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Interview with

Carlos De Leon

Name: Carlos De León D´Ambrosio
Nationality or Ethnicity: Uruguayan / Italian
Where do you live?: Montevideo
Languages: Spanish (native), English, Italian, German and Portuguese (fluent), French (intermediate).


1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?

I started studying French at the school in Montevideo when I was 4 years old. At age 5 they gave me the book La vie des insects and I began to read it. Yeah, I was reading Entomology for teenagers at a very early age. I started studying English at the age of seven, and at 15 I started teaching English lessons for children, as well as Mathematics and drawing.

As a kid I began to visit Brazil, as I have family there so I learned oral Portuguese, never read a book, only comics like Disney productions.
My only problem when I go to Brazil is that I begin to speak Italian for 2 or 3 days until I understand I am in Brazil (?)

When we made a trip through Europe in 1986 (I was 23, 3 months, 10 countries, including 5 behind the Iron Curtain at that time) with a choir where I was the main translator for 20 people a Venetian engineer told me I should be Italian if I was D'Ambrosio my second last name. Back in Montevideo, they denied me the documents so I had to learn Italian to discuss with the bureaucrats in Montevideo  (so I did it in 1987, anyway, I didn’t want to be Italian before being 28 to avoid the military service).

So we make this trip in Montevideo, students of architecture, 6 months, 130 people, 1989. 30 countries. Since 1946? It’s weird, it’s Uruguay!

So, love makes the world go round, or money, who knows, then instead of staying in Spain (obvious language reasons) or Italy (love for the art), I fell in love with a German girl and moved there with my vocabulary of 20 words, and 3 weeks in the Bertolt Brecht Institut in Montevideo, then an adult education center in Tubingen for 3 weeks, 3 courses. It was a course for refugees, where I found Vietnamese people who struggled to pronounce words correctly. Despite that, I have made a great Vietnamese friend.

And Uruguayan lunfardo? Or the regional accents or particular vocabulary of peninsular Spain? Or even second languages in third accents? I love to emulate the accent of the Italo-Americans (the Italian diaspora in New York), speaking English with a very marked Italian accent…


2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?

I love Italian, but I need to promote energy efficiency. I need to practice French.


3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?

I admire Jorge Luis Borges, whom I read that he spoke 7 languages, so I began Mandarin in 2000 or so… hey 20 words, and forgot it. I still admire Borges. Decided 6 was enough for me anyway, as I made a top notch low impact green homes project in 2001. I love drawings and NUM83R5. I am an architect and I could consider architecture as a language, may I count it? :)


4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?

Ma, caro, lo devi chiedere a Dio... A witticism sometimes attributed to Charles is: "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse."


5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?

I’m not sure, in fact, I’ve been suffering an anti-intellectualism wave INSIDE my place (got a lodge, long story). Asimov told about it in 1970 :(


6. Some people say the world is really just going to have a few languages left in a 100 years, do you think this is really true?

Well, I have not read linguistics in 20 years or more, but, yes, living beings die, and species reduce, languages too. While metalanguages like emojis grow. Not easy. I’m building speeches with stickers. (The meme is dead, said Friedrich Nietzsche.) Anyway, the impoverishment of vocabulary and reading comprehension is terrible. Have you read about the reversed Flynn effect? IQs have been decaying since 1990 :(


7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?

Just do it, dude! I did it BEFORE the internet. Yes, there was life before the net.