After he learned Russian, Bruce Ballie-Hamilton decided to acquire Mandarin next, because, he told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he “wanted a challenge”.
Arabic was next on the list. After a language with, effectively, no alphabet he wanted to learn something with a totally different alphabet.
Those three languages were all learnt at home, in Callander in Perthshire. And he has already notched up a grade A pass in each of them, at GSCE or AS level.
In addition, he is learning French, German and Spanish at Beaconhurst School in Stirling.
His mother, Paula, explained her son has always been ambitious, to work in international business.
But acquiring so many languages has not always been easy.
“I must admit I cried when I saw his first (Russian) dictionary”, she said.
“I thought how is he going to do that. But he was determined. And look where he is now.”
Where he is now is winner of a UK-wide competition to find Britain’s most multi-lingual under-15 year old.
He had to convince the judges in the competition run by publisher Harper Collins that he could communicate effectively in each of his seven languages (including English).
Well enough to deal with the sort of situation that might arise while travelling; describe experiences and events, dreams and ambitions; and explain his opinions and plans.
The shelves are filled with tourist guides to countries round the world, and language text books. There is a whiteboard in the corner, covered in Arabic script.
Bruce says he reckons it is bound to help in business, being able to talk to clients or suppliers in their own language.
“If you’ve bothered to learn their language then, obviously, you’ll get on better (with them).”
He laughs in agreement, when I suggest it will also stop anyone having private conversations behind his back – he will always know exactly what they are talking about.
And he has already experienced the benefits of being fluent in so many languages.
“I’ve been to one or two other countries and it’s a lot of fun being able to speak the language. And people’s attitude is a lot friendlier, if you speak their own language to them.”
So, I wondered, does it almost get to the point where he wants to add another language or two to his collection just for fun?
“Not yet,” Bruce tells me. “It is kind of like a hobby, to learn these languages. But it’s more than a hobby, really. Because you have to really push hard. If you try half-heartedly, you won’t get anywhere.”
And, does he ever get confused? Be saying something in Arabic, for instance, but find himself thinking of a Russian word?
“Once or twice, I must admit. But not often. Once you’ve learned the language, you’ve learned the language. And you just click into that mind-set.”
And he has not stopped.
After learning standard modern Arabic, the next project is learn Lebanese.
Taken from BBC.co.uk: 30.03.12
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