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Interview with

Rossano Filippini

Name: Rossano Filippini
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian
Where do you live?: Portugal
Languages: Italian (native), German, Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese, French (fluent), Korean (basic).

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

It all started with love for travelling and different environments, developed already as a child (thanks, Mum!!) that brought me, when 16, to spend one year in the US with the AFS-Exchange Program. I then learned English (no, not at school back in Italy), understanding that the combination of full immersion/discipline/’learn as a child does’ was a very efficient way to get a new language into the brain. After that, I have used the same ‘system’ over and over again.

I must admit it: when I started to learn languages, the first being English in a rural area in the middle of New York State, US, I had no idea it was going to turn into a passion. I was 16 years old, then, astonished to see how ‘easy’ the process seemed to be: I soon enough realized, luckily, that it was not just ‘easy’, it needed discipline, open mindedness and patience too. But being able to (FINALLY!) understand the words of a Rolling Stones’ song instead of mumbling them was a deeply joyful shock, and just after 3-4 months of full immersion experience! So, if English had been so an ‘easy and fast’ learning process, learning other languages would be the same kind of experience?

So, first out of curiosity, I started challenging myself: I moved to live, as I began my university studies, in an Argentinian ‘community’, thus, let’s try with Spanish? It was again shockingly ‘easy busy’. But as a future international cooperation civil servant, maybe French would be a need? There I was on a French farm for a few months, learning the language. Then came German (on a farm too), Dutch (while studying at Wageningen), both languages later on used for tourism activities, finally Portuguese first in Brazil then in Portugal, where I live.

All these languages I have learned not only by being in full immersion, a ‘must do’ in my opinion, but by using what I call the ‘child mind set’: as children we learn our first language just by hearing and repeating, only afterwards by getting concerned about grammar and spelling. And so I did, time after time. Now busy with Korean, what I miss is the full immersion aspect: hopefully me and my South Korean wife will move to her country soon enough.

It has not been always a smooth ride: once upon a time I started to learn Russian, it was developing well but, in the end, I said to myself: ‘why bother, I will never use it’. Seen the recent geopolitical developments, I could not have been more wrong, and I admit to nowadays deeply regret that decision.

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

French and German would need some ‘care’, or better: a few weeks in Germany and France to bring them back at ‘top level’. Looking forward to go to South Korea ASAP and get its knowledge seriously upward.

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

I would love to jump to Japanese, after having mastered Korean.

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

Korean :-D.

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

Speaking so many languages has allowed me to easily find international organizations’ jobs, allowing me to satisfy my unquenchable thirst for travel, meet new sociocultural environments in more than 50 countries for work or study (do not like so much being just a tourist), to communicate with my fellow humans ‘all over the world’, while getting PAID for it and not the opposite: quite an advantage, I daresay. But it has given me the possibility to give speeches as for example about the environment and/or climate change to a varied kind of audiences, as recently here in Portugal, happening both in English and Portuguese too. And I must recognize that it is a bit (narcissistically, maybe?) satisfying to observe the astonished faces of people hearing me jumping from Dutch to Spanish and English with such seemingly lack of effort, even if effort it is and sometimes, if tired, overwhelming (I call it ‘languages short circuit’).

I know that this languages passion will never die in me, if not because of natural causes like illnesses, accidents or meeting my grave. I know that I will keep learning them no matter what (hello Japan!!). It gives me freedom, an open mind set, the feeling that my neurons do not get tired and start to wish to go on holydays, challenging my intellectual capabilities in an almost permanent way.

Last but not least: being able to TEACH them too.

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?

It is, I think, a difficult question to answer I believe it will depend on, a lot, if the (past and present) ‘colonialist’ global forces will keep eroding the biodiverse cultural world landscape. Right now, the signs of a possible collapse or disaggregation of this modern socioeconomic system are getting stronger (for example: due to climate change cascade effects). But also there are signs of stronger resistance/resilience of locally sociocultural diverse communities. Loving so much diversity, be it cultural and/or natural, I REALLY hope the latter will happen.

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

GO FOR IT!!! Take advantage NOW of the amazing number of opportunities to travel cheaply and to learn. Europe is still, for example, the amazing place where in 2000 kms we may change language 5 times!! And it is a good investment for the brain health too: new neuronal nets help protecting from degenerative brain illnesses, or so the researches prove.

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