It was 13 years ago when I encountered Luca Lampariello for the first time.
I was watching his first-ever multilingual YouTube video, and thinking two things:
First: “How cool, looks like I’m not the only polyglot after all!”
And second: “This guy seems to be a really fun and interesting person, someone I could get along with pretty well!”
Back then, I considered reaching out to Luca to share my own story—or even to just say hi—but I never did. At the time, I didn’t feel quite comfortable on social media, so I put it off for a long, long time.
One day, however, I decided to stop hiding, both from Luca and the rest of the online polyglot world.
I began sharing my own passion for foreign languages by creating videos on YouTube and by taking part in events such as the Polyglot Gathering, an international meeting for language lovers.
That’s actually where I met Luca, about three years ago. In a way, that’s when my message to Luca from 10 years before finally got delivered.
From the very first minute, it was quite obvious to me that Luca and I would get along well. For four consecutive days, we talked and laughed and had a great time, all in the company of mutual friends.
Since then, we’ve met a couple more times at similar events, and our friendship has only grown. We eventually sat down to make our first video together, addressing a wide variety of language learning topics. Interestingly, we had never spoken much about language learning in person until then.
We had a lot to talk about; in particular, we shared many stories of all the wonderful things that have happened to us as a result of speaking foreign languages.
Today, I would like to share these things with you.
1. Landing My Dream Job as a Freelancer
My passion for foreign languages was apparent from a relatively early age.
I was only in high school when I decided that my calling was to become a translator. Therefore, it’s pretty obvious how learning languages was paramount to fulfilling my dream; you can’t translate if you don’t know at least two languages, after all.
However, there was still a big hurdle to overcome: the initial dire straits that almost every young freelancer in Italy used to encounter (and sadly still encounters today).
How did I make it through? My thirst for languages came to the rescue.
When I started working as a translator, I had already studied four foreign languages I could work in: Italian, German, English and Portuguese. The latter turned out to be a sufficiently small niche to get me enough work to make ends meet. That was key to getting over the initial, more tumultuous period of my now twenty-year-long freelance career.
2. Connecting Deeply with People from All over the World
Thanks to the languages I speak, I have been able to connect with a number of people on a much deeper level than I probably would have by using a common lingua franca, such as English.
I feel that when you allow a stranger to talk to you in their native language, you are, in a certain sense, reaching out to them and touching their soul.
Some of the best friendships I’ve been lucky enough to build and enjoy have been with people who don’t speak my native language. For example, some of the most important and meaningful conversations in my life have been in German, Finnish, and French.
I know Luca is with me on this: meeting and connecting with people is probably the most exciting language learning benefit of all!
3. Meeting My Future Wife and Calling Her Culture Home
People tend to think I am proficient in Finnish (which, as Luca would say, is my superpower) because I’m married to a Finn.
The truth is that in my case, it was the other way around!
In fact, I started learning Finnish for my own personal interest. Only later did I meet my special someone, as she was pretty much the first person I spoke Finnish with.
Years later, I was able to access—and be welcomed by—an entirely new, different culture, a new family, and a group of wonderful and loyal friends, all of which I feel like an integral part of.
It’s the Finnish language that helped me connect on a deeper level with Finnish people and gain a better understanding of their culture. So much so that I now feel at home in Finland as much as I do in Belgium, or even Italy, my native country.
4. Escaping the Expat Bubble in Brussels
If you live in Brussels as a foreigner, you know how easy it is to get caught up in the expat crowd. As soon as you move there, you tend to meet and spend time with other foreigners, almost exclusively.
Brussels is an extremely international city. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to get the feeling that actual Belgians are hard to find! In my experience, however, language does play a role in whether or not you get stuck in the so-called “expat bubble”.
By speaking French (one of 3 official languages in Belgium, together with Dutch and German), I personally have been able to easier connect with locals, and in some cases to build friendships that have lasted for the better part of a decade. All of this has given me more insight into the local culture as well.
