Polyglot Luca Lampariello On How He Learns Languages
This post is a transcript of a video on the LingQ YouTube channel.
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Elle: Welcome everyone to the English LingQ podcast with me Elle and today I have a very special guest internet polyglot, Luca, Lamparriello, Luca, how are you?
Luca: I’m good Elizabeth, what about you?
Elle: Excellent. I’m good. I’m good. I’m well, thank you.
So the first question I want to ask, actually, before I ask it, uh, anyone, any viewers or listeners who don’t know of Luca, you are an internet polygot and language coach, you run the website, Luca Lampariello.com and also the fantastic and helpful YouTube channel also called Luca Lampariello. So. I want to ask you the question
I’m sure most people will want to ask you when they meet you and discover that you are a polyglot. How many languages do you speak and what are they?
Luca: Well, this is always a tricky question. I always reply that I’ve been learning 14 languages, mine included, and those are Italian, which is my mother tongue, um, English, French, let’s see if I remember them in the correct order, Spanish, German, Dutch, Russian Swedish, um, Portuguese, Chinese, uh, Hungarian, Greek, and, uh, Polish. I already said Russian, I think. And Danish now learning Danish should be 14 if I haven’t forgotten anything.
Elle: Wow. Okay. It never ceases to amaze me when I meet someone like you, who speaks multiple languages, not just three, four, but 14 is incredible.
Luca: Let’s say that speaking… it, it depends on the definition of speaking. I would say that I might be speaking. I mean, I can, you know, communicate, I can get by sometimes at a high level. Sometimes I can get by, let’s say functional, but the, the, the term speaking is always a little bit vague.
So you have to define that a little bit more in detail, but let’s say that I’ve been – learning for the sake of simplicity and brevity – let’s say that I’ve been learning 14 languages.
Elle: 14. Amazing. And I heard Hungarian in there. I heard that that’s the, one of the most difficult languages to learn. Can you confirm or deny.
Luca: It’s a tough nut to crack. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is the most difficult language. I would say that it’s very different than anything you’ve ever learned before. So that, that in and of itself poses some difficulties. But I would say that it’s refreshingly simple for certain things and it’s, it’s a challenge for others.
So I would say, I always say that no matter how difficult the language is, if you want to learn it, you will go for it. There is no language that is impossible to learn if you want to learn it. I know it sounds trivial, but that’s actually how it is, you know?
Elle: And so what sparked this passion for language learning for you?
Luca: I think my thirst for knowledge, and I have to thank my grandmother and my family in general for that, cause they always have, um, motivated me to learn my, uh, my house, uh, the house of my parents and this house where I live right now has always, has always been full of books. And I’ve always grown up seeing my parents and my grandparents talking about culture, reading books.
I remember my grandfather was very passionate about mathematics. He was a scholar. He was a mathematician. And, uh, there were hundreds and hundreds of books in all languages. And I think this environment made, you know, my father, my grandfather and my family, they’ve always made an impression on me. And I remember one fate… Fateful moment that was, um, when I was around, uh, 10 or 11 I had to start middle school. And I remember the summer where we were in the garden and my grandmother was sitting there and she told me, Hey, uh, Luca, come here. I want to show you something. And she showed me a Latin book and a French, uh, and mathematics. The three things that we worked on, she said, Hey, do you want to give it a try?
And I remember I hadn’t even started school, middle school yet, but, um, we just started delving into mathematics and French. My grandmother was really passionate about this, you know, she could have just, um, been sitting there enjoying the summer instead, she wanted me to learn and I remembered that I immediately took a liking to, uh, you know, French, Latin, especially French and Latin, but also mathematics.
And this, uh, this thirst for knowledge, this intellectual curiosity that my parents fostered in me. And then, you know, it, it just sparked something that always stayed there. So I always wake up in the morning saying this is a good day to learn something new. And I think that languages are a part of that.
It’s not just languages. You know, I have a degree in electronic engineering and I’m extremely passionate about history, philosophy, astronomy. So it’s not just languages, but I think that the, this intellectual curiosity has caused me to explore, you know, as many domains as possible and language learning is one of them.
So what makes me tick is the fact that in particular, when it comes to language learning is the fact that, it might sound trivial, but the truth is that every language you learn not only makes you rich, but also gives you concrete, uh, possibilities in life. It allows you to connect with the world.
