Why I decided to learn Italian and how to learn another language
Learning another language as I found out requires a lot of determination, some people have a natural affinity for picking up languages but I found out I don’t!
In June of 2007 for our 20th anniversary Janet and I, along with my cousin and her husband went on a 16-day cruise vacation through Europe. It began with three days in Rome and ended with a few days in Venice. Prior to departing for our cruise I had decided to take a course on the Italian language.
I completed one year at the Scuola di Lingua, in the Italian Canadian Club of Calgary just before our trip and thought I’d be semi fluent by the time we departed. Well, was I delusional about just how smart I am. I was totally naïve about the complexities of learning another language especially without the opportunity to use it. Still, I felt pretty smart with the little I knew and couldn’t wait for the chance to put some of my skills to the test, I was surely disappointed though as most people in the large tourist zones spoke very good English and I didn’t get much opportunity. On a few occasions I was able to rush to the rescue with my Italian when we encountered a taxi driver or restaurant waiter that didn’t speak English. My travel companions were wowed a little and I was slightly impressed with myself but wanted more.
Upon returning I vowed to continue my learning and get to a somewhat competent level of fluency, I have always admired someone who speaks more than one language. My father speaks Slovenian and English fluently. He is able to converse a bit in German, Russian, Hungarian, Ukrainian or any of the Slavic languages and I was always impressed by that. My in-laws were French Canadian and spoke two languages. My second year Italian teacher was a young women from Serbia about 23, she speaks Serbian fluently as well as English, Italian, Spanish and French, how impressive for someone so young. Made me feel like a dummy, I wanted to be a Renaissance man and was determined to master at least this one of the romance languages.
Following five years of classes I’m still studying, now in an intermediate/advanced coarse but really struggling to get the language down. I’m intimidated to speak it, totally frustrated at trying to hear and comprehend it while having a basic level of writing competency. I’m excited though to be venturing on a year-long odyssey and immersion into the language and culture, I hope to be fluent by the end of the year. Keep posted and I’ll let you know how the language learning comes to fruition over traveling a year in Italy.
Why you should learn another language
Learning another language is supposed to activate parts of the brain that help stave of dementia and Alzheimer’s, something I worry about every time I lose my car in the Walmart parking lot! But its a great goal that I’d encourage others to pursue if you have an interest in learning another language. My advice is to pick a language that resonates with you, one you’d find useful for work or travel or part of your family’s heritage. You need to have a passion for it as the learning is a long slow process that requires lots of patience and perseverance. Don’t expect to be fluent in a year or two, immersion will help speed up the process, try not to get in the habit of translating from English and just enjoy the process by taking it slow.
Another great part of learning a second language is the social aspect of studying with peers that are equally passionate about it. Often you share an interest in the travel, culture, food, wine, art, architecture, films, fashion… of the country’s language you are learning. Over a few years of studying you’ll often be with the same students and develop friendships that carry on outside of class. You’ll get inspired by their trips and the pictures, memories and tips they bring back. I’ve made a lot of friends at Italian School and look forward to seeing them each fall when we start a new year.
Where to Start
Now that you’ve decided to learn another language where do you start. There are many, many options depending on what methods interest you and the type of learner you are. You can take formal (with tests and marks) or informal classes, buy language software, subscribe to websites, audio CD’s, books or probably you’ll end up using a variety of these. You’ll figure out what type of learner you are and what works best for you, I find I am visual with reading and repetition working best for me. Some people are auditive which I struggle with and some are kinesthetic (tactile learning with physical tasks or role playing-like shopping or ordering at a restaurant). One of my favorite websites for learning Italian is the series of videos from Tommy Txxytu, he’s passionate about learning and teaching Italian, he explains things in a very easy to understand format. I’d highly recommend his site for anyone learning the language at www.youtube.com/user/Txxytu
I’m really excited about the opportunity to finally be able to put my language skills into action. I’m hoping the immersion will help it all gel quickly and by the time I return home I’ll have a good level of fluency. In January, Janet and I registered to attend an ancient university in Camerino, Italy called the Scoula Dante Alighieri. It’s in the Marche region of Italy, only a few hours drive north from Amatrice which was the town tragically impacted by the recent earthquakes. We’re excited to live like students for the whole month, sharing an apartment with other students on campus and studying the language. Janet will be in the beginners class and myself in the advanced. We’ll spend four hours each morning learning Italian with some cultural studies, day trips, cooking classes and art history mixed in. It should be great and an opportunity to make friends from all over the world, our only common language might be Italian. At our age we’ll get to relive our youth as college students and it will be a riot, ahh …jello shots, beer pong, pub crawls and streakin! It might not be pretty but you only live once!
Stay tuned for ‘stories from the dorm’ in January.