To explain my messy learning story in relation to Italian you need to understand two things, firstly I moved to Italy without much time between the decision and move. Secondly as a result of the speed I had no time to take a course in Italian and so I moved to Italy without any Italian. This is not something I would recommend, in fact, I would seriously advise against it. I am really happy I did it, it was a professional opportunity too good to pass up but it was challenging. I worked (mostly) via English at the beginning but this is now changing and my work is more Italian based.
It was a tough situation at the beginning and a steep learning curve in order to learn those things essential for daily life – ordering a coffee for example – and I often joke that I learnt the vocabulary for food in Italian faster than anything else. It isn’t true, first I learned how to get my precious coffee and then I learned about the food… and continued learning. Food is truely incredible here and the variety of it is wonderful. But that is something to write about another time. During this period of my terrible Italian I had to do many things from finding a home, signing contracts in Italian, setting up my Italian phone, opening a bank account etc etc etc. It was… difficult and I had a lot of help from some very kind people but it was still difficult. Looking back I realise that for a long time I was consistently kept off balance by some of the challenges of moving to Italy, all of which were exacerbated by my inability to communicate.
So I started Italian lessons… and it did not go well. There were a couple of reasons for this, firstly it was a mixed ability class, which meant that there were people who had studied Italian before for a range of years and a couple of beginners like me. The class didn’t start off in beginner territory and rapidly advanced beyond what I could follow. This was completely crushing and very discouraging. At the time due to the presence of many other international students it was also very easy to slip into an English language expat lifestyle. Now you must be wondering why I didn’t take a different class, change teacher or just try a different method. Unfortunately for the area I was living in this class and this teacher were the only options at the time. I didn’t have the time or money for private lessons and the local university didn’t allow students who were not enrolled on a university course to participate. It SUCKED!
So I looked for other options, I studied (a little bit) on my own. I struggled through newspaper articles and watched films in Italian. I went to public lectures and demonstrations. I attended events with friends. I started a tandem (which has joyfully become one of my longest lasting friendships here) and I tried to talk to people. I received a lot of help from friends and I made a little progress. But it wasn’t enough. When I got a little better I saved up to spend a week at a language school in Siena, I will blog about this in more depth another time but I just want to say here that it was one of the best experiences and incredibly helpful. It brought me on in both my Italian but also in my confidence because the classes were small (3/4 in mine most days), they forced you to talk for three hours straight everyday and it was fun! We chatted together and with the teacher, everything was explained properly in Italian until you understood. Also the teachers were engaged and very enthusiastic. It was great, but it was only one week. I would love to go back for another week! After that I organised to go for a language class in a nearby city to where I was living twice a week and this also helped but it was tough as the bus was 1.5 hours each way twice a week.
But I was starting to get somewhere, trying out small bits of conversation, starting to follow the conversation when a group of people were talking etc. Unfortunately I then had to return to Ireland for 6 months. During this time I swear I forgot everything I had learned up to that point (except for the food). I returned to Italy to a tough work situation and Italian was once again placed on the back burner. I did take another class in the same institution as at the beginning but with a very different teacher and enjoyed it. I did the same the following term, again with a new teacher but each of these classes operated once a week meaning that if you missed one you could go two weeks without any instruction.
So this was my messy learning journey until I started using several online resources. These were more structured and offered me a method to control my learning at my own pace and see the progress. I also booked online skype tutorials and lessons, these kept me to a learning schedule. Through these, tandems, an Italian boyfriend and living with Italian flatmates and speaking to friends I have slowly been finding my way in this strange and beautiful language.
I am leaving out or forgetting probably many details but that is the big picture of what got me to where I am right at this moment, about to enjoy a bowl of seafood pasta which I’m planning to follow by watching Gilmore girls in Italian with Italian subtitles as a method of studying. They talk fast so if I can understand them then I figure I can understand most people! This month I have set myself the challenge to decide how to keep proceeding, whether to book and work towards a language exam or keep on the way I have been. I’m hoping that with enough study this month I can book the exam and blogging is one way I am using to keep me on track. I love the language but sometimes being consistent about my study of it is hard.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and if you read to the very end then I hope you are having a lovely weekend doing something you love! 🙂