5. Enjoying Special, Random Encounters in Each Language
There are moments in our lives that leave a lasting impact, and stay with us in our memories for a long, long time.
For me, many such special moments have come as a result of knowing a language and being able to use it in unexpected encounters with native speakers.
For example, I was in Norway last summer and I hiked up to the Pulpit Rock (or Preikestolen in Norwegian) on a perfect, sunny day.
After a challenging ascent, I was sitting on the edge of the high rock, enjoying the sun’s heat on my face and the breathtaking view on the fjord, when a family of four came to sit down to my left: a mum, dad and two small kids. They started talking, commenting on the view.
After a moment of incredulity, I realized they were speaking Icelandic.
“What are the odds?”, I thought to myself. “Do I really get to use my Icelandic skills atop of one the most exciting places on Earth?”
I quickly found an excuse to go over and address them in Icelandic. Instantaneously, they wanted to know everything about me—why I could speak Icelandic, how I learned it, and so on.
It was definitely my lucky day. After about twenty minutes of conversation, I said goodbye and started my long descent, which I made with a big smile on my face.
An already unforgettable moment had just been made even more special by a short and simple conversation that only speaking such a rare—and fascinating—foreign language had made possible.
6. Enjoying Travel in Places Where People Don’t Speak English
My wife and I planned our first trip to Japan on an unbelievably tight schedule: three days in Tokyo, followed by multiple consecutive short stays in various small towns before leaving back for Europe from Osaka.
Back in those days my Japanese was by no means as developed as it is now (I’d call it “tentative” at best). However, I wasn’t worried, since most people in Tokyo at least would be able (and eager) to speak English.
Once we arrived, that was indeed the case, and my wife and I never had to rely too much on my uneasy Japanese. As soon as we arrived in smaller towns such as Takayama and Nara, though, we realized that things were going to be different.
We got to our ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) looking forward to the long-awaited traditional multi-course kaiseki dinner we had reserved via email a long time in advance.
To our surprise, however, we soon found that our dinner reservation had never been made. Our email, written in English, had not been understood by the inn personnel, and so the requested arrangements never took place.
Perhaps worse, the staff couldn’t even understand us when we tried to tell them directly (in English) that we were starving, and definitely wanted to have dinner that evening.
That’s where my basic Japanese skills came to the rescue.
I used what Japanese I knew to explain our situation, and then I left it to fate, hoping that I would be understood.
To my complete surprise, the personnel cheered!
They had struggled mightily to understand us in English, so my switching to Japanese came as a total relief to them.
They addressed our concerns immediately, and my wife and I soon got the fabulous kaiseki experience we had been waiting for. A thing of beauty, if you haven’t experienced it. (I highly recommend it if you visit Japan someday!).
Knowing some Japanese came in handy elsewhere during that trip, like when I was stung by a bee and had to quickly find a pharmacy—luckily I spotted the Japanese character for medicine (薬) at a distance and we were able to get hold of what we needed.
Later in the trip, I was sitting at a small izakaya (an informal Japanese bar) and found out that the prices were all written in Japanese only—yes, even the numbers!
Long story short, knowing the local language—even a little bit—can take you such a long way on your trip, making travelling easier where it would otherwise be rather tricky.
7. Gaining Access to an Endless Quantity of Enjoyable Content
Learning a new language does not only mean being able to communicate, meet people, and travel around. It also opens up a plethora of opportunities in terms of knowledge and entertainment.
The sheer amount of fun I’ve had thanks to the languages I’ve learnt is astounding. Movies, TV series, news articles, literature, video games, music, comedy, popular science—you name it, I’ve enjoyed it in another language.
In fact, many of my absolute favorite songs are in Finnish, and some of them I can’t listen to without being moved to tears by the evocative power of their lyrics. There are intense German rap songs I turn to when I need a boost of energy. I also love listening to stand-up comedy in multiple languages: some of my favorite specials are in Finnish, English, and Portuguese.
