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Interview with

Cristina Concetti

Name: Cristina Concetti
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian citizen, of Italian and Czech descent
Where do you live?: Switzerland
Languages: Italian, Czech, English, French, German, Spanish

Member since:


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

I was born in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual family: my mother is Czech, while my father is Italian. My parents made the decision of teaching me and my brother both their languages, despite many voices around them supporting the old myth that raising bilingual children hinders their development and “just confuses” them. Since our family was based in Italy, my mother tried to include as much Czech input into our life as possible. I am extremely grateful to her for teaching me her native language and I consider it an invaluable gift. It has given me not only the chance to speak with my Czech family and Czech people in general, but also a keenness for language learning and, most of all, the clear awareness from a young age that different people speak differently, think differently, have different cultures and values and that none is necessarily better or worse than others. My mum remains to date my biggest role model in being a polyglot, as she knows to a certain extent and has studied at some point in her life a total of around 9 languages.

I have acquired a good foundation of English, French, and German at school, having attended a high school with a focus on languages. I have also complemented the learning of these languages on my own through movies, songs, podcasts, and television. My initial plan was to become a translator, but during adolescence I changed my mind and decided to become a scientist instead. My brother, on the other hand, took his passion for languages to a professional level and became a linguist.

The language I have acquired most recently is Spanish, learnt through speaking to my Spanish partner and listening to songs and podcasts (this was possible thanks to the many similarities between Italian and Spanish). I decided to learn Spanish because I wanted to get to know him through the language he was most comfortable with and which reflected his personality and thoughts best. He has also learnt Italian and we laugh a lot about false friends and different sayings in our languages.

My professional life has given me the chance of using and improving my English, French and German. I’ve been using English for work for several years, and I have lived for almost a year in the French-speaking region of Switzerland and live now in the German-speaking region.

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

At the moment, I wish I could have more chances to practice my French and my Czech, as there are only very few speakers of these languages in my everyday life. I try to maintain or improve my ability in all these languages, and I am fortunate to have many international friends, but it’s not easy to maintain several languages at once and I’m hoping to find some companionship in this journey through HYPIA.

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

Since I speak 3 languages in the Romance family and 2 in the Germanic family, I would like to learn at least one more Slavic language. I would also like to challenge myself and expand beyond the Indo-European family of languages, perhaps into Arabic, Chinese or Turkish.

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

I am going to be perhaps a bit conventional here and start by saying that the sexiest language is the language of respect. That’s why the first words we usually learn in any new language are “hello, sorry, thank you, please”. I like to learn these words in the local language when visiting a new country, along with basic non-verbal gestures and customs. Travelling has taught me that, while having a common language with a person can be a great tool to build a connection, not having it is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier, as at the end of the day we are all human and can achieve a basic level of connection and understanding even without language.

That said, I could not really pick a language that I find most fascinating or melodious. To me, all languages are fascinating, full of stories, sayings, and cultural richness to be discovered.

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

I am grateful for having the chance to connect with many different people in their native tongue and to understand their culture and way of thinking. There is a Czech saying which can be translated as "we are human as many times as the number of languages we know", and I really like this concept of being a human “several times”. I find it fascinating when I get to understand the thinking behind a language which is different from my native ones and to see the way concepts and words are connected differently. For a learner of a language, it is often possible to understand a word or expression even if it cannot be directly translated into the language or languages they know, and this, in my opinion, speaks to how much we all have in common as humans.

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?

I think this will depend on all of us – humanity – and the collective choices we make. It is undeniable that, nowadays and in the past, in many parts of the world minorities and their languages and cultures are and were subject to a forced cultural and linguistic assimilation to the ruling majority. On the other hand, there are also forces pulling in the opposite direction, trying to preserve languages, minorities, and dialects – HYPIA being one of them. In the area where I grew up, the local dialect was often seen as something to abandon, as speaking it was associated with lower socio-economic status and worse opportunities. Over time, I got to know how other countries and regions see their dialects as a heritage to preserve and transmit to the next generation and this can be achieved if there is a willingness to. On the other end of the spectrum, English and its predominant use and teaching as a second (or first) language in many countries is often seen as a threat to linguistic diversity. In my opinion, this doesn’t have to be the case, first because, as the number of speakers of English grows, so does the number of variants of the language; and secondly because the use of one language doesn’t have to automatically exclude the use of another. I think it is possible for humanity to be more globalized, more connected, using one or a few common languages, without having to renounce the richness and diversity provided by having many different languages. Polyglotism is the answer to how to achieve this!

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

It is never too late to start. You don’t need a particular “talent for languages” – anyone can learn. It is also totally possible to know and learn several languages at a time, but it’s not easy, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come easily. Have fun with words and languages, find connections, be curious about the new world of meanings and sounds that learning a language brings to you. It is possible to fit language learning into a busy schedule, for example through music, podcasts, movies, international friendships. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes hold you back from practicing. Use language learning as an opportunity to be more tolerant and open to other points of view. Learning a language nowadays is easier and more accessible than it’s ever been, thanks to the huge number of materials freely available on the internet. If you have some time and an internet access, learning a language can be a good use of that time and opportunity, which not everyone has.

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