When I first moved to London, I met a girl from Salamanca at a language exchange. She had had a miserable time of London. She had moved for an Irish boy who promptly dumped her; she was working in a café but qualified as a pharmacist; she didn’t know anyone and was still househunting; she didn’t like the food or the weather or the people. I felt positive about the city by contrast.
One night, when my Irish friend was visiting, we went to a pub quiz with this sad Spaniard and she brought an Italian friend of hers. The Italian had a very attractive laugh, a nice voice and a lovely smile. She had lived with a friend of the Salamanquesa and they had connected in London through him.
After half a dozen subtle suggestions of “why don’t you bring your Italian friend along?”, I saw her again and managed to get her number. We met up for a few drinks and laughed a lot. She talks even more than I do and has a twisted sense of humour without any of my bitterness. Eventually, I wore her down and got my kiss. We haven’t stopped laughing since.
I’ve been dating an Italian for a year and a half and my Italian is far from molto bene.
People learn languages in different ways. Some learn it as grammatical formulae. Others regurgitate set phrases and expressions. Some people can learn by ear. (Lucky bastards).
For me, it’s a matter of patterns, learning the right instincts, getting a feel for the lanaguage. I have a terrible memory and can’t rely on retaining vocab; nor can I recite conjugations. But I work with what I have and tend to find a way to communicate (maybe language just isn’t enough of a barrier to shut me up).
I learned French at school and when I moved to France, I preferred living alone to speaking English with other international students. I read in French, listened to French radio, watched French films and spoke, thought and (finally) dreamed in French. (Sadly, that level of fluency has slipped away).
I went to Spain without much more than ‘cerveza por favor’. I bought an exercise book and tried to do a couple of pages over breakfast each morning. Otherwise, it all came from speaking to the effervescent Granadinos.
For Italian, I have been trying to learn from a book, in England. Progress has so far been slow.
I visited my girlfriend’s hometown, Turin, in September last year. I’m weary of describing it for not doing it the justice it deserves (or that my girlfriend demands for her city). But suffice to say I loved the surrounding mountainscape.
I had imagined Italians drinking in the sun like the Andaluces but was a little disappointed to find that hot Saturday afternoons featured coffee, not wine. I was pleased however to be able to order my cappuccino (and a sneaky vino bianco) in Italian.
The next time I went to Italy was in May this year. We went to an uncle’s birthday party in Tuscania, an Etruscan town north of Rome, overlooking a green valley and dotted with beautiful buildings.
My Italian was put to the test amongst so many natives; a test it resoundly failed. With Spanish and French, I can understand the majority of what is said but forming a response is impossible. I managed only two short conversations (about whether it was my first time in Italy; and what I did for a job) and otherwise stuck to English.
If you’re reading, amore, I’ll keep trying. Lo prometto.