Thursday, March 22, 2012

Language Exchange

We’ve reached the point with our language studies where what we need most of all is practice speaking.  Even though we’re living in Italy we’ve found that we actually have very few opportunities to have a conversation in Italian.  It’s surprisingly easy for a couple of introverts (like us!) to get by for months with only a few sentences uttered here and there in the process of  buying food, getting items repaired, and paying the bills. Unless we make a concerted effort we don’t really have to say much more than “I’d like some fresh pecorino and a kilo of fettuccine” or “Can you replace the heels on these shoes?” 

Even with our classes at school we realized we weren’t getting enough practice speaking.  We have, on the other hand, been getting LOTS of practice at listening, and our capacity for comprehending what is being said to us (or around us) has improved dramatically.  But we’re still stammering as we try to speak.  So we decided to be proactive.  We prepared a flier proposing a language exchange, in which we would help a native Italian speaker with their English and they would help us with our Italian.  We made multiple copies of our flier and went off in search of where to post them.

Gabriella made the first – and as it turned out, the only – stop at Informagiovani.  This is kind of like a tourist office for the locals.  They provide information about housing, jobs, events, opportunities, etc. in Arezzo.   When Gabriella went in she explained to the woman behind the counter what we were looking for and asked if she could post the flier.  The woman said that yes, she could post the information, but not the actual flier.  All the information had to be transcribed onto a small piece of paper - about the size of a post-it note - to keep it uniform with all the other postings.   Discouraged not to be able to post our carefully prepared flier, but happy for the opportunity to at least post something, Gabriella set the fliers on the counter and began writing the pertinent information on the slip of paper she had been given. 

Meanwhile the woman behind the counter introduced herself (her name is Cristina) and said she herself might be interested in such an exchange.  Then her colleague chimed in and said she too might be interested.  Wow!  Who knew!?!  A minute later a man walked in, saw the fliers on the counter and said he was looking for an opportunity to practice his English.  While Gabriella was in the midst of talking with him, another woman entered the building and she too said she was interested.  After all this time desperate for opportunity for conversation, there it was waiting for us right under our noses!  All we had to do was ask!

Since then we’ve been meeting with Cristina and Gino once or twice a week, and the exchange is giving us not only practical opportunities to learn and speak Italian, but also emerging friendships.  We discuss personal stories, politics, history, and, of course, food (we are in Italy after all!).  Gino especially loves to cook, so we’ve begun exchanging recipes, and on one of our next visits with him we plan to prepare a meal together.  Our next posting will include one of the recipes we’ve tried from a book he loaned us. 

In Gino's kitchen
Cristina doesn’t particularly like to cook, but her mother does, and she has brought us some of her mother’s cooking magazines, which Gabriella has been studying avidly.  Cristina has also given us gifts of her family’s home-made olive oil and jam, and a friend’s home-made vin santo.  We feel so fortunate for all this abundance!

We’re still not expecting to be fluent by the time we return to Seattle, but already we’ve found that we’re no longer daunted by the prospect of spending an hour or an afternoon conversing entirely in Italian.  In fact the quiet, relaxing time we were expecting here in Arezzo has become molto impegnato (very busy) with the amount of time we’re spending with our friends, on top of our classes and school activities.  For example, yesterday we had class, then we caught the train to go visit Gino (who lives in the next town) for a few hours, and then we returned to Arezzo for a good-bye dinner with another student who is leaving.  

We really enjoy being with all the people we’ve met, but the flip side is that for a couple of introverts all this social activity is pretty draining.  Somewhere along the way we apparently forgot that learning a language would involve spending lots of time with people.  What were we thinking?!?   

1 comment:

  1. You might try something we were doing in Baja (to a-speak a-better a-Espanol) and that is to dedicate one day to speak only each other! I made huge progress that way knowing I could not speak-a the English and having to resort to el dictionario when I was stumped; which believe it or not, was not often! ¡Buen Provecho!