Ever wonder how Santa Claus copes with letters from kids in hundreds of different languages?
Interviewer: Mr. Claus, thank you for joining us today. I know it is a really busy time of year for you.
Mr. Claus: Ho ho, glad to be here. Some of the elves were starting to get testy so I’m glad for a little break.
Interviewer: And Mr. Claus, what should I call you?
Mr. Claus: Oh, you can call me anything. I answer to so many names. Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papai Noel, Julenisse, Noel Baba, Father Christmas, Babbo Natale, Sion Corn, I could keep going. It doesn’t matter what you call me, I’ll still answer. Ho ho.
Interviewer: Okay, I’ll stick to Mr. Claus. I want to ask you about languages. How many languages do you speak?
Mr. Claus: The last time I counted, I speak about 84 languages fluently, and I can understand enough to read a Christmas letter in another 100 or so languages.
Interviewer: That’s remarkable. How did you learn so many?
Mr. Claus: Well I didn’t learn them all at once. Originally I was most popular in Europe, so I spoke Turkish, Greek, Italian, English, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Over the years my popularity has grown, and now I get letters from kids all over the world. I think TV and movies have really helped my reputation spread.
As you know, I’m pretty old, so I’ve had a lot of time to learn. And once Christmas is over there’s nothing I like better than putting a fire on and reading a book in a different language. Lately I’ve been learning Rotokas, which is spoken in part of Papua New Guinea. There are only about 12 letters in its alphabet!
Interviewer: What do you do if you get a letter from a child in a language you don’t know yet?
Mr. Claus: Well, Mrs. Claus speaks another 45 languages, and my elves are all multilingual. Together we can handle just about anything. If we really get stuck we use Google Translate.
You have to be careful with Google Translate though. If a kid asks for a Kindle they aren’t looking for firewood.
Interviewer: How do you learn new languages?
Mr. Claus: Conversation practice is key. I like to talk to the Elves in their native languages. And I make it fun. Mrs. Claus and I sometimes play Scrabble in different languages. One year the Elves made us a special Scrabble set with the letters and accents from different languages. And of course, once you’ve learned a second language, each additional language gets easier. There’s a lot of commonalities between different languages.
But it still takes work. Portuguese verb conjugations – now that took a lot of practice.
Interviewer: Do you have a favorite language?
Mr. Claus: They are all my favorite. Each language has something to appreciate, it’s like music. I love rolling my rrr’s in Spanish. I love making the tongue clicks in Xhosa. I love the facial expressions in American Sign Language. I love the tones in Chinese. Each language helps you see something different about the world.
Interviewer: What keeps your mind so alert?
Mr. Claus: Oh, I never stop learning. There’s always new words being invented, especially in the toy business. This year there are words like Osmo, Lumies, Hatchimals, Owleez, Novie, Hairdorables… I could go on. I may be old, but it’s my job to keep up. Language changes and there are always new words to learn.
Interviewer: Thank you, Mr. Claus. Merry Christmas.
Mr. Claus: Thank you. Ho ho ho.