One of my favorite things about returning to Italy every summer is being able to step off the plane, walk up to the first cafe counter I can find and order a cappuccino and a pastry (or a sandwich...or all three ;) in Italian. Sometimes I get over excited about being back and end up slurring my words together but either way I end up with a cappuccino in hand.
It sometimes takes them by surprise that a little curly blonde can order in Italian. But it wasn't always this way...
When I first found out I got the internship at the study abroad center back in December of 2009, just a few months after studying abroad, I enrolled to audit an Italian class at my University. I learned the conjugation patterns and how to respond to common phrases but I wouldn't say that's where I learned Italian. I learned what to do with these verbs and nouns and sentence structure but I didn't really learn Italian until I was arm deep washing dishes in the wash room of the study abroad center.
The ladies in the kitchen spoke little to no English, leaving us with an awkward and often entertaining adjustment period of us struggling to communicate and laughing along the way. We had a giant printed chart of words and phrases that we'd frequently hear in the kitchen. Everything from silverware to peeling garlic, frozen vegetables to serving tray translations. This chart was our lifeline until we got a good enough grasp on the language to translate in our heads on the spot without scurrying to the wall to double-check what was asked/yelled of us.
But it wasn't even during those first couple months I got a solid grasp on speaking. My vocabulary was growing and luckily I had begun to make Italian friends around town that suffered through my terrible sentences. Little by little I started to talk...a little in the morning when I picked up the milk for breakfast shift. When the deliveries came for our bar and explaining why we were paying in bags of change. With the local focaccia maker who started giving me cookies when I tried to talk more and more.
About 7 months into my Italian adventure, I had a breakthrough. I was finally at a point where I learned more than one condition, enough verbs and their conjugations patterns and plenty of nouns that I could hold my own. All these little conversations finally built on top of one another and grew into fully conjugated sentences and conversations. My friends and I could finally hold a solid conversation with me stumbling less and less. It felt amazing.
It's taken me a solid decade to learn Italian, and I'm still not done learning. Sto ancora imparando...I'm still learning. And I will likely forever be learning. There's certain topics that I know very few words for (politics is a tricky one). And regional dialects and vocabularies complicate things further. The Italian comedy Benvenuti al Sud illustrates this perfectly, and hilariously, when a man from Milan gets transferred for work to a city by Naples. There are distinct differences in how the two regions pronounce certain words, sometimes even chopping off the entire end of the word. And these linguistic differences are ALL OVER ITALY.
But I digress. I'm still learning. Even just a few summers ago when I thought I was ordering a glass of hazelnut dessert liqueur it was hilarious when they brought out a bowl of chopped hazelnuts instead. Like I said, I'm still learning. But it sure makes for some funny stories after the fact and even in the moment.
If you're looking to learn a little Italian, or just wake up your own dormant Italian, here's a few resources I've found particularly helpful:
What other tools have you found helpful in your own Italian learning process?
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats