Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Very American Life, In Italy

Ciao Bloggisti,

Recently, it has become painfully clear that I don't really speak Italian.

I speak:
Restaurant Italian

I Can Get By Italian

Shelter and Fashion Magazines Italian (not to be confused with newspaper Italian. That I don't speak well)

Running Errands Italian (my butcher, the shoe repair guy, drying cleaner lady, etc. somehow understand what the heck I'm saying)

Easy Conversations With My Italian Friends Italian

I had a HUGE wake-up call the other week. I started an internship (more on that in another post) with a Italian furniture/interior design firm. Everyone speaks English, so we are able to communicate. Also, they have many international clients and vendors. I can help out with those projects.

However, it's an office in Italy. When I have to call Italian vendors or clients, I completely panic. This is not good.

My reading comprehension is decent, but I had no idea my verbal skills were so low. Then I thought about it. I speak and write English pretty much 95% of the time here.

I do have Italian friends, but I work in America. I watch American programming and read American news. I do know what is going on in Italy. However, I'm not married to an Italian and before I did not work with Italians.

If I'm honest with myself, I worry that being fluent in Italian will somehow, "throw off" my English. I'm a screenwriter working in Hollywood. I can't afford to forget words in my mother tongue.

It's easy in Rome to be lazy. There are so many expats here. Many of the shopkeepers speak some English because of all the tourists. The majority of my close Italian friends speak English.

I went to a party in Monti with a friend and her Italian friend. He said, "look around, this is why your Italian isn't stronger." Almost everyone at the party was American.

That same night I went to a good-bye party for an British-American friend who was returning to NYC. That crowd was the exact opposite, all Italian. This friend was in Italy for only a few months and spoke better Italian than I did (I had been here three years!) She's also a writer, writing in English. I can't use that as an excuse anymore.

My Italian friends switched to English because I asked them to or they sensed my frustration. I'm concerned that I sound like an idiot in Italian, so I clam up. I should just plow ahead and speak. Italian grammar is no joke. Even very well educated Italians sometimes misuse the subjunctive. I can't believe that tense shows up in childrens' books. grrrrrr

I know some expats get annoyed if you speak or try to speak Italian with them. I guess they think, "We're American why the heck aren't we speaking English?"

Well, I'm going to try an experiment, more immersion. It can't be full immersion because of the work I do. If I'm not working on my book, scripts, blog, etc. I need to be writing, reading, and speaking Italian.

Last week I watched THE GOOD WIFE dubbed and with Italian subtitles. About twenty minutes in I switched to original language and keep the subtitles. It was so much easier to enjoy the show because I didn't have to concentrate. After ten minutes I turned it back to Italian. I have to suck it up and stop taking the easy way out.

I wonder if it's useful to watch American shows dubbed in Italian, but with the English subtitles.

Anyway, I'm going to try this experiment until the end of the year. I'm curious to see if I can actually speak this language well or if I'm a lost cause.

It might mean stepping back a little from the expat scene. I'm not talking about my close friends who happen to be expats, but the larger circle of acquaintances.

My expat friends are fluent. Most of them are married to Italians and/or work with Italians. All of them have said this level of Italian is the hardest to get through.

The last two weeks, since starting my internship, I've spoken more Italian than in all of 2011. Today when I turned on the Italian news, I noticed my comprehension was better. Small steps.


Eleonora said...

Brava, sono molto fiera di te. Soprattutto del fatto che hai preso coscienza del fatto che non stai migliorando. Questo è un grande passo, non convincerti del contrario.

D'ora in poi tutti i miei commenti non saranno più in inglese, e se ci vediamo, parlerò solo in italiano con te.

The Good Wife è uno dei miei show preferiti, ma vederlo doppiato in italiano è un vero peccato...

Forza, che ce la farai.

Italianissima said...

Brava Arlene!
So che con un po di pratica saprei parlare, scrivere e leggere in Italiano meglio di motli Italiani :)
Forza bella!

Paola said...

Allora mi accodo ad Eleonora. Commenterò anche io solo in Italiano per aiutarti. In effetti se scrivi, leggi e parli solo una lingua, è difficile prendere dimestichezza con un'altra.
Dunque non hai che da chiedere, siamo qui per aiutarti.
Detto questo ti prego ... non si può neppure pensare di guardare un programma doppiato ... è osceno. Io benedico SKY ogni momento, perchè da quando c'è la lingua originale io sono rinata!!!
Allora a presto leggeremo questo blog in Italiano? ;)

gibber said...

What are these people saying!!!!!


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Eleonora - Grazie!! Pensavo The Good Wife non era troppo male doppiato.

