Portrait: Gianni Guaita – Almost 100 Years Old, Reveling in Memories and Talking About His Experiences with Babbel

Babbel speaks with Florence-based writer Gianni about his family history and enduring some of Babbel’s longer lessons!

Today we’re presenting another installment of our Babbel User Portraits – snapshots of their lives and their reasons for learning a new language. If you’d like to share your story with us, leave a comment. This time, we’re introducing you to a very special user: Gianni from Florence is a writer with an extraordinary family history who, at almost 100 years old, complains only about one thing: some Babbel lessons are too long for him!


“In November, I’ll be 100 years old. If someone were to ask me what my most important life experience was, my answer would be the love for my wife, with whom I spent 76 years together. She was the most important thing to me and we grew so close that we were like one person. I would have never been able to imagine something like that before I met her. Unfortunately, she died two years ago and life’s been much harder since then. But I try to feel her presence when I think of the memories of the life we shared.

My daughter lives in New York. We’re very close and are in constant contact over Skype. I see her every day and we talk for a long time – it really cheers me up. Love has also been the most important life experience for her, and the reason that she lives in New York now. During her studies she received a scholarship to study in America; she met a guy there and fell in love. She remained in New York in order to stay together with him. Now she’s a correspondent for the Italian paper Il Messaggero. She’s very lively and intelligent, gets along with everyone and is very sincere.

I live in Florence on the bank of the Arno in one of the houses that earlier served as the stables of Villa Serristori. My family also lives in these houses, including my sister, who founded an art printing shop called Il Bisonte. My grandson also works here, and he’s recently given me the gift of an enchanting little girl – I’m now a great grandfather. And it’s because of my great granddaughter that I started to learn English.

She’s two years old as has an English nanny. In order to be able to speak to them, I have to learn English. For that, Babbel is the ideal teaching method for me… simply perfect. To be honest though, I get a bit impatient sometimes because it keeps trying to teach me how to write in English and I’m not at all interested in that.

I’ll never write in English; I’m only interested in speaking it. But what I find useful is that you can hear aspects of the language that sound completely different to Italian over and over again. The Italian language is rich in vowels, whereas English, with its many consonants, is completely different. It’s never been easy for me to learn a language. Some of my friends were really good at it and learned languages really fast. My brother-in-law, the photographer and writer Fosco Maraini, for example, learned Japanese really fast. As for my English, up to now I’ve been pretty lazy. As a writer, it was enough for me to understand the English in the Encyclopædia Britannica, where everything is clearly and simply formulated.

A few years ago, the novel Isola perduta (“Lost Island”) was published. I wrote it together with my wife and my children. It tells of our experiences in Sicily, such as how I met the woman that would become my wife – me from Tuscany and my wife from Sicily – and how we moved to this wonderful island together. I became a Sicilian by choice. At that time, Sicily was magical… like paradise. However, there were big political problems at the time. We tried to put up resistance against the Fascism that found itself on the rise. I stood with the anti-fascist Aldo Captini, who resisted violence and convinced me that it’s possible to win with just words and the truth. But then the wars of Mussolini overwhelmed us, and only the partisan resistance made it possible for Italy to overcome this painful experience.

My wife’s father had an agricultural farm and hoped that I would take over for him. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and after twenty years on that wonderful island, we moved to northern Italy in order to both start working as teachers at a high school. That’s when my second life began: I became a teacher and also started writing for theater and television.

My daily routine? Getting around on my own is difficult now and I need to use a walker. But I have a lot of help: a woman helps me with my daily chores and a girl explains how I can better use a computer and Skype. I’ve dedicated myself to learning English, but I don’t manage to review a lot of words because the spelling and pronunciation are so different. I’m learning very slowly and sometimes the lessons are too long for me. But I can’t imagine anything better than Babbel. It’s a great way to spend the day. It makes me… yeah… happy.”