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Interview with

Rafael Lanzetti

Name: Rafael Lanzetti
Nationality or Ethnicity: Brazilian
Where do you live?: Corumbá (Western Brazil)
Languages: Brazilian Portuguese (native language), English, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Hebrew, Greek, Bulgarian.
I have also dealt with a bunch of other languages in the past, of which unfortunately not much remained: Romanian, Hindi, Farsi, Papiamento, French, Norwegian, Galego, Afrikaans, Serbian, Macedonian etc.

1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
I’m a Cardiologist in Brazil, and I currently work at a General Hospital and at a clinic in Corumbá, close to the borderline between Brazil and Bolivia. I receive a lot patients from our neighboring country, and I use Spanish almost on a daily basis.

However, long before I started studying Medicine, I was a Linguist with a PhD in Comparative Linguistics. My main area of interest was Comparative Philology of the Indo-European languages. My interest in foreign languages was triggered by the contact I had to foreign students at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). There I had the chance to engage in tandems with people from different cultural backgrounds.

As I am a Jew, I studied at a Jewish school in Rio de Janeiro, Beth’EL, where I had my first Hebrew lessons.

As my grandparents came from Italy before WWII, I learnt a little bit of Italian (Turin dialect) with them.

Unfortunately, once one starts dedicating his life to Medicine, it seems everything else must make room to endless biochemical and pathophysiological rules, and there’s little time and room left for things like foreign languages. Only now, after a few years after my specialization, I’m stable enough to start dedicating time to things that made me happy before. My languages have become a hobby, which I intend to keep for the rest of my life.


2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
All of them! Specially Hebrew and Greek, which I guess are my dearest languages.


3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
I’ll be realist here and acknowledge that I will probably not be adding any more languages to my list any time soon. I have dealt with a bunch of other languages in the past, but we can’t have it all. That being said, I would love to start learning Hindi and Romanian again…


4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
I’m not the expert in this field, but I guess languages are not sexy, what you are able to convey through them may be. Even German can sound sexy if you use the right words.


5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
I’ll go for the obvious answer here - being able to communicate with more people than the majority of the world’s population. There’s nothing like visiting a country whose language you speak and being able to communicate with the natives in their language, and seeing their awe when you do.


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?
Languages are born, develop, and die, just like empires. Linguae francae like English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, will continue swallowing minority languages throughout the world. I am still not sure whether we should interfere by trying to save every single language that dies, because this may be a natural process for many of them. That being said, some languages carry a large cultural tradition that would otherwise be lost without them. The revival of Hebrew is an example of how it is possible - albeit at a high cost and using questionable methods. Another Middle Eastern language that is on the brink of extinction and should be saved is Aramaic, due to its millennial tradition and cultural richness. Yes - that’s what I’m saying - languages are equal, but some are more equal than others.


7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
I’ve always said this: languages are a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s a little futile to learn languages for the sake of it - it’s ok if it’s just a hobby, or an exercise in cognition development, but it would be a terrible waste of time and effort to learn a language without aiming at using it to communicate with someone who shares the knowledge of the same code. I say that because all I see are videos of polyglots warbling out pre-made sentences in different languages about one and only subject: how and why I learnt language X and my methods to learn languages. We almost never see videos of people discussing different topics - politics, sciences, technology - whatever in their languages, because it seems LANGUAGES is the only thing they know how to talk about. I wish I had more time and the opportunity to engage in conversations on different topics in different languages.

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