Learning Italian has been my work in progress for many years. I can give a long list of excuses reasons why I’m not at the level I would like to be such as it’s not an easy language (14 verb tenses), type A personalities like myself want everything to be perfect before we even attempt it, it’s not easy to practice when you live in America where everyone speaks English…and ending with the real reason it’s taken me so long. I’m lazy. All of my Italian friends and colleagues speak English so why bother, especially when their English is far better than my Italian.
A few years ago, I went to Il Sasso, an Italian language school in Montepulciano with my daughter, Emma. Montepulciano is charming, quiet and beautiful. I learned a lot and it was very special to travel with Emma. But after class we always spoke English. And when I returned home, I went back to my old (lazy) ways.
I decided to do something about it. And it would be bold.
This time would be different.
I travel often in Italy by myself, but always stay at a hotel and have friends nearby. Now for the bold part – I stayed in an apartment alone in Bologna, the seventh largest city in Italy and knew no one when I arrived. I confess I was a bit terrified. Like a lot.
Monday morning, the first day of class, I walked 15 minutes from my apartment on Via Santo Stefano to the school, Cultura Italiana, located in an old palazzo in Bologna’s historic center.
And when I walked in, OMG everyone was speaking Italian! First was the oral test, having previously completed the emailed 1 ½ hour written test (without a dictionary-I couldn’t even cheat). I was then instructed to go to Room 1.1 as class was about to start.
Beatrice, my teacher, was young, lively and funny. The students were from all over the world. Many of them stay for several weeks or even months to study Italian. Some were teachers on sabbatical, others from countries with a culture of many weeks of vacation who took the time to immerse themselves in the language. Me? I was there for a measly week and felt a bit like a slacker.
The class was well organized. Two hours of grammar. A twenty minute coffee break (and cigarette break too, it’s Italy after all). One hour and a half of conversation. At the end of each class, my brain was mush, but I felt accomplished and successful. I was ready for lunch… and wine.
One day I had lunch (calamari ripieni) with a fellow student from Austria, speaking only Italian. Another by myself at an outdoor café (tagliatelle Bolognese), conversing with the waitress only in Italian. Sometimes I picked up a few things at a local shop (mortadella, prosciutto and cheese), speaking with the owner in Italian, and cooked at the apartment (tortelloni con zucca). After lunch there was one to two hours of homework…of course in Italian.
A few of the afternoons included a walking tour led by someone from the school. In Italian, of course. Pretty much the only time I spoke English was when I called home at the end of the day. (And if you asked my husband, he’d say I didn’t stop talking.)
So what did I learn? Of course I learned to read, write, speak and understand Italian better. I also learned that things don’t need to be perfect. I learned that in life you have to take chances when they arise. I learned that you never know what you’re capable of unless you give it a try. But the biggest lesson is that if you want to get better at something make it fun and just do it!
PS If you’re thinking of going to Italy for language school or just be a tourist, please drop me a line – I’m always happy to help…in English.