Learning Italian and being okay at it

In preparation for JD’s and my upcoming trip to Europe, which will include several days in Venice, I’ve been teaching myself Italian. I do multiple sessions on Duolingo every day, and recently bought the Pimsleur introduction to Italian. I also got an audiobook of Italian short stories, which I absolutely cannot follow aside from the odd word here and there, but I think just hearing the language on the regular helps with learning.

This is not a new venture for me. I also tried to learn Italian during my freshman year of college, during my winter break from school (I am a master of starting a new project during some down time and immediately abandoning it when real life starts up again). And after my honeymoon, during which JD and I fell promptly in love with Amsterdam and Dutch culture and decided to try to move there one day, I did a Pimsleur Dutch series for a while. Dutch is a workout on the jaw and tongue, let me tell you. I didn’t get very far with that–partly because I found it more difficult than the Romance languages, and partly because even if we do somehow get to live in the Netherlands one day, everyone there is completely fluent in English. Laziness, I guess is what I’m saying.

But yeah, now I’m back to Italian. I don’t know why the language has always appealed to me. I don’t have any Italian in my heritage, or really know any Italian people. Maybe it’s just the romantic way Italy has always been portrayed in America. Maybe Roman Holiday got under my skin.

I’m hardly comfortable with it yet. I can’t keep my conjugations straight. Sometimes my two years of high school French pop up unexpectedly–I keep wanting to refer to my native tongue as Anglais, rather than l’Inglese. Oui still feels more natural than . Duolingo helpfully tells me that I am “3% fluent in Italian,” whatever that means. It also suggests that I share this achievement on LinkedIn (I will not).

But I am getting better, and my vocabulary is growing. I walk around the grocery store whispering “cipolla” (onion) and “patata” (potato). I know that a monkey is una scimmia and a plumber is un idraulico. My favorite word in Italian might be cucchiaio, spoon, because it’s so fun to say (coo-KYAI-oh!).

The learning process has made me think more broadly about how miraculous language is. The reality of giving names to objects and making strings of sounds with our mouths in order to create meaning and communicate with someone else is amazing. Being able to do it in one language is incredible enough, never mind several.

It’s another week or so before I start putting my 3% fluency to work. Wish me luck.

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2 thoughts on “Learning Italian and being okay at it

  1. I think in any language locals will appreciate the effort of tourists giving their language a try. It’s the effort that counts, so – best of luck and a great and safe trip!

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