Meet Our Speakers: Benni Aguado (Ladino)

For every language uTalk adds to the app, we recruit two native speakers to come to our office in London and record. In this post, learn more about Benni Aguado, a Ladino speaker who put his job as a Court Translator and Interpreter on hold to fly over and help us record the language.

Benni Aguado, 57, grew up in New York and learnt Ladino from his mother and grandparents, who always spoke it in the family home. He didn’t learn English until he started school, which caused a misunderstanding on his first day in class when he didn’t respond to a teacher’s instructions.

“The teacher said to my mother, ‘I’m very sorry to inform you but your son is deaf,’” he said. “My mother had to explain that it’s not that I didn’t hear her, but that we didn’t speak English at home.”

Benni, whose family can trace their Sephardic Jewish roots back to Turkey, is now trilingual, speaking Spanish as well as English and Ladino. 

“I’m very grateful to my family for teaching me Ladino because it was very easy for me to learn Spanish because of the great similarity [between the two],” he said.

Benni has been using his Spanish skills to work as a Court Translator and Interpreter in New York for the past 23 years.

He is passionate about supporting Ladino and has worked both with Ladino 21 and independently to record videos of the spoken language, such as this one:

In his 20s, Benni also taught himself how to write Ladino using the Solitreo script, which, along with the Rashi script, predates the language’s current written version, which uses the Latin alphabet. His interest in Solitreo was originally piqued when a family friend—a Ladino speaker—sent his family a postcard written in the script and he just couldn’t understand it.

It has only been in the last 20-30 years that he has become aware of the declining number of people who could speak Ladino.

He said, “I remember, when I was 27 years old, I went to a museum and they had an exhibition called ‘The Demise of a Culture.’ I realised I was raised in a culture that was in peril and it was an odd, sad feeling.

“I’m 57 now and although I’m not a youngster anymore, I am one of the youngest Ladino speakers. Most people who are fluent in the language tend to be at least 70.”

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