One of my primary reasons for wanting to move to Italy was to become fluent in Italian. Downloading language apps and filling out the blanks in grammar books might get you to a certain point, but I think smack-you-in-the-face-sink-or-swim immersion is the most efficient, effective way to learn a language. Note, for example, my recent tongue lashings courtesy of the Italian government.
My husband has many talents (e.g. making risotto, doing mental math, assembling IKEA furniture), but teaching me his native tongue is not one of them. He made me a verb chart once in February 2010.
In his defense (such a good wife), in the U.S. he spoke English all day at work and was on auto-pilot to continue in inglese when he came home. Mid-sentence, sometimes I’d yell “ITALIANO!” to get him to switch, and he would for a few minutes, but then both of us would soon slip back into English and pass out on the couch watching John Oliver.
We’ve heard from other international couples that learning from your partner is often an unsuccessful venture; a professional and/or entire nation must be brought to the table. Which brings us here, in Milan, where I’ve enrolled in an Italian language school for foreigners.
Apparently Alberto’s sporadic lessons, the language apps, the grammar books, and the time spent with Italian family and friends did do something though. On my first day of school, I take a test and am placed in an intermediate class. Disclosure: I studied Spanish, which sometimes helps me fake it — and other times screws with my head completely.
Like the first day of school as a kid, I’m hyper-aware of those around me, scoping out the social situation, wondering if I’ll get teased on the playground for my chubby cheeks.
I’m sitting next to a young woman, and I get the vibe that maybe she’s in a similar mindset; we do a hey-hey smile-nod at each other and finish the test around the same time (although she’s politely waiting for someone else to finish because her Italian is better than ours).
We exit the room together, then I go into the admin office alone to receive my placement info; they tell me to return to school in a few hours when my level starts. I linger a bit in the hallway, unnecessarily organizing my bag as I wait for this other newbie to emerge. As I’m shuffling papers, she walks up to me; I play it cool but open.
Alina, from Switzerland, has to return in the afternoon as well. We exit the school together and are ambling along the sidewalk, headed in no direction in particular — neither of us know the neighborhood or have anything to do with our mornings. “Let’s go get a coffee?” I suggest.
And there we have it, my first new amica — and future lunch and museum companion.
P.S. If you’re also diving into Italian language/culture, here are a few resources I’ve used:
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Italian
- Schaum’s Outline of Italian Grammar
- The Italians
- In Altre Parole
- Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture
Unread Books in My Suitcase