City Lit Blog

Linguistics – A Q&A with Claudio Guasti

Story added 19th Mar 2018

Claudio Guasti is on the Languages team at City Lit. We recently caught up with him to find out more about the important role linguistics plays in furthering our understanding of languages.


What course(s) are you currently teaching at City Lit?

I teach Italian courses at City Lit, but my main focus is on linguistics and I will be teaching ‘An introduction to Indo-European linguistics’ this July, looking at how languages are related and how they have evolved from a single language.


What is linguistics?

Linguistics is a very broad science but I am mainly interested in the historical development of languages and their morphology.

I’m fascinated by how languages change over time. My Masters, for instance, was on the development of Russian from ‘old’ Russian to ‘modern’ Russian.

I found this a more interesting subject area than literature at university, which led to me explore ancient languages such as Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, Latin and how they interact and differ from each other.

Linguistics throws up all sorts of interesting facts. For instance, did you know Lithuanian is the language that has changed the least over the centuries?  It still maintains many of its archaic elements.


Why is linguistics so important in studying languages?

It helps to put pieces of the puzzle together.

Most languages are connected and related; linguistics is the common denominator in determining how they piece together.

For instance Spanish and Italian are very similar languages, and if you have studied one you can quite easily pick up several elements of the other.

It can also help you connect very disparate languages. Russian and English are very different but through a close study of the morphology and phonology of individual words, you can start to see the roots and connections.

By learning the ‘rules’ of different languages, the relationship between individual languages becomes more transparent and unlocks connections.

Similarly, etymology is a very interesting area to consider as it helps you see how words evolve over time.


Why do you think it’s important to learn languages?

Everyone has got a different reason. When I started I did it for friendship and love, but over time, each new language became more like a challenge – like Sudoku!

I even tried to learn Welsh as I wanted to see how it worked and it was a very unfamiliar language. Learning a new language is great for satisfying your curiosity.

It helps you understand new cultures, make you feel instantly at ease when visiting new countries, and I believe it’s the cheapest way to expand your mind. There is nothing better than being understood.


What’s your biggest tip for anyone just starting out learning a new language?

I think my biggest tip is to make sure you know why you want to learn a language before starting out.

It’s really important to understand your motivation for learning, whether that’s for personal reasons, professional reasons or simply for the challenge.

Don’t think it’s going to be easy, and take pleasure from the fact that you will benefit in so many useful ways long after your course has finished – on holiday, for career development, and when meeting new people.

Don’t ever think there is only one way to learn a language. I like to write lots of things down; other people wouldn’t find that useful. Try to find what works for you.


Finally, what are your best tips to help people persevere if they are struggling with a new language?

I can’t stress enough that you should never be afraid to talk to the tutor if you feel you are struggling – there are always different approaches you can take to learning a language to make things easier.

Try not to do too much in one day, and spread your learning out as this will help you to enjoy it

My view is that a ‘little often’ approach to language is better than trying to learn too much in a short space of time.

Take advantage of any opportunities to learn outside of class – visit restaurants, watch native language films, try and meet others who speak the language. These are great baby steps in helping you build confidence with a new language. Build these small building blocks into your weekly routine.


Finally, remember everyone learns at their own pace. It’s ok to struggle – embrace it as part of the challenge. It sounds obvious, but the more you persevere, the easier things will get.


An introduction to Indo-European linguistics takes place on Friday 10 July 2020.


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