La lingua bella

I love the Italian language. When it is spoken by someone who speaks it well, it sounds musical and poetic.  I hope that one day I can do it justice, instead of the butchering I give it now.

I have always loved foreign languages. I’m fond of French and German, the latter of which I spent 4 years in high school learning and to this day can still recall some sentences, words and basic grammar (thanks Mr Lux wherever you are!). The nerdy part of me would love to learn Klingon or maybe Tolkien’s Elvish one day too.  I think learning a language is good for the brain, although my 38 year old brain is nowhere near as perky and nubile as the one I had in high school and University (to say nothing of the rest of my body!)   Before moving here, Chris and I had some private Italian language tutoring from a very nice lady named Alessandra.  She would come to our house every week or every fortnight and spend an hour and a half with us. We learned the basics of the grammar: conjugating verbs, plurals, past, present and future tenses, masculine, feminine nouns etc. We also learned some useful things such as telling the time, medical situations, shopping and travelling.  I sucked it up like a sponge!  I love to study and have always been a bit of a “professional student”, so I did my homework and practiced like a  good girl.  Chris, on the other hand, was not so enthusiastic. He found it difficult and got frustrated with his slow progress. (He won’t admit to it, but he was also a bit scared of Alessandra!!)  We agreed that I would do most of the talking in Italy and that he would pick it up eventually.

Fast forward to the present day and we have lived here almost 3 months now.  I feel as if I have improved 100-fold with the language.  I still study my notes and books that I brought with me and I try to speak with Italians as much as I can. In Groppo there is no choice because nobody speaks English, so I get good practice here.  I know that I often make mistakes, but I’ve overcome my fear of making them with the resignation that I’m probably going to say things wrong anyway, so I might as well get it over with!  Most people seem to understand what I’m saying and I’ve grown accustomed to the bemused, puzzled and sometimes horrified expressions on people’s faces.  I also don’t mind being corrected, I’ve learned a lot from that.

I’d like to share with you my main frustrations with the Italian language:

  • If you are Australian (and speak with an Aussie accent…actually this would probably apply to some English people too), please read the following sentence out loud: “are you aware of that flower over there?”  Now, you may not realise that there were 5 “r”s in that sentence and you probably didn’t pronounce a single one! I noticed this most acutely when I started going out with Chris.  Chris, being American, gives that “r” a real workout.  The sentence: “I went surfing in Cairns” sounds quite different when HE says it.  Likewise, the Italians give that “r” plenty of love. They pronounce it’s brains out! It rolls off their tongue nonchalantly like a sexy pur.  On the other hand, my “r”s are used, neglected and left to die.  It’s taken me a while to get the tongue rolling with that letter and I really have to remember it’s presence in a word or else it comes out sounding wrong.  Balin also has this problem and finds it almost impossible to pronounce his “r”s. (By the way, this is quite different  from a word beginning with R.  Of course the letter is pronounced then, but it’s still different from the Italian way and I think it is the reason why people cannot get my name when I introduce myself.  I’ve taken to writing it down or wearing my name plate necklace instead.)   So the “r” must be worked on.
  • Did you know that the chair you are sitting on is a girl? Or the bed you slept in is a boy? Well not really, but they are feminine and masculine and it’s important to know this in Italian because it changes the definite article, possessive pronouns, plurals etc.  I miss just being able to say “the” or adding an “s” to words.  My most common mistake is getting the gender wrong and as soon as I do that then I make a whole domino-effect of mistakes around it.  Once again, this is just practice!
  • I’m never quite sure what order words should go in. For example, the title of this post: “La lingua bella”. It means the beautiful language, but you’d be tempted to put the bella in front of the lingua right?  Actually, German is worse with many things spoken completely backwards and adjectives after nouns etc. and it really does my head in at times.  I just think about what I want to say and string the words together in a way that I think might make sense and hope for the best.
  • Lastly, it’s the thinking that gets me! When you speak your native tongue, it just comes out without any extra thinking except about the topic of conversation. When you are using a second language, it goes somethings like this: think about what you want to say, try to remember the words for it in Italian, try to figure out the structure of the sentence, get the mouth moving so that it comes out pronounced right….then after it’s said, reflect on how bad it came out!  Of course all this time you are sitting across from someone who is waiting expectantly for your reply and the added pressure makes for more mistakes.  Not to mention, the flow of conversation is stilted because of it.

Having just admitted all of this, I’m sure my Italian readers are having a good laugh 🙂  My struggles with this language are non-issues for them, and I am in absolute awe of those clever individuals who have mastered more than one language and switch flawlessly between them.  I have met quite a few people who speak both Italian and English and seem to think nothing of it.  If you are one of those people reading this: I think you are AMAZING!

Therefore Chris and I will be attending a new class on Monday here in Bagnone.  Our friend Giusi will be teaching Italian to English people and English to Italian people.  I’m very much looking forward to it.  Despite my ineptness, I enjoy learning and speaking Italian and I will persevere until I become good at it.  I want to be able to converse fluently with our friends here. I want to be able to have those more meaningful conversations that we take for granted in English, where we can discuss our views of world issues and find out what life is like growing up and living in Italy.  A desire to know more about the people here is good motivation to master the language.

There is hope though: I speak English (rather well I think) and if I can master that, then I can master anything!  The following poem demonstrates my point:

”Our Queer Language” by Lord Cromer (1841-1917)

When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose
Doll and roll and home and some.
And since pay is  rhymed with say,
Why not paid with said, I pray?
We have blood and food and good;
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done but gone and lone?
Is there any reason known?
And, in short, it seems to me,
Sounds and letters  disagree.

I’ll leave you with a photo of last night’s amazing full moon.  It was the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life!  It looked like daylight outside.

The magnificent full moon shining over the valley below us. I love the moon!

Ciao xx


About missrini

Global citizen. Travel blogger. Eccentric dreamer.
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6 Responses to La lingua bella

  1. Melinda says:

    To really speak another language you need to be able to think in that language, while you are still translating in your head you will make more mistakes. Learn to trust yourself, switch into your Italian Rini personality and let it flow.
    I am so proud of you, for your courage to chase your dreams and for all you acheive, every single day! xxx

    • missrini says:

      Ha! Easier said than done Mel, but I know what you mean exactly. When one hits a certain age, it becomes harder to re-wire the brain…but I believe you must try or grow old quickly! Grandma and her crosswords was a great example of this 🙂

  2. Jen says:

    I think you are doing an amazing job with the language, not sure that I would be quite so lingual. Great that you are continuing the learning. Miss you xx

  3. Alex Wilding says:

    That is one of the most beautiful moon-scenes I have ever seen!

    • missrini says:

      Thanks Alex. Good to see you guys last night (briefly)! I will tell Chris you like his moon photo. It was such a magic scene, to be honest the photo doesn’t do it justice.

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