Name: Valentina Lorenzon
Nationality or Ethnicity: Italian
Where do you live?: London
Languages: Italian, English, Spanish, French, German and Russian.
1. What’s your story? How did you get into all these languages?
Even though I grew up in a monolingual family, I had a fascination for languages since a very early age. The key motivators for it have always been my love of travelling and my passion for literature as well as the curiosity to better understand the world around me. My family and I spent most of our holidays abroad so I was regularly exposed to different cultures and I always had the desire to communicate with people who spoke a different language and engage in their conversations. Another big reason for studying languages was that, as a child, I was always surrounded by a lot of books. I soon became an avid reader and literature lover and developed the dream of reading my favourite books in their original version. In addition, a nodal point in my path to becoming a polyglot was studying Latin at school – I had a very inspiring teacher that taught me how a language can connect us with our past and our history. Later on, I also realised that my knowledge of Latin could be very useful to understand specific linguistic and grammatical features of other languages. After university, I also had the opportunity to work across different countries and this became a great source of motivation to study new languages and live in different places across Europe. I strongly believe that linguistic competences are an important skill set to have in order not only to improve our communication with others but also to actively encourage intercultural collaboration.
2. Which language(s) do you wish you could spend more time practising?
Russian. In the past I used it a lot for work but, unfortunately, I now have fewer opportunities to practice it. However, I continue to study it and I’m planning to dedicate more time to it going forward.
3. What are some languages you’d like to learn in the future?
My ultimate dream is to become fluent in at least ten different languages. I have already started learning Arabic and Portuguese. In addition, I have a strong interest in all things Japanese so I’d also like to learn the language as a way to better understand other aspects of the culture and have access to content that is not yet available in translation. Mandarin is another language that fascinates me. Similarly, I’d like to study sign language because I think it would be a unique learning experience that differs significantly from the way in which I learnt other languages.
4. So let’s be honest, what’s the sexiest language?
It’s difficult to pick one. I think that a lot depends on the context and how it is spoken. But if I really had to pick one, I’d probably say Spanish because of the passion and intensity that its words and sounds convey.
5. What’s the greatest pleasure you get from speaking so many languages?
Learning a language is about being able to connect with people at a deeper level and truly get to know them. Having a certain linguistic knowledge is just a starting point to gain insights on a culture and understand a different way of seeing the world. I see learning languages as a wonderful opportunity to widen my perspective, enrich my identity and increase my cultural capital. Thanks to my passion for languages, I also made many inspiring friends who are scattered across the world and share my love for learning. In addition, I particularly like to work across languages and act as a facilitator by encouraging conversations and helping people build a bridge across cultures and mindsets, on both a personal and professional level. Learning languages also had an empowering effect on me because I started travelling on my own since I was fairly young and being able to communicate in the local language was always a great way to make me feel at home and be comfortable to embrace the experience fully.
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?
There is no doubt that the emergence of English as a lingua franca in many professional and personal contexts as well as the adoption of certain languages as official means of communication within a specific territory have resulted in many other languages disappearing (or being in danger of disappearing). However, I’m optimistic because I think that there is an increasing awareness of and appreciation for the importance of protecting the diverse linguistic heritage that we have. Language is not only part of our identity, our history and our legacy but it’s also the main way in which we express ourselves and communicate with others. We should all play a role in preserving the linguistic - and cultural - heritage that represents who we are. Languages help us understand ourselves and each other better because they are a reflection of our origins and of how our society has been shaped by time and change.
7. What is your message to young (and not so young) people out there who are interested in studying multiple languages?
The benefits of learning a new language are manifold, on both a personal and professional level. It can help us travel, access a wide range of job opportunities, meet interesting people and better understand the world around us, just to mention a few. I truly believe that it is a wonderful and enriching passion to have and is never too early or too late to start this journey.
Based on my experience, I’d also share the following - very simple - pieces of advice:
. Do a little every day. If you are like me, there is probably a lot that you want to learn but only have a little time so use every opportunity to practice, listen to the language or simply read something. Even a few minutes a day can help build your knowledge – the key is consistency.
. Be patient. Learning a new language is a long-term project and is not always easy. But the final reward is worth the time and effort that you invest in it. Plus the learning process is an invaluable experience in itself because it will take you – physically and metaphorically – on a wonderful journey.
. Be confident. Don’t worry about making mistakes or trying to be perfect and sound smart all the time. Try not to compare yourself to others, focus more on your motivation and goals as well as on the progress you make. Just speak and practice as much as possible. You’ll reach a point when everything will fall into place.
. Have fun. Never forget why you started learning, in most cases it is a passion and/or a deep interest in a foreign culture so never lose sight of that. Start learning from your areas of interest like, for example, music, art, fashion… this will be a great way to combine different passions, keep you motivated and enjoy the time you spend honing your language skills. It will never feel like an effort.
Finally, in Charlemagne’s words ‘To Have a Second Language is to Have a Second Soul’. In my opinion, there is no better way of explaining the meaning and value of learning a new language. It’s a door into a different world, full of new opportunities, ideas and people.