Just one language, going back to what you were saying before Hungarian. My uncle who lives here, not, not far. He just, uh, when I told him that I wanted to learn Hungarian, he just looked at me. He said, Why, why would you learn Hungarian? Nobody speaks Hungarian. I said 10 million people speak Hungarian. They only live in Hungary and that’s a place I go to quite often.
And even if it were just two people in the world, if I could speak Hungarian or any other exotic or, you know, forgotten language with one person, that would make a difference to me. Uh Lomb Kato or Kato Lomb, amazing hungarian polyglot, used to say that language learning is something worth learning, even uh, a little bit, even a couple of words, you never… even a couple of expressions said in certain circumstances can put a smile onto a strangers, uh, you know, face.
And so, uh, as far as I’m passionate about everything, everything makes me tick. Um, but in particular language learning has very concrete, uh, you know, consequences. You can do so much. And my life has changed in so many ways that I cannot even start to, you know, you can’t even fathom the ways in which language learning can change you, change your outside and your inside.
Elle: So amazing. I love that attitude waking up and just being excited for what the day brings, what you can learn and discover that, that’s a great attitude to have, for sure.
Luca: You know, it’s a funny thing, um, that I, when I say that I wake up at five o’clock or six o’clock in the morning, most of my friends go like, what? You wake up at five o’clock in the morning? And I say, do you know why I wake up at four o’clock, five o’clock now four o’clock is too early, it’s because I want to learn. That’s what makes me tick. That’s what makes me, uh, stand up. That’s what makes me, you know, open my eyes and say, this is a new day to learn.
Literally what makes me stand up and start my day is the fact that I always tell myself, this is a good day to learn. You know.
Elle: Amazing. And you are now, you share this passion with others in your, in your coaching. So you are a language coach. And I wonder if you have, uh, uh, is there a kind of guiding coaching philosophy that you have? What do you emphasize when helping people learn a new, a new language?
Luca: I think that the most important thing nowadays that people lack is actually learning how to learn. So I’m very passionate about, uh, you know, in general learning how to learn, how the brain works, neuroscience and everything. And I think that’s particularly important now, because if you think about it, nowadays, we have all the information we want. Just one click away. There’s a YouTuber that says, that says that if all we needed was more information, we would all be billionaires with a six pack. That’s not what we need. So it’s not, you know, it’s… information is not what we need. We have information overload.
We have even too much, but what people lack is actually how to actually make it happen. Uh, some 30 years ago, you know, I, I couldn’t even imagine the, the resources, the possibilities that we have nowadays. I Remember that I was learning Dutch some 25 years ago now, I don’t remember… 1999, and I could only find a couple of books.
And I did not use the internet at that time. And those books looked so precious. Right now we have oh so many possible resources. The problem still is that a lot of people come to mw, they go to my website or they see my channel and the endearing, the wonderful messages that I got, like: Luca, I’ve learned so much.
I didn’t know this, I didn’t know, I didn’t know how to use YouTube to learn languages or stuff that are, are evident for me cause I’ve been, I’ve been doing this for years, but they’re not evident for a lot of people that have the resources, but… they have the tools, but they still do not know the craft, how to use those tools to learn more effectively.
And if there’s a philosophy to language coaching it’s this: you cannot teach a language, but you can train people to use their brain to the best of their possibilities to learn a bunch of languages. And the other important thing is to believe in themselves. If you’ve never learned a language to fluency, and this is something that I’ve learned in my experience, people do not believe. You start learning for real when you start believing that you can do it. It’s like being… I’m on a quest to being at the peak of a mountain. If you’ve never done it before, if you’ve never learned, I dunno to play the guitar or if you’ve never experienced something, you still don’t believe that you can do it. So on the one hand, I work on the psychological factors, the psychological, let’s say circumstances and biases and, uh, beliefs that people have towards learning and towards themselves. And the second thing is I provide the infrastructure within which they’re going to operate, that is, the methods. And the third thing is that these methods are unique to each person. So I do not give a
one size fits all fits old method. And I adapt it to the single learner and these coaching sessions that I’ve been doing for, I think, 11 years. I’m very proud of those. I’ve been, um, I’ve been helping hundreds of people from all walks of life and, uh, all of them walk away, uh, very satisfied because, not because… I always say it’s not
me. They thank me:Oh Luca, thank you so much. You’ve changed my life. It’s like, you want it to change your life and you have done it, you just sought help, some guidance, and then you walk the talk and walk the path. That’s what, at the end of the day counts. I’m just a, a guidance who helps you, you know, achieving the goals that are there that are achievable.
