Learning the Language

An economist once told me that the only way to speak Italian is to run everything together and talk like I’ve had at least five cups of coffee. If that’s the case, then it’s going to take me a very long time to speak the true Italian language. In the meantime, I’ll stick to my flash cards and slowly-mispronounced sentences.

In high school I took three years of Spanish and at the end of it felt like I’d learned nothing. Not until I came to college and was immersed in my boyfriend’s Spanish-speaking family did I realize I did, in fact, learn something from my three teachers. Now that I’m back to square one in a different language, I feel so much more grateful for the time spent in the classrooms I despised.

People had been informing me for months that I need not worry–everyone in Italy speaks English. I informed them I wanted to learn the language anyway so I could more fully communicate and understand their culture. It turned out all those people were wrong. Everyone in Italy doesn’t speak English and it so happens that the farm that I am staying on does not have anyone that does. This is both extremely exciting and terrifying for me. Exciting because now I absolutely have to learn the language and terrifying because, well… now I absolutely have to learn the language.

Fortunately for me and unlike some other anthropologists, I’m going to a country where the language is spoken in many places and understood and studied in many others. So, I have a wealth of resources at my disposal: dialogue CDs, Instant Immersion (the cheaper version of Rosetta Stone), flash cards, The Idiot’s Guide to Italian, Netflix movies with subtitles and community classes at Boise State with a native speaker. There are days I feel like everything will be okay. There are other days I freak out a little bit. I really love learning other languages and I really love being able to blunder my through a sentence. But there’s always a part of me that feels bad. Both Italian and Spanish are beautiful languages and I don’t want to mess them up with my crummy American accent. Every time I express this fear, people ask me if I feel that way about people in the U.S. with accents. No, of course not. So my fear is completely unfounded.

I know that once I arrive in Italy I’ll be surrounded by helpful, friendly people who have enough patience to deal with my slow speech. Plus, learning through immersion is the best way to learn the true meaning behind the language. Until then, I’ll continue to repeat emergency phrases like “Parla inglese?” (Do you speak English?) and “Dov’è il formaggio?” (where’s the cheese?) in my attempt.


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