How Italian Is Going

January 17, 2011

As some of you may remember, last spring I decided to tackle a rather huge intimidating item on my Mondo Beyondo list – Learn Two Languages Fluently. Even though my only experience with a foreign language was five years of French (I still remember how to say ‘not at all’, ‘I would like a chocolate’ and ‘the window, the door, the mountains, the pool’), I decided to go all blank slate and learn Italian. I figured Italian would be more useful as I have cousins living in Rome and a reason to visit frequently.

Also, I like pasta.

Italian is proving to be quite the challenge but not for any particular reason other than the fact that it’s

1) A foreign language

2.) There is no 2.

But languages are something I truly love to pieces and gravitate naturally toward learning. The annoying thing about them is that an entire language can take forever to master – the vocabulary, the conjugation of verbs, past, present, future, polite conversation, casual conversation. Every time I show up to class, my teacher asks me how my week was and I can barely get two sentences out before I’m clumsily mixing up my tenses and asking her for every other vocab word. “How do you say ‘x-ray?’ How do you say ‘I drank my wine while doing my homework and that’s why it doesn’t make sense?'”

(To this last question, my teacher asked me if I was drinking Italian wine and when I clarified by saying yes I was, she said OKAY! NO PROBLEM THEN and this is why I love Italian class.)

However! The awesome thing about languages is that even when you’re banging your head against a wall in frustration that you know nothing, you understand nothing, YOU WILL NEVER MAKE SENSE OF THIS NEVER, you realize how much you absorb. Every class I learn something new and this gives me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of progressing.

The first time I went to Italy, I could count to five, ask how much something cost and ask where the bathroom was.

This past summer, I ordered a cappuccino, asked for four bus tickets, told the owner of a hostel that it was way too hot outside, asked a woman how the washing machine in our rental apartment worked, ordered a pizza and specifically requested that the mushrooms be replaced by artichokes and chatted merrily with a cabbie in Rome, telling him no, we had not flown in that morning but rather we had arrived by train from Pisa which was very hot but nice.

Six months later, I still have to speak slowly and make sure I have the words I need, but I can have casual conversation about how my week was using the past tense, I can tell you what my plan for the weekend is using the future tense and I can give you a whole bevy of interesting facts about myself! My sister is shorter than me! My dad fell down and got an x-ray! I prefer wine white! I like your music! How is your dinner? My gelato brings all the boys to the yard!

Unfortunately, I still cannot listen to Italians converse and have any clue what is going on. I mean, nothing. I am clearly a visual learner because everything I read and write gets absorbed rather easily. When I listen to conversation? Nothing. So, I still have a bit of work to do.

Luckily for me, we do equal parts speaking and writing in class.

My favorite parts of Italian are the homework assignments which often involve me writing a paragraph about something specific (my favorite actor, how I spent Christmas). Other times, my teacher assigns dittos containing a story or conversation between two people. I’m asked to analyze it and answer questions.

This is all well and good until I start reading and completely forget that these assignments exist solely to teach me the language and vocabulary and they are not to be taken quite so…personally.

Take Anna and Lucia, for example.

Anna is upset because there’s a party Saturday next and she has nothing nice to wear!

Lucia chimes in and points out that the her wardrobe is full of nice things to wear! There’s that dress red she wore the year last to the dinner of work! Or that dress blue she showed her just the other day!

Anna comes back at her VERY GENEROUS FRIEND, IN MY OPINION WHO IS PUTTING UP WITH THIS RIDICULOUS WARDROBE ANALYSIS by pointing out that those two dresses are fine but the modern fashion is dresses short and while the dress red more short than the dress blue, the dress blue is still too long!

This is where I was like Anna, give me a freaking break. There are children starving in Africa and your dress blue is too long? GET SOME PERSPECTIVE. (AKA, GET A BLOG.)

Luckily, Lucia exists for this reason. (And also to teach me some new phrases like ‘You’re wrong!” and “Don’t be silly!”)

Lucia points out that she can get it hemmed.

