Andy Klom

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The Head of the European Commission Office in Wales says "Learning another language is a matter of confidence, learning and hard effort."

Raise Your Game: What is your role?

Andy Klom: The European Commission has over 27 member states and every member state has a representation to represent the interests of the commission in that particular country. In larger countries we have several offices so, in the United Kingdom, we have four. We have head offices in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff. I'm the commission's representative here in Wales as we cover the whole of Wales.

RYG: How many languages do you speak?

AK: I speak seven languages. I speak Dutch and English because I was raised bilingually. I speak French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and I'm learning Welsh.

RYG: How many of those do you speak fluently?

AK: I speak them all at different levels of fluency. I can negotiate business for the European Commission in at least three to four of them. I have a working level knowledge of two other ones. My Portuguese and German are good for speaking to regular people in the streets, but I wouldn't be negotiating trade agreements in them.

RYG: Did languages bring you to this role?

AK: Languages have been a part of my life from my early youth onwards. I grew up in Queensland, in an immigrant family. We were good immigrants and we learnt the language of the country. English was my first language, but after a while my parents decided to go back to the old country.

Overnight I became a Dutchman and had to learn a second language. Once you open the door to a second language, the rest just keeps on rolling. At high school I learnt German and French. At University I learnt Spanish. For the European Commission I ended up working in Brazil for years. Just from working there I learnt Portuguese.

RYG: Are some languages easier to learn than others?

AK: I've always found Germanic languages to be more difficult, like German and Dutch. I've always found Latin languages, like French, Portuguese and Spanish, easier.

When I was trying to learn Welsh, I found a lot of recognition from Latin and French in the language. At the same time, it's very different because it's a Celtic language. Each and every language family has its own easy and difficult points to understand.

RYG: How important is it for people to learn languages?

AK: In this day and age it's crucial. People in Europe have the right to live, work, play and retire in any of the 27 EU countries. That's why there are one million British people living in Spain and there are half a million Polish people living in the UK.

To be effective in a different country, you need to speak another language. When you're in another country you can't expect other people to speak your language. If you don't acquire another language the world becomes much smaller, in terms of job prospects and experiences.

People who speak other languages can go abroad and find a wonderful career, or come over here, and maybe take the job you wanted to have, because they speak two or three other languages.

Each language gives you a different perspective. It enriches your life and it may enrich your pocket as well. If you can communicate in a language, you can do business in that language.

RYG: When do you know that your language has progressed to the stage where you are completely fluent?

AK: When you stop translating phrases and words in your head, and start thinking in the language instead. When I was younger I spent weeks in hotels with negotiators, only speaking Spanish. I started dreaming Spanish at night. That's when you know that you've reached the point of being fluent.

RYG: Why don't more people in the UK know a second language?

AK: In Europe people speak a different language over the border. To become understandable and to do business they have to learn somebody else's language.

Back in the sixteen hundreds the Dutch were great traders all over the world, but they needed to sell their products to the customer in the language of the customer. They learnt many languages, and they still do that, and it served them very well.

The whole world is learning English at an early age. If the only language you speak is English, you're at a disadvantage.

RYG: Have you ever made any mistakes when trying to speak a new language?

AK: Yes. You can mess things up by being impolite, crude or discourteous in a different language, because you're not a fluent speaker, but that's part of the learning process.

RYG: Does it make it easier for you to watch sport in other countries, being able to watch the games in a different language?

AK: Absolutely. Sometimes different channels are showing the same match in different languages. You can pick up what the commentators on the other side are saying. That can make all the difference when you're watching the same match. The same goes for watching the news or other programmes. They have a different feel to them.

RYG: What advice would you give to someone wanting to learn other languages?

AK: Get hold of that second language, because it really is a door opener. Once you have that second one, learning a third one is much easier, a fourth one is even easier and so on.

Learning another language is a matter of confidence, learning and hard effort. Like anything in life, you start from scratch. Fight the obstacles and try to do your best. Go for it and see how far you get. Before you know it you'll be conversing in that language. You build upon that and it continues to get easier.

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