Name: Elisa Polese
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian
Where do you live?: Germany
Languages: Italian, French, Spanish, German, English, Catalan, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, Greek, Hindi, Esperanto, Arabic and I have studied at different levels Hungarian, Mandarin, Ukrainian, Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian, Turkish, Finnish, Neapolitan, Latin, Indonesian, Polish, Hebrew, Swedish, Danish, and Japanese.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I fell in love with French when I went to Paris with my mom when I was eight years old. It fascinated me to interact with people in another language (of course I would only ask for our hotel key or try to order food). An additional reason was that my mom would sometimes speak French with her partner when she did not want us to understand so at some point my sister and I decided we wanted to speak French better than her.
Then I came across other languages while camping with my mom: we were in the south of Italy and there were other teenagers like me I wanted to talk to but I didn´t know how. At the time. I took a dictionary and just tried to speak or write messages.
My father always encouraged to learn new things and get to know the world and this is what I did as soon as I was allowed to do so on my own (I was 17) and I loved it. From that moment, I started to learn several languages at the same time. At the beginning I did not know how to learn them in an efficient way but then, I understood how and I never stopped.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
I´m Neapolitan but I started to want to understand Neapolitan when I was 16 because until then I was taught that speaking a dialect was not something “appropriate”. When I was 16 and I could not understand a word when people were trying to communicate with me, I felt ashamed and sorry. This is when I decided that I would learn Neapolitan to be able to understand it very well (but I would speak Italian as everyone understands it) and so I did. I did not use a book at the time but I started to listen carefully and a world opened in front of my eyes. Now I love all the dialects and I wish I would practise Neapolitan more often, so that I could also speak it fluently. I also would love to find more ways to practise Greek and Hindi in person.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I always start to want to learn a language when I meet a nice person with whom I cannot communicate at a deeper level because of the linguistic barriers. At that point, I also want to understand better their point of views and culture and learning the language really helps.
What languages I would like to learn in the future? I´m looking forward to meeting many more nice people who make me want learn their language and learn from their culture!
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Not really sure I would call a language “sexy” but I do love the sound of all of the languages. What really makes a difference to me is howpeople speak to each other (nicely or not, for example), not the language they use.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I love it when I´m travelling and knowing a language or a culture can help me or others get out of trouble or solve a problem. Also, I greatly enjoy when I can communicate with someone in their own language because I have the impression I can get to know them better. Last but not least, languages reflect other ways of living and thinking and I love to learn from people and see things from a different perspective.
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 many situations human beings choose simplicity over effort: if communication is easier in a common language, it´s understandable that people choose to do so. At the same time, I think that languages are not just words but reflect ways of thinking and their cultures and this is their beauty. If you take two people speaking a common language but who have zero clues about their respective cultures, the communication won´t likely be very successful. I think there will still be many languages left in 100 years because people identify with their own languages. Of course, the less speakers of that language exist, the more effort will be required to keep that language alive.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I would tell them to study languages to gain skills that will help them throughout your life, not just because “it´s cool” or to “become someone”: approval comes from within.
Learning several languages, like any other thing worthwhile, requires dedication, anyone can do it, understand why you need it, and be consistent.