibility as well, as I’m glad to live here and want to show my gratitude. Learning Japanese is the key to everything Japanese culture harbors. That being said, I also find there’s a lot of beauty to find in a language, especially Japanese. What’s more, it’s very fun and amusing to impress Japanese people.

Kristina: What would be your best tip for people who are starting to learn a new language?
Luca: Begin talking to people as early as possible. There will be lots of things you won’t understand at the beginning, which is frustrating, but there are just as many things to be learned in a conversational setting, such as pronunciation and nuance, which are quite underestimated. Also, when living in your country of choice, be sure to constantly try to read street signs, posters, or anything you might find while walking around outside. And: Always study those words and phrases related to your everyday life. Don’t ignore them, as they’ll always be there to bug you. So, it’s better to just confront them, be it the unintelligible train announcement or the pesky letter from the city office.

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