I try to avoid cliches, but this particular cliche is having a resounding impact on me for two reasons…
The first and obvious reason being that I am having the good fortune of experiencing Rome first hand (‘grazie mill’ to Language Link & CESFOR, bless up y’selfs); it’s opulent architecture with it’s totally unnecessary flamboyancy decorates every crevice and corner (‘borrowing’ heavily from Egypt). Italian’s are in love with beautiful things. You won’t travel too far without seeing a piazza adorned with a fountain (or two). The fountain will be encircled with sculptured figures re-enacting some dramatic scene, and a grand building will be imposing it’s beauty over it all! Not forgetting the ruins (which still look pretty good) The Colosseum, The Pantheon, The Basilica Di San Pietro, The Fontana Di Trevi etc etc etc. This level of swag takes centuries to design, build, demolish, re-build and then perfect!
The second reason is having much more of a life changing (please excuse this cliché too) impact on me. I came to Italy armed with only the very basics of the language, simple phrases and a limited vocabulary were my only defence. Being totally submerged in this complex foreign language has made me realise how much I love talking, communicating and expressing my opinion- willy nilly! I’m accustomed to having words sprint out of my mouth with a couple hundred more lined up in my mind and multiple subjects competing for air play. Having to think about each word, how they are pronounced, the correct tense, the correct gender, having to translate from Italian to English- think of my answer in English and then translate this into Italian has rendered my brain into mash potato.
CESFOR have arranged for me to attend an intensive Italian language course Monday-Friday 9:30-1:30 for the first five days, with five other students from Spain (who are on a similar travel scholarship to me), me being the only British person in the class. I have never felt so stupid! Four hours in school has never left me so tired, frustrated and overwhelmed- even my Maths & Physics GCSE didn’t have me twisted like this week!!!
Last academic year I was working with a group of EAL (English as an additional Language) students in a secondary school. Students originating from all parts of the world with very limited knowledge of the English language. Many of them would play up or zone out in their regular class (not in mine because mine were fun and inclusive just checkout the photos of their work below), and I can now fully appreciate why. When you’ve got words, which you have no understanding of, being hurled at you at 50 miles per hour day in day out, you sometimes just switch off- if the teacher gets angry with you it doesn’t really mater because you can’t understand what they are saying anyway!! Big up the EAL students- you had my full respect but now I feel your pain!
I am glad to report that I learned quite a bit over the past five days and had a rewarding conversation with a four year old on the tram yesterday! It was this conversation with the extremely cute child that sparked a mini epiphany… As children, it takes us a good 5 years to be able to fully communicate, express our opinion and convey meaning with words. For the first year or so we listen and make all types of cute noises- this is preparation. We then progress and are able to say a few words badly, leading onto sentences until we are then able to talk fluently. All this is ok because we are cute, we have our parents/guardians supporting us and the whole of society knows this is how it goes down. But when your thirty-one, you’ve lost your cuteness and society wants answers!
An abundance patiences, practice and hard work is needed when learning a new language- I’m grateful that I don’t have to learn a new alphabet and that the English language has taken many of it it’s words from Italian (or Latin), other wise my brain would now be broccoli soup.
12 Things to consider/remember when learning a language whilst living in the country!
1. Be Prepared to sound like a fool. Understand that making mistakes is like that early stage of childhood when you made those cut gurgling noises.
2. Remember that you are not a fool.
3. You will feel isolated, frustrated, overwhelmed, lonely and a whole manner of other emotions- especially if you are in the country alone.
4. Be aware that number 3 is just a phrase and will pass with time.
5. At some point you will cry, but it’s ok to cry!!!
6. Realise that everybody learns differently, and try various ways to learn the language. Language CD’s, books, dictionaries, private tuition, class, listening to the radio, writing lists of words on the walls they all help.
7. Learning the grammar will give you a head ache.
8. It’s tempting to ask people to speak in your language- especially if you speak English, don’t do this, it wont help you speak the language you are trying to learn. The best thing to do is take your time and try to speak to as many people as you can.
9. What you are doing takes guts!
10. When you are able to communicate with a native- no matter how basic the conversation is, it truly very rewarding.
11. Don’t give up.
12. Give yourself time- Rome wasn’t built in a day