Name: Gina Guidarelli
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian/American
Where do you live?: Lisboa, Portugal
Languages: English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Russian, German, Finnish
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
My family is Italian and I was born in the US, so I grew up with English and Italian. My great-grandmother was from Finland and did not speak English, so as a child I remember hearing my grandmother speak to her in Finnish. I lived in a cosmopolitan city and my first friends were from Japan. Maybe it was all of these things combined that gave me an early interest in languages, but whatever the case, when I was about five years old, I wrote a letter to my grandfather listing all the languages I wanted to learn. And I did. I studied multiple languages in school, and went on to major in Romance Languages and Literature at university. In addition to the languages for my Master’s degree (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French), I had the opportunity to study three years of German, one year of Romanian, a bit of Latin, and Japanese. I tested out of beginning Swedish (self-study) and took a level-one Swedish literature course where I had the marvelous experience of reading the Mumintroll books in the original language!
My career is languages- I am an interpreter and translator. I also do translation work for Duolingo. I have the privilege of being a Chartered Linguist with the Chartered Institute of Linguists in the UK. My life is literally one giant language immersion. When I am not working with my languages, I am having conversations, attending lectures, theatre, cinema and other cultural events in my target languages.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them! I never have as much time as I would like to do all the things that I would wish to do, but I have a wonderful time doing what I can. Speaking multiple languages, for me, is a full-time job.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
My current language count is eight. My professional/working languages are English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and French. I am constantly perfecting my working languages. I am currently working on improving and perfecting my German, Russian, and Finnish as well. For these last three, my ultimate goal is to get to C1 and that will take a lot of time. Having said that, I really don’t see myself adding anymore in the near future. The only one I would really love to learn is Japanese. I am enamoured with Japanese culture. My first apartment was decorated entirely in Japanese style and I did study the language a bit at university, but to study it now would be a major undertaking and it will have to wait.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
Being Italian, I would have to say Italian. However, the only language that makes me smile every time I hear it is Spanish. I don’t know why, but it does. If that means it’s the “sexiest”, I don’t know.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Apart from the sheer joy of speaking them, and the beauty of the languages themselves, being able to communicate with so many people that I would never be able to communicate with otherwise is incredible. Most people act differently when they speak their native language, they are more free, more “themselves”. I get to see a side of people that many other people miss. Especially when traveling, speaking with the locals in their native language is extremely rewarding.
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 am not a connoisseur of the rare and endangered languages like other linguists might be. I do know that with the current technology available to communicate, it is much easier than it used to be to learn other languages. I know there is a renewed interest in learning languages, especially the rare and remote ones. I hope that these languages do not disappear. I know many people are making great efforts to save and preserve them.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I would say there has never been a better time to learn languages. There is an infinite amount of resources available now, videos, movies, learning apps, online events and courses, tutoring, music… something for any interest. Learning a language- or many- takes a lot of time and commitment, but it is so worth it. To me, one of the most important things in the world is communication, and that is what language learning is all about.