Sunday, October 30, 2011

Getting Acclimated to the Language

Since one of reasons for being here is to improve our Italian we immediately signed up for an intensive week of lessons at a local language school.  It’s a small school that offers instruction exclusively on Italian language and culture.  In addition to classes on grammar and conversation there are lectures, tours and seminars.  During our second week here we were in school every day from 9-12, and we went on outings the school organized in the afternoons.  Each week the school arranges a different itinerary.  In the first two weeks alone they offered tours of Arezzo and a neighboring town; a cooking seminar; a visit to a local artisan’s workshop; a lecture on art; a trip to a local farm that makes wine and cheese (including samples!), and a gathering for “happy hour” at a local bar.  We have decided to continue taking classes at this school on a less intensive basis – only twice a week – for the next 12 weeks.  After that we’ll be fluent, right?

At the moment there are only about a dozen students at the school, and we get very personalized attention.  There is clearly an emphasis on creating a sense of community, and we already feel we have friends here.  The other students are from Japan, Ireland, South Africa, Russia and Slovakia, each with varying degrees of proficiency in Italian.  Paola, our teacher, is great.  She is very patient with us and though she knows English, she speaks only Italian with us, very slowly and clearly.

We’ve learned a lot but it’s become painfully obvious that we so don’t know Italian. Any thoughts we had of just kind of fitting in have been quickly dashed.  Especially after Henry went into a coffee shop just to order a simple caffé and the barista started speaking English.  It’s helpful that for the most part people here do NOT speak English, so usually we are able to avoid falling into the trap of using English as a convenient “out.”

One evening we went to dinner with Daniela (our landlord), her husband and some of their friends. It was all very wonderful but on our way home we compared notes on what we had talked about.  While we’re not so competent yet at SPEAKING Italian, we’re generally pretty good at comprehending it when someone else is speaking.  However we found we had slightly different versions of what we THOUGHT had been said at various times during the course of the meal, and that many times we had no clue at all as to what was being said. You can see the potential for problems if we’re wondering “Did she say she has an olive grove on her property and that she would love to have our help picking olives, or that she has an olive pit stuck in her throat and she needs our help to get it out?!?” Generally we just smile and say “Si, si.”  So far we’re not aware of having made any egregious errors or insults.

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