After spending 4 weeks attempting to learn Italian I have experienced a mixed bag of emotions – happiness, humor, stress, anxiety, stupidity, and elation. There was certainly a stage where I was so frustrated that I wanted to walk out – I never thought that I would be able to learn all of the exceptions, the irregular verbs, the tenses, and hundreds of new words. I felt like an idiot and was completely stressed out that I didn’t get it. I thought about all of the brain cells that I apparently killed over the years with booze and drugs and realized that all of those warnings about too much partying making you stupid were actually right! However, that stage passed when I reminded myself that I was doing this for fun – there was no need to put this pressure on myself.
Slowly I was learning more every day and my charades were getting much better every day. We would have so much fun in class at times that I would be laughing so hard that I would be in tears. We had a whole 30 minute conversation once about how to call a cat in Italy, Australia, and America. I found that after 4 weeks, I’m certainly not fluent…hell, it takes me at least 5 minutes to put together a grammatically correct sentence…and I still murder the pronunciation! However, I can read Italian now, and I can sometimes eavesdrop on a conversation spoken slowly and can understand about 50% of the words – so I take joy in the little victories.
As an adult, I think one of the hardest things you can do is to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. This was hard, very hard – but it was rewarding too. I simply reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mastering the Italian language – but it’s a start.
Photo: Sorrento Lingue School
After 4 weeks of classes and various extracurricular activities, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite Italian words/phrases, and some of my favorite experiences from class.
The first one has to be “io non so” which means “I don’t know”. My most-used expression!
I love it when words make sense – it makes it so much easier to remember such as the word for frozen…congelato…literally meaning with ice cream. The word for cow…mucca…pronounced moocow…brilliantly easy to remember. Or abito…has dual meanings…to live…or a dress (that you live in). This seems appropriate when you are wearing one of the moo moo dresses…as they are as big as a house and you could live in them.
Gigi and Mossimo, my buddies at the Bollicine Wine Bar, taught me how to order wine properly…corposo for full bodied, leggero for light. However – I’m not sure why they even bother as whenever I go in there they simply pour me a glass…I feel like Norm at Cheers. They also taught me that the word for drunk, ubriachi, was not really used when describing drunk women…I guess it was too harsh – only men could be drunk. Women however, they were brilla – meaning jovial, silly drunk, or buzzed. I like a culture in which women aren’t described as drunk – but as jovial! Obviously Italian women have not ever played quarters at a fraternity party…one word…ubriachi.
Then there’s the food words that I have come to love. Arrabbiata sauce is one of my favorite sauces – I love the spiciness of the fresh tomatoes and pepper – I tend to crave it in the summer when I want something fresh. In class one day we learned the word for angry…arrabbiata…the little lightbulb in my head went on and a revelation was formed…the sauce that I love got it’s name from it’s spicy demeanor…arrabbiata! In addition, puttanesca sauce, classic Sicilian sauce with olives, capers, and anchovies is full of tart flavors. Gigi informed me that Puttana means whore or bitch in Italian…hence the name puttanesca sauce…perfecto! It makes me love Italian cooking even more to know that some of my favorite sauces have such delicious name sakes!
In the classroom, there were some pretty touch and go times, times where all of us at one point or another came close to walking out and giving up. There were also funny times, like when it took about 15 minutes to have a simple conversation that would normally take 2 minutes in your native language. I would get halfway through the sentence, “My parents moved houses this week” and would realize that I didn’t know the verb for ‘move’…which would then lead to lots of fumbling around my head trying to find a similar Italian word that could kind of mean the same thing. Natasha and I would have to psyche each other up to ask a question as we were supposed to speak Italian all the time in the classroom – therefore trying to compose the question in your head was like trying to climb one of those rope ladders at the carnival – the kind that would swivel around and flip you upside down and off before you knew it. Sure, it looked easy…but you had about a 10% chance of being successful and reaching the prize. Natasha and I would give each other encouraging words, and eventually between the two of us, we’d get out the question we wanted to ask – but it wasn’t pretty.
One of my favorite days was when I could tell that Natasha wanted to ask a question, she was thinking about it really hard – trying to put it together in her head before she said it aloud…instead of asking the question, she said to our teacher, “I have a question, and it’s hurting.” I felt her pain across the table….as I laughed at her!
One of my crowing moments happened outside the classroom. Italy is filled with graffiti – like many large cities, however it bugged me that I didn’t understand any of it. However, after 3 weeks of classes, I was riding a public bus and was looking at the foreign graffiti and I all of a sudden realized what it meant! It was a revelation – the jumbled letters all of a sudden made sense. I felt as if I just discovered penicillin…I was intelligent…I felt accomplished. Scribbled on the bus window was “Giuseppe e un figlio da putana” – which translated into Giuseppe being called a son of a bitch. When the lightbulb went off in my head – I was so proud of myself I felt like I would burst!
Of course – there is my favorite word – il toppo…meaning mouse. It has a special place in my heart. It was the first word that I totally wrote off as not having to know and then found myself needing to use it a few days later. It just goes to show you…you always have to be prepared. Natasha refused to learn the word for squirrel…she said that they didn’t have squirrels in Australia…I told her to learn it anyway. She basically refused and said, “what if you had to learn the word for kangaroo or koala?” Ok…point taken.
Photo: Me studying flash cards in the classroom
One of my other favorite words is i rotoli. We were discussing in class one day the new spare tire that I seemed to be carrying around my middle – and the teacher said it was called ‘i rotoli’. I asked her if she was being serious…she said yes – that’s what they call it! I said that my rotoli was made of pasta and cream…she just laughed.
All in all, I’m glad I learned more of the language – did I accomplish exactly what I wanted to? No…but I had fun, and I know more than I ever did. I can add another diploma to my wall as I did complete 4 weeks without giving up…which was accomplishment enough for me!