I enjoy watching YouTube videos in Romanian covering history and science topics that I’m deeply interested in, such as space exploration. On top of all that, I sometimes read the news in Japanese to get a glimpse of the facts from a different point of view.
None of this would have been possible without me embracing foreign languages in my life. It may be one of the most underrated aspects of what it means to be able to speak and understand a language, but for me this is still today something that continually motivates me to improve my skills.
8. Teaching Foreign Languages to People From Diverse Countries
I’ve worked as a freelance translator for 20 years, and it’s been a rewarding experience, for sure. Little did I know, though, that one day I would find an even more rewarding job that had been just around the corner the whole time: language tutoring!
I’m not exaggerating if I say that my life changed once again for the better when, around three years ago, I decided to begin sharing my knowledge and passion for languages by teaching Italian, Finnish, English and German to fellow language learners online on Italki.com.
I’ve done this by using other languages as well – including Portuguese, French, Japanese and Romanian – to lead the lessons and provide explanations. This has allowed me to meet over a hundred people from all over the world, get to know their stories, struggles and motivations, refine my adaptation skills and work hard to find the best possible way to help them overcome the hurdle they were facing.
The gratefulness that you can see on a student’s face, their tired but happy smile at the end of an intense, productive, and yet fun lesson together, truly is one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced in my recent professional life.
9. Accompanying My Monolingual Mum on a Marvelous Trip Abroad
I grew up in a completely monolingual family and environment in Milan, Northern Italy.
For people like my parents, knowing only one language is the norm, and travelling abroad poses challenges and difficulties that are probably unknown to younger generations.
For my monolingual Italian mother, travelling alone to a foreign country isn’t possible, so when she expressed her long-time wish to visit Scandinavia, I was more than happy to accompany her on a trip there.
It was a truly special experience, not only because it was the first time that we’d travelled together as just the two of us, but also because I suddenly realized how many things are within easy reach for someone who speaks multiple languages.
The amount of experiences and opportunities that open up is incredibly high and varied, from skipping the queue at a cultural landmark by getting tickets online, to exchanging stories with fellow travelers at dinner in English, German and Japanese. But even more than all this, seeing that bright smile on your parent’s face: that remains the highest reward.
10. Using My Languages to Help People in Need
Speaking of language barriers, I’ve run across countless situations where someone was in trouble because they couldn’t understand or convey an important message where necessary, be it at the airport, in a hospital, or on the streets.
Helping them get out of trouble or simply obtain what they need is incredibly fulfilling, as Luca also knows well (we’ve touched upon this particular topic in our multilingual video).
A couple of examples?
I once helped an elderly French couple at the metro station of Porto, Portugal, buy the right metro tickets to get to the airport. More recently, I helped an Italian woman solve an excess baggage issue at a Copenhagen airport desk. The woman knew no English, but I was able to translate the directions being given to her by the desk crew so that she could solve the issue in time for her flight.
Helping people like this is nothing but a small act of kindness, but it can mean more than you think to the person you’re helping.
I really hope my words and personal experience can help other people understand how learning a foreign language goes far beyond cramming vocab and grammar, but actually means acquiring an additional point of view on the world, an extra bridge between people, and a wide array of opportunities to enrich and enhance our lives.
What are the most wonderful things that happened to you thanks to foreign languages?
Written by Stefano Suigo
Stefano Suigo is a professional freelance translator and language tutor who was born and raised in a completely monolingual environment in Milan, Italy. Driven by his love and passion for foreign languages, he soon embarked on a career and lifestyle involving everyday exposure to multiple languages. Today he speaks 10, most of them fluently, and he's currently working on a couple more, including Georgian. He holds degrees in Translation and Interpretation as well as in Applied Languages and Cultural Studies. He’s lived in Brussels for over a decade now.
For the past three years, Stefano has shared his passion and knowledge online by making videos on his YouTube channel “linguaEpassione”, where he speaks about many different languages in many different languages. Currently he’s also working on a project to help people overcome their struggles to learn Finnish.