Jane Seymour: ‘Everyone should know another language’

Actor Jane Seymour’s mother learned Japanese and Malay while in an Indonesian concentration camp. She shares how this has shaped her attitudes to language learning

Jane Seymour

Photograph: REX/Drew Altizer/Sipa USA

I grew up in a very multicultural household. My father was English and spoke fluent French and some Afrikaans as he was stationed in South Africa with the RAF. My mother was from the Netherlands and spoke fluent English, Dutch, German, Malay, some French, a little Portuguese and a little Japanese. She was in a concentration camp for three and a half years in Indonesia, so she spoke Bahasa Malay and then, of course, in the internment camp they had to do roll call in Tenkō and then count and say certain things in Japanese, so she reluctantly spoke those.

Because of the camps, my mother and the other survivors decided that their homes, if they ever had children, would be homes to one another. So as a young kid we didn’t have very much money but we would use a rail pass and go around the Netherlands and spend time with young people whose parents had also been in the camp. So that’s how I learned Dutch. I learned French at school and my parents sent me to friends who lived in Geneva so I started using it right away. French became very important to me because I ultimately ended up making a movie in French and playing Marie Antoinette.

Language, especially learning at an early age, is very important to me. You just never know what circumstances you’re going to be in when you might have to communicate with somebody in a language that isn’t your own, so it’s useful to have some basics in at least two others. I’m working on a TV series right now called Hey Wordy! that introduces children to foreign languages and cultures through animation and songs. It’s a very clever and fun way of teaching. Once a child learns one language, it’s a passport to being able to easily learn any language. […]

(From The Guardian, Emma Garland, 24.10.2014)

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