It’s just, you have to believe it and, you know, walk the talk or walk the path.
Elle: Excellent. And you know, something that I always, I always wanted to ask… I’ve asked Steve this question before, and of course you and Steve go way back. I was actually looking at his channel and the, the first time, but I can see that you spoke with Steve was nine years ago.
So you guys go way back. Anyway um, what I am fascinated by as someone who knows some Japanese and is now learning French is how you don’t get the languages mixed up. I am studying French and I keep coming up with with the Japanese, even though I am not fluent in Japanese. And I am amazed at that, it just keeps happening.
I feel like there’s some special… do you have a switch? And I know you did a fantastic interview with, uh, Lindie Botes on this and she’s coming on the podcast, actually, I’m speaking with her tomorrow. So how do you keep your languages separate? How do you not get mixed up?
Luca: It’s an interesting question. Um, the thing is that, uh, our capacities, our language competence changes, uh, constantly changes depending on the circumstances, depending on the use of the languages that we make.
But, um, you’ve noticed, you said to yourself that, for example, if you’re learning French and you’ve been learning Japanese, then when you try to learn to speak French, then Japanese comes to the fore, so to speak. And this is because in the, in the brain we have mainly two mechanisms. One is of storage. So we put stuff into our long-term memory and it stays there.
And then we have the mechanism of retrieval, which is based on the protocol predicated upon the mechanism of… which is called survival of the busiest. In other words, the brain is good when you, when you do something repeatedly, you’re telling your brain that, that is important then you reinforce let’s say the neural network or the, you know, the neural bonds.
And when you’re using it less, you’re telling your brain that, maybe that language or that thing you’re doing less is less important. So it is in the background. So, um, this is the case, for example, if people are learning a language like Italian, and then they move to Spain, so they learned the language to fluency then they go to another country, uh, be it Spain, France, Germany, and then they start speaking the other language. And then when they tried to speak Italian, then just the new language that they’ve been using comes to the fore, you know, and this is because, um, because there is some sort of imbalance between the languages that you use.
So the solution, or if there is a solution, is to use these languages on a weekly basis. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you have to use all your languages on a daily basis, because this is not realistic for most people, people have stuff to do. You know, they’re not, uh, all language nerds who just hit the books are just spending all their time learning languages.
Um, So in my case, and I’ll tell you in a second, what I do, but in general, uh, you know, if I have to give a piece of advice, that realistic piece of advice, let’s say, I think that it’s important to have some sort of plan where if you have two or three languages, you make sure that you find time to do both of them.
For example, in your case, if you’re learning, say French right now, it’s important for you to dedicate 10, 20, 30 minutes, depending on the amount of time you have to, you know, to French, but also you should make sure that you do some Japanese in the background so that you’re telling your brain both Japanese and French are important because, um, If you do not do that, um, you know, there’s a possibility of mixing languages and this is even, uh, this problem is even worse.
If the languages are similar, but as you’ve seen Japanese and French are completely different and you still make… it’s not, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you’re mixing that up, it’s just that you have to imagine that you have like, in your head, like a highway and you have two cars and they’re conflicting.
They’re getting both into the neurocircuitry and in order to let’s say, have, have two different highways, you have to use both of them in different circumstances. So I always say, uh, I always give this piece of advice to people who ask me how can I avoid mixing languages? Um, I would say you have to pay attention to the timing, how you learn languages, you know, uh, if you learn two at the same time that are very similar, you’re going to mix them up.
If you learn one well, and then you learn the other one. A little bit later, uh, it, it, you can leverage the knowledge that you have in, in one language. Uh, but the timing is really important. And then I would say, try to use both of them or whatever, if you have two, three languages, try to use them, um, at the same time every day.
