Sunday, February 09, 2014

Learning Italian

My grandfather started teaching me French in elementary school. I had a small 3-ring binder in which I would write the new words and phrases phonetically. Grandpa was a master of languages and was fluent in at least a handful. Both my mom and dad had also taken French in high school, as did my older sister, so quite a bit of franglais was spoken in our home.

In school the first available language classes were offered in 7th grade for one semester. Naturally I started taking French and continued through my senior year, accruing 5 1/2 years along the way. I excelled at French because the methods of learning were based on memorization. (I later found equally solid footing in Dendrology during college. Yay for rote memorization!)

French was not only the class I routinely received the highest grades in, it was also a favorite subject and taught by one of my favorite teachers. We called her only Madame (Mme), pronounced with our best French accents. Another French teacher was not accorded the same respect. She was called Madam X, using the English pronunciation and her full last name. Usually said with disdain.

During senior year, Mme cooked with us on Fridays, hosted movie nights at her house, and generally allowed herself to become somewhat cozier with the students. I had every intention of someday traveling to France and of course, maintaining my use of the French language. Ah, the naivety of youth...

Off to college I went, where first semester I took Italian. My professor spent the whole semester scolding me in front of the class for speaking Italian with a French accent, which was odd because even though I excelled at French in high school, no one ever accused me of having a well-honed French accent. Then I transferred to a small science college, where the main focus was on SCIENCE and the rest is history.

My husband and I have been talking about taking a trip to Italy ever since we started dating. We both have Italian heritage (I am 1/4 Italian through my mom, he is 1/2 Italian also through his mother) and both place Italy as number 1 on our international travel wishlist. From the beginning we also talked about buying Rosetta Stone for Italian, but it wasn't until this past fall that we did. My husband decided it would be our Christmas gift to ourselves.

Unfortunately, his enthusiasm flagged fairly quickly, whereas mine has not. The way it is taught feels almost like a computer game (nerd alert!), so in small doses it is actually quite fun for me. I miss the way languages were taught in high school though- the long lists of vocab words and verb conjugation. I miss the way I could memorize definitions. I'm still memorizing now, but I'm memorizing images with words or phrases that have no English translation. Sometimes I have no idea what the pictures are supposed to depict. I remain unconvinced that this is a superior learning technique. Maybe by the time I complete the course I will change my mind, but at least for now I'm enjoying the process.

While learning Italian isn't brave the same way leaving a job or starting a new one is, I think deciding to learn a new language in your late 30s does require some bravery. So here's to being BRAVE in 2014 and learning Italian!

(This is not a sponsored post.)


Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

For some reason, this post made me cry. Maybe because my grandmother, Aunt, Uncle, Uncles, and father were all Italian, maybe because Italian was spoken in their homes when I was a kid, maybe because I leanred some Italian as a kid from them but have forgotten most of it, maybe because some part of me wants to go (back) to Italy.

I did go to Italy, but only briefly, as part of my second Slovenia trip and while I had fun there, I did NOT go to any of the places I particularly wanted to go.

I feel as if I am getting old and that doors are closing on many of the things I'd kind of always hoped to do.

I hope you can learn Italian and go to Italy, to the special places you want to. And I recommend trying some other programs as well--there are some you can borrow free at the library to TRY OUT and see if you like them.

I went through a lot of Spanish language tapes and programs for a while, and some are much more fun and or easier to use than others. I did not succeed in learning Spanish, but I got a little more familiar with it--I wanted to learn it because the grandchildren here speak Spanish.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

It is brave to try a learn a new language as an adult! it's brave to travel abroad.

a/k/a Nadine said...

I very much wish I could practice my Italian with my grandfather. I hope he would be happy that I'm trying again to learn it.

I also hope that if you want to travel to Italy, Mary, you and your husband can find a way to make that happen. I'm sure you would love it and take fabulous pictures!