(feel free to correct my Italian)

Italianissima - Sto provando ma è difficile. :)

paola - una parola... no! Non posso scrivere un blog in Italiano. heh

gibber - to summarize, they are supportive and they are helping me by writing comments in Italian.

Jannelle said...

Thank you for writing this post. I found it very encouraging. After four semesters of university Italian, a six week trip to Florence, 3 penpals and my obsession with Italian movies on Netflix...I came to realize that my spoken Italian was horrible. I thought that I sounded like an idiot when I did try to speak it, so I gave up. I figured that maybe my 33 year old brain was just to old to master a language. This post has renewed my resolve to become fluent in Italian. I found a tutor. Yay!

Teacher online said...

Nice to meet you! I would like to leave a English? Than Italian! Sono capitata per caso sul tuo blog volevo solo augurarti buona fortuna e sono certa ke presto imparerai benissimo la nostra lingua! Saluti dalla PUGLIA!

foosrock! said...

It took me going to German school in Germany(München) for 3mths, being "forced" (the Germans are not the best at foreign languages, especially English) by the Germans to speak, well, German, that brought about my confidence in speaking and maintaining this language when I returned to Switzerland. Before I left, the Swissgermans would laugh at my strong accent, finding it "cute", but it had the oppositie effect, they intended, on my self confidence to speak (Swiss) German. Today, I speak, comprehend and read almost fluently in this beautiful language and it has to do with, like you pointed out in your post, surrounding myself with more Swiss, than foreign friends. I would love to say time plays a role, but it doesn't if you don't balance out your interaction with the locals and expats.

Viajera said...

I'm so with you on this. I'm also trying to learn a new language and it really is baby steps. Indeed, I think that immersion is the only way. I'm very immersed in Dutch culture too, and I'm not in a tourist area, so hopefully my progress will be fast (though not painless). Good luck and please share any tips that you find work for you.

dorinalouise said...

yes! i'm glad you have this new job! i totally believe you can do it. good luck!!

dorinalouise said...

oh no! you know what i just thought of? you could first write everything in english . . and then put it into italian! you need to have a bilingual blog!!!

(i have to agree with gibber . . what ARE these people saying???!!!) :O

Anonymous said...

I'd write this comment in Italian but it's to early and I haven't had my tea yet. I am in the same place as you. Even though I'm way up here in Bergamo I live in an English bubble being an English teacher and all. I've been here for three years and I can chat and I can get by with my wrong verb tenses and forgotten articles but like you I want more. LIterate in one language but an idiot in the other? Oh no. I've just started Italian classes again but this time one on one. It's great and I am making huge strides. It's all starting to come together. Can't wait to hear about your internship. I am green with envy!

Can I suggest and you can delete this part from the comment but try Inlingua- that is where I teach English they also teach other languages too. I find that their method works best for me. to date I have taken three other courses and I've learned more in this class then the other three put together. it's conversation based, so you build confidence in speaking, with the grammar weaved in so you build confidence in writing too.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

teacher online - Grazie!!!

foosrock - thanks for the advice and the encouragement. I hope some day I will be fluent!

viajera - good luck with Dutch. My dad grew up in Curacao but after living in America for years, he doesn't speak Dutch fluently anymore.

dl - thank you. I bumped into an Italian friend last night who said my Italian is better than the last time he saw me.

I thought about doing posts in both languages. Maybe I will in the future. Right now I'm too busy with the book, the internship, and my other projects.

sm - thanks for the tip about Inlingua. A conversation based class would probably be best for me as I have a solid grammar base (except for my dropped articles problem!)

Anonymous said...

Ah, I can so relate. I have struggled so hard with Italian myself. I don't live in Italy but I have many relatives that only speak Italian and it's just heartbreaking that I can't communicate with them. It's some weird mixture of fear and shame and habit that chokes me up.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Brava Arlene. Sei corraggiosa ma devi continuare a sforzare. Ho dovuto imparare la lingua italiana di nuovo quand'ero adulta, perche lo parlavo da piccola ma dopo che avevo cinque anni, mia mamma ha insistito che dovevamo parlare in Inglese qui in America. Cosi' ho dimenticato come parlare, anche se capivo molto. La cosa migliore che mi ha aiutato era 1. leggere libri in Italiano e 2. trovare un gruppo di donne che riunivano ogni settimana solo con lo scopo di chiacchierare in Italiano.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

CCL - Grazie mille per il tuo consiglio! Sto provando parlare l'italiano più ogni giorno.

signorinabella said...

Congratulations! I am also on a quest to become fluent in Italian - although I don't live in Italy...yet. I wish you much success, stick with it and soon it will be much easier. :-)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Grazie signorina bella!