Albeit a little bit for each, uh, because otherwise your brain is just going to decide that one is more important than the other. And it’s going to take over, so to speak, in one language, it’s going to take over to the detriment of the other. So in my case, just to answer very quickly, uh, to how I do things, I have designed a life that I would, you know, people might think you’re a language nerd, you’re a language buff, so all you do is language learning. I live a completely normal life through my languages. It’s just that I, I do not. I, uh, I learn foriegn languages to live a better life. I don’t live a life, I don’t live to learn languages, which is a very important distinction. I’ve designed a life that revolves around languages and I use eight languages on a weekly basis for a number of reasons.
And for example, when I give coaching lessons, I have Russian clients who are learning French, French clients who are learning Russian, uh, German clients who are learning Spanish, Spanish clients were learning german, Italians who are learning German. So yeah. I get the possibility of speaking all these languages, you know, speaking in the language, explaining grammar in another language.
So this in and of itself allows me to use, um, six, seven, eight languages. I have a team that supports me and I work with, and we speak Italian, Spanish, English, uh, I speak languages at home. Uh, so I go out with my friends, so on a let’s say that there are, there’s a core of eight languages that I use on a weekly basis.
And then the other languages, I speak to them a little bit less, but you know, uh, something’s got to give, as they say, it’s impossible to, to keep up with 14 languages.
Elle: For sure. So there could potentially be a day in your week, where in one day you would speak six to eight languages?
Luca: Let’s say that it ranges from a minimum of four to a maximum of 10.
Normally in the last, I would say in the last two or three years, it’s between four and 10, but never more than 10. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken more than 10 languages in the last two years.
Elle: Oh, wow. That is amazing. Uh, are you actively learning a language right now? Are you maintaining, but I guess in your work, like you just said, you are maintaining, but are you kind of going after a language right now?
Luca: To me there’s a big difference between system one, I call them system one and system two system. One is the set of languages that, in which I’ve learned, let’s say I’ve reached a level which allows me to… I formed a core. And once you form a core, I would say, for, you know, for the use of uh, for the sake of brevity and simplicity, uh, I would say that, um, the core is when I reach a B2, let’s say. Uh, but, um, I have, let’s say eight of them that are in this system, system one.
And then I have, uh, three that I’m actively pursuing and they are Hungarian. Danish, uh, and Greek. So every day I try to learn three languages at the same time, although it’s a little bit difficult, but, uh, that’s what I am actively pursuing. These are the three languages, and then you have the other languages in which, I just live them,
I just use them in multiple ways. And I, in this way I maintain and I even improve them. But these are two separate systems.
Elle: Okay. Wow. So Hungarian, sorry, Hungarian, Danish. And. The other language…
Luca: And Greek. Greek, Hungarian, Danish.
Elle: Very different languages.
Luca: Indeed. I do things, the stage they find themselves, um, uh, in these languages, defines the way I learn them.
So actively pursuing them means to sit down and to do some what I call deliberate practice in order to learn, while the other ones I can just use them, simple practice. Well, deliberate practice is something that requires intention and attention, to sit down and with the specific aim of learning, saving words, practicing with a, with a tandem or a tutor, which is a slightly different way of doing things than just maintaining languages.
Elle: Wow. Um, now I know obviously with the pandemic projects, events are a little strange and different this year, but, uh, is there anything in the works for you Luca for the rest of 2021? Any interesting projects?
Luca: Yes indeed. I’m working on a course. So I’m working on producing the, my, the first course on, you know, language learning.
I won’t tell you what this is about, but it’s a, it’s a cool course. And then I will, the next one is to work on the book I’ve been talking about for the last 10 years, and it’s about time for me to get it out, and then let’s see. I’ve just figured it out I need to do one thing at a time, and I think these are the two biggest projects for this year.
And then let’s see what 2022 brings, will bring.
Elle: Amazing. Wow. Well, that is exciting, a book. Wow. Um, well thank you so much, Luca, for joining us today. I know that our viewers, listeners will have, they’ll just find it very, very interesting. And, um, maybe we can chat again one day for the podcast.
Luca: It would be my pleasure.
Elle: Thank you so much.
Luca: Thank you, Elizabeth. Bye.
Elle: Bye bye.
What is a polyglot? Check out polyglot and LingQ cofounder Steve Kaufmann’s blog post to find out!