Interview with

Michael Ross Scamihorn

Name: Michael Ross Scamihorn
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian-American
Where do you live?: Milan, Italy
Languages: Italian, English, Lombard, German (Tyrolean), Spanish, Russian, Serbian, Greek, Mandarin, and passive knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek, elementary Ukrainian

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

My story with languages basically began when I was born. As many children born from an international couple, I grew up speaking two languages from a very age. By the age of 14 months, I was conversational in both. My father made sure to force to speak English, even though I grew up in an Italian speaking environment. When I was young, after coming back from Greece from a family holiday, I made up a song, thinking that it was some kind of gibberish, but I still remember vividly the moment when my parents told I was saying some random Greek words. I probably had some sort of knack for languages, I guess. My polyglot journey began in my teen years, when I started to study Spanish in middle school, then came Mandarin, self-taught, then German and then all the other came rolling into my life. Apart from Spanish, I learned all the languages I know on my own, in the true polyglot spirit. Now I try to maintain all the languages I know, as well as pushing myself to learn new ones. As we all know, the more languages one knows the easier it gets to learn a new one, and this could not be further from the truth.

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

A language I wish could practice more is modern Greek, there is no doubt about that. Unfortunately, I still haven’t had the opportunity to interact with many Greek speakers and I really would like to get to a B2 level, at least. Another language I want to get a solid knowledge of is Arabic. I have a very basic and general knowledge on how the language works and how the different dialects create a beautiful mosaic of culture and identity. My efforts would lean towards learning Levantine Arabic, as a spoken form of the language. Another language I feel I really need to practice is Mandarin, which is very distinct from the Indo-European languages I am most familiar with. Ukrainian is also a language I would like to better grasp in the future.

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

As stated in the previous answer, I would like grasp more confidently Arabic, but there are so many different languages I’d like to learn. Many languages have crossed my mind during my learning process, but here are all the languages I’d like to learn: Portuguese, Hungarian and/or Finnish, Swedish, Farsi, Cantonese and possibly Armenian.

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

This is tough question to answer. I believe some languages are better suited for males and some for females. I would say that Germanic languages are a better fit for males, while Romance and Slavic languages are sound better on females, at least among the ones I know. Spanish is certainly one of my favourites, for its very passional and dramatic feel. Russian feels very assertive and confident, traits that are certainly very desirable. While Serbian has a bit of both of these qualities, possessing the “Slavicness” of “I do not give a damn f***” as well as the strong passion of the Mediterranean world.

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

This is a question I get asked many times, and the answer is always the same. What I enjoy the most is seeing the joy people have when they find out I speak their native tongue. The human connection that can be built is certainly deeper than over a non-native language. The excitement and the amazement I see in their eyes is always the best reward for my efforts.

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?

Some languages are bound to go extinct. Unfortunately, it is something I witness even with my native dialect of Italian. However, I do not believe that the world will be speaking only a handful of languages in a 100-years’ time. As we see nowadays, for example, many varieties of English are emerging, such as Singlish, spoken in Singapore, which to the untrained ear might sound like a completely different language. This was also the case with Latin. During the expansion of the Roman republic first and then the Roman empire, it became one of the only languages spoken by the people, but over time it evolved into the many romance languages and vernaculars we know today. Nowadays globalization and the standardisation of communication have a large roll in homogenising the number of languages spoken. Nonetheless linguistical diversity will not disappear, rather it might be different from what we know today.

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

My message is to learn and to speak, speak, speak and speak. The basis of human language is communication, therefore verbal communication is key. It is certainly a wonderful journey to embark on. Learning languages can be exciting, intense, frustrating, and very fulfilling. It is a true emotional roller-coaster. A piece of advice I can give is to try to immerse oneself in the language as much as possible, even if one the language learner does not live in a country where the target language is spoken. This means listening to music, podcasts, speaking alone and even trying to find native speakers to speak with.