It might not be that easy to learn Italian in Italy

I was reading with interest, this blog post by NYC Ragazza.
I got the feeling that she’s the lady who asked on how to pronounce cocomero while at the Gelato event last September

In her post, she writes that it’s quite easy to be lazy and not speak Italian because there are so many expat meet ups where you could socialise in English. And if you’re travelling around in the center, there are many shops and restaurants servers who are able to speak English well enough to get by. While at home if you had cable, you could simply change the language from the dubbed to the original language which is mostly in English.

But it does get a little harder for someone who’s married to an Italian. Because they’re pretty much expected to integrate which on the one hand is great because it is immersive. It’s tough though. It’s like teaching a person to swim by throwing him in the deep end of the pool. Some might be able to pull through, but some might just trash around the water in fear.

Although I did learn a little bit of Italian back in Singapore, it was a different ballpark altogether when I moved to Rome – the speed, the dialect and the slang that the people here spoke, was vastly different compared to the contained classroom environment. It was pretty overwhelming.

And as much as I appreciate Cart trying to assimilate me, taking me out to meet with his friends, try as much as I could to concentrate, it tends to be hard to focus after a while because :

  1. I don’t understand what they were talking about because of mainly because of the vocabulary that they used and I didn’t want to be of a hindrance and interrupt the flow of the conversation to constantly ask what was going on.
  2. Because they’ve been friends for a long time, there are a lot of context and inside jokes that I didn’t get. Sometimes I feel like, unintentionally, being pushed out.

Hence, I’d rather just listen and watch the conversation and even when I do contribute to the conversation, there are times when I struggle to find the right words to express myself and it gets frustrating.

I took some Italian courses here in Rome, and while it was daunting in the beginning, eventually, it got easier. It did loads to my independence. It’s so much easier going to the supermarket by myself, buying a ticket at the tabbaccaio, taking the public transportation by myself, without having Cart to help me.

All the normal, every day sort of activities. But it was terrifying for me when I was new here. But I feel a lot more comfortable when I’m by myself now, and I don’t panic when I’m walking outside and some random person asks me for directions for example (although it’s a little puzzling as to why they would specifically ask me, when there are others because I look obviously foreign )

I don’t speak perfect Italian, but people seem to understand what I say more or less.

But sometimes Cart can be so hard on me. While I’m marveling at how much I’ve progressed, he pushes me to speak perfect Italian, which usually doesn’t go well with me.  Because my philosophy in learning is to be nurturing and supportive. Kind of like how a baby learns. The baby tries, and the parents motivates her with positive words to continue. Why should it be any different from an adult?

It might sound quite juvenile, but when someone pushes me like that (be it for learning Italian, or learning to drive etc) instead of being motivated, I feel like closing up instead. Which is probably the wrong approach, but I easily lose the joy of learning that way. I need someone to clap their hands or say, “You’re doing great!” every now and then. Learning should be happy.
Kind of like Carrie asking for a little milk in her coffee, so it’s not too bitter

Cart recently psycho-analyzed me and claims that I’m homesick and thinks that by my resisting in speaking Italian, I’m trying to hang on to my bit of home. While I do get pangs of homesickness, I’ve already long resigned that I’ve be living here long term. So I don’t think that, that’s it.

But nevertheless, the way that I’ve been treated, I’ve slowly grown a sort of mechanism. While I used to be flighty, now I have the mentality to be more patient, and to just not care  too much and just speak Italian as how I’m comfortable with, without (mostly) thinking about people will be judging me. Sort of an insensitivity training if you may.

Which is not bad for a rather egoistical person, such as myself

Sidenote : Somehow I’m reminded of a scene of a literature that I read about a foreign woman who’ve lived in England for many many years but still didn’t speak any English at all.

7 Replies to “It might not be that easy to learn Italian in Italy”

  1. I think that it is worth speaking in italian the way you can, as you said. It seems you have no deadlines to respect, neither you are supposed to speak a perfect italian (btw it is quite hard to find a correct use of our language among ourselves native speakers). So I agree with you, it is better to take your own time, it will make things easier and less stressful.
    I don’t know, but it seems strange to me that people gathering aroud a table wouldn’t care about the fact that someone at the same table is not able to catch the meaning of what is said, I normally try to include everyone in the discussion, no matter if it limits temporarely the topics I can discuss…just my idea of course.

    1. Well, there’s a diverse sort of people here (and everywhere) and since they are not fluent in English, these people just don’t want to make the effort and so are not so apt to include others …

      But it’s all in the mindset, even if two people does not have a common language, there are always other ways to communicate, like gestures for examples. It boils down whether one want’s to be friendly or not, in my opinion.

  2. My wife has a similar reaction when I push her to further perfect her English. She wants to speak in a way that’s comfortable for her, but I only push her for her own good. Improper English is heavily, heavily criticized in the US, especially if you’re not Anglo-Protestant.

    1. I guess its in the approach. Many people prefer to learn while being motivated instead of being pushed into doing something. Being overly pushed even with the best of intentions tends to kill the love.

  3. Marina, just take your time to learn Italian. In my own thinking, I think it’s difficult for us foreigners to master a foreign language(unless you’re an intepreter which u need so to make exact translations). Like me, I have practised enough to be able to converse fluently in Italian which I think is sufficient for me.
    If someone pushes me to do something, I would back out and create a mental block.
    After 5 years here, I realised I have made great steps forward in the understanding certain jokes, news and conversations, being able to pick out grammatical errors.
    Last point Marina, when certain people don’t make an effort to include you in the conversation.. just listen and do add in a word if u feel like it. It happened to me too in the past..otherwise, just think of something else or enjoy the food if you’re in a meal 😉

  4. It’s HARD to learn a new language. I was really offended when I first moved to Italy because strangers would correct my Italian. I would never do that to someone speaking English unless they specifically asked me for help.

    My life in Rome is very much in English- school, work, home. In fact, I spy my wonderful English-speaking boy in the first picture of this post.

    Hang in there!

Comments are closed.