Name: Daniele Casciaro
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian / Caucasian
Where do you live?: Hannover, Germany
Languages: Italian, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Born in 1990 in the city of Bologna, I was raised initially as a strictly monolingual, Italian speaker. With my father hailing from the south of Italy and my mother the north, each spoke their respective local dialects but decided to my (later) chagrin to raise me with only the national language instead.
However, I did not let that hinder my journey with languages, which began in 1998 with a bilingual Italian-English dictionary and the Nintendo 64 videogame: Zelda – The Ocarina of Time. As a wide-eyed 8 year old, the only English word I knew was “crocodile” – though I cannot tell you why. The video-gaming industry was still in its early days, and games weren’t yet translated into Italian; of course, I did not let that stop me from conquering this beloved videogame (albeit slower than my schoolmates who simply pressed “A” on their joysticks in order to skip the dialogues). With a dictionary in my hands, heaps of motivation, and a yearning to learn English to enrich my gaming experience, I battled through.
Fast forward a few years to my encounter with the French language at Junior High School, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do a school exchange in Lyon for two weeks. With three years of French under my belt, I was able to both live and attend school with local students of my age group. Since that experience, I faithfully nurtured my French capabilities, integrating French both into my university curriculum as well as my daily life.
My journey took a more serious turn when I embarked upon learning the sparkling Spanish language after years of light-hearted teenage flirtations with it in my early twenties. Pursuing that passion in 2012, I attended a Spanish language class at college, after which I quite easily obtained the B1 level certificate at Instituto Cervantes. Since I was hooked and wanted to gain that desirable fluency, I took the life-changing leap and moved to Madrid to complete my post-graduate studies.
Then came the melodic Portuguese. Fascinated with the Brazilian musical culture since the age of 16, I began learning Latin American dances; this hobby soon evolved into a competitive sport. Digging further into the culture in 2012, I began my Portuguese journey through my university’s language course. In an attempt to employ synergies stemming from the linguistic similarities of Spanish and Portuguese, I continued these two languages simultaneously. Naturally, though, Spanish took the lead in fluency once I relocated to Spain to continue my studies.
The newest addition to my polyglot arsenal is that of the direct and demanding German language, a more recent endeavour which began in 2017. My relationship with this language is far more emotional and troubled compared to my first language loves. Before diving into the intricacies of the language, I had been afraid of its harsh phonetic system as well as its seemingly complicated syntax structure to the point that I had avoided it for as long as possible. With Germany the economic heavyweight that it is, though, I ended up with receiving a rewarding job offer there. Thus, I succumbed to acquiring the language, since even the most basic tasks proved to be a challenge without it. So far, my learning progress has been slower than with Romance languages, but whenever I can see progress, a greater sense of pride blooms within me, which helps convert that initial fear and resistance toward German to a respect. The journey toward fluency is well underway and I look forward to the next milestones of this acquisition.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Definitely Portuguese. I unfortunately don’t have a Portuguese-speaking circle so I’m limited in exposure time to reinforce my fluency, and love of the language, beyond the internet streaming and interactions that I currently manage. I’m investigating adding language lessons on iTalki in order to better support this.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
It depends on what part of my brain answers this question: emotionally, I feel a connection with Japanese, Korean and Greek as I am fascinated by these languages and cultures; rationally, I would choose Mandarin Chinese, Russian or Arabic in order to open up new business and career opportunities. Time will tell!
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Without a shadow of a doubt, Italian. But, yes, I may be biased.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Honestly, the greatest pleasure stems from the possibility to connect with people from all over the world and to speak directly to their hearts, to their essence. A language is a code to express an inner thought or feeling, and every code has both a logic and structure that in turn shape the way we think or feel. That is why speaking to someone in their native language means speaking to his or her , shaped from their mother tongue at birth, enriched with colloquial expressions, which are nothing but shortcuts to true deep meaning. Having the possibility to build such meaningful relationships or to have such interesting exchanges is so rewarding that in my opinion it compensates for decades of, at times gruelling, language learning and practice.
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 that in 100 years the global language landscape will look significantly different than what it looks like today. With globalisation, mass media and the wide-spread usage of the internet progressively making the world a smaller place to live in, some languages will not find their place anymore in the landscape and will naturally die. This is a phenomenon that can be traced throughout the past as well, with geo-political revolutions or wars, mass migrations, as well as natural disasters; we should learn to accept this. At the same time, new languages are born because of the very same changes (e.g. creole languages, evolving dialects, and so on). If we take the case of Latin, it is not a widely spoken language in today’s world, but it remains the base of multiple languages and remains a case of continuous and intricate investigation to better understand the logic behind modern day languages such as French, Italian, or, surprisingly, even German. I believe newer languages will evolve much the same way, with the languages we speak today being the base for evolution. So although they may not be day-to-day talk, they will be a source of historical knowledge, crucial understanding of cultural development, and a stimulus to think how and why a certain language evolved the way it did. This is also natural and exciting, and one of the reasons why I love learning languages so much, there is no limit.
In short, I believe that we are not going to have a world with only a handful of languages, but rather a world that sees probably half of the existing languages dying and perhaps a tenth of new languages being born. Although I do believe that there will be a net consolidation of languages, I also think that - thanks to the extensive documentation that linguists are and will be collecting on endangered languages - we won’t lose the important traces these languages will leave behind. Who knows, maybe even to the point that a community can bring them back to life one day.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I think that you are embarking on an incredibly rewarding journey. You are by nature a curious individual; you wish to experience and understand the multifaceted ways of life of different groups of people scattered around the world. And you will get there, as learning the local language is the key to unfolding an otherwise undecipherable dimension.
At the same time, repeating this exercise in multiple languages will absorb a significant amount of time as well as mental, emotional and financial resources, so you need to make sure that you have enough motivation and resilience to navigate through perilous waters and to soldier on in the face of obstacles or difficulties. Having a study plan and avoiding exposure to too many languages simultaneously will probably help you to optimize your learning time, but everyone needs to develop their own personal, most effective learning strategy.
This is an arduous but very rewarding path, one that will unleash the power of a language and give you access to whatever purpose you have or will have for that language in your lifetime, be it reading books, watching movies in the original language or make meaningful travelling experiences. Most importantly, this path - with the requirements highlighted above - can be pursued at any time and age, so start walking on it today if that’s what makes you happy and fulfilled.