And then High Maintenance Anna really goes nuts because she’s one of those helpless females with mother issues and she begs Anna to help her because her mom always told her she sucks at practical stuff like hemming dresses, her other sisters are WAY better at it and I’m like what the heck is going on and why is Anna’s mom such a bitch and also, hemming a dress is not that hard!?

Lucia says chill the fuck out, I will hem your dress red.


Hold up, Anna.

I don’t know what’s going on in Rome but who the hell is wearing red patent shoes over the age of 5!?

Lucia, the grounded one (who would play the role of ‘overweight but hilarious and rational best friend’ to Anna’s Kate Hudson if this were a romantic comedy) points out that her shoes red patent are lovely but her shoes black would look much prettier with the dress red short.

Luckily, Anna finally shuts up and teaches me some slang by saying to Lucia “I don’t know how you put up with me!”

I DON’T KNOW EITHER, I shouted furiously after reading through this RIDICULOUS CONVERSATION. I wouldn’t put up with Anna and her annoying way of whining to her friend about everything and being a completely helpless human being. NOT FOR A SECOND. THE DRESS RED! THE DRESS BLUE! THE HER WARDROBE FULL OF DRESSES OF BEAUTIFUL! WHO EVEN CARES!?

And then I put the paper down and realized it was FAKE.

And Anna and Lucia are NOT REAL PEOPLE.

And that I done learned some Italian but I’m not really sure it’s applicable because I don’t own any shoes red patent so when the hell am I going to use that in conversation?



Um. Yeah. So. Anyway. That’s how class is going.

It’s good.

Bennissimo, in fact.

As long as I remember that fictional characters aren’t actually real people.

You know, so, the usual, I guess, as far as I’m concerned.


  • Pony

    Awesome on the Italian! I wish I could get off my bum and learn french. What with a french husband and all, and a father in law who speaks no english. You would think that would be motivation enough, but no. I am tres lazy.

    I love pasta too. Passionately. I just had homemade mac and cheese for lunch!

  • John

    Do you take your classes at a school? I would love to learn Spanish, but most of the courses I see are very expensive.

  • TheSpectrum

    Pony – Homemade mac and cheese? Um. Please to send that to me RIGHT NOW.

    John – Yes! I take it at Collina Italiana, the Italian language and cultural center in NYC. Are you in the city as well? I know there is both a French and Spanish institute in the same neighborhood, both of which offer classes. They tend to be on the pricier side but broken down it works out to less than $20/hour. (I pay more for semi-private lessons right now because I can’t fit a regular class into my schedule.) However, the beginner course I took last spring was $450 for 10 weeks and the class was 2.5 hours. So while it seemed like a large chunk of change, per class it was pretty cheap. Hope this helps!

  • Tim Eimiller

    Thanks for putting a big, silly grin on my face while reading this.

    I admire you big big for taking on such a task enormous.

    I have a phobia of learning a foreign language. It so terrifies me that it was literally the only reason I tried out for the BFA program. No joke.

    I’ve taken on the task of learning how to properly play the guitar. Don’t have to worry about what tense I’m playing in. But I do have to worry about what key. I taught myself how to play See Me, Feel Me. I was very happy. Until I tried to play along to that clip and realized that I’d learned it in the wrong key. I bought the same model of guitar that Pete uses in that clip, by the way. It’s the best thing I’ve ever bought in my life. Other than all the hookers.

  • Tim Eimiller

    Oh, I did live in Sicily for three months a few years back, and I picked up a lot of Italian through osmosis. Spaghetti, rigatoni, linguini. Those are just a few of the Italian words that have stuck with me to this very day.

  • The Mom

    Was laughing my head off by the end of your blog! OMG, talk about personalizing a foreign language story. YOU are a hoot! Now the rest of the world has to find that out because you will make many people mucho happy! (How’s that for bi-lingual?)

  • Tim Eimiller

    Lasagna, ravioli, alfredo fettucini, meatballs.

    I’m a veritable Italian dictionary.

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