St. Catz student Alex Rawlings has been named the UK’s most multi-lingual student in a competition run by the publishers Collins.
The German and Russian student from London can currently speak 11 languages: English, Greek, German, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Afrikaans, French, Hebrew, Catalan and Italian.
In a video for the BBC News website he demonstrates his skills by switching between all eleven languages. He also explains the motivation behind his language learning.
Rawlings told Cherwell that winning the competition was a “bit of a shock.” He explained, “I saw the competition advertised and heard something about a free iPad, and here we are. I would never have imagined that it’d generate this amount of media attention.”
Stephen Fry tweeted at 9.42 am on 21 February, “What an absolutely brilliant young man!” along with a link to the BBC video.
As a child, Rawlings’ mother, who is half Greek, would speak to him in English, Greek, and French, and he often visited his family in Greece.
He stated that he has always had an interest in languages. “My dad worked in Japan for four years and I was always frustrated that I couldn’t speak to the kids in those countries because of the language barrier.” After visiting Holland at the age of 14 he decided to learn Dutch with CDs and books. “When I went back I could talk to people. It was great.”
He taught himself many of the languages with the Teach Yourself books, but also by watching films, listening to music, and travelling to the relevant countries.
Of all the languages he speaks, Rawlings says that Russian, which he has been learning for a year and a half, is the hardest. He said, “There seem to be more exceptions than rules!”
He added, “I especially like Greek because I think it’s really beautiful, and I have a strong personal link to Greece and to the language.”
When asked how he hoped to use his skills in later life, Rawlings told Cherwell, “I hope to carry on meeting lots of different people around the world and being able to speak to them in their own languages. If I can find a job that incorporates languages, then that would be ideal.
“Everyone should learn languages, especially if they travel abroad. If you make the effort to learn even the most basic of phrases wherever you go, it instantly shows the person you’re speaking to that you respect their culture. Going around speaking loud English and getting frustrated at people is often perceived at best as tactless, and at worst as rude.’
The next language Rawlings hopes to learn is Arabic, but “only once I’ve finished my degree and got some more time on my hands. For now I need to concentrate on my German and Russian so I can get preparing for finals.”