Today my poor daughter did what I long to do most days. She burst into tears when the tutor asked her what the correct article was for her sentence in Italian.
I have always loved words. I like reading. I like researching the origin of words. I like learning about colloquialisms. I like learning the difference between a colloquialism and an idiom. I like to keep lists of words that appeal to my ear. Words like verdant, flummoxed, phalanges and evanescent.
About a hundred years ago I took a year and a half of French. I was young, I never studied and I rarely paid attention. Not surprising then, that my French didn’t stick. Living in California I picked up a smattering (another favorite word) of Spanish – you know, enough to order food and beer and find a bathroom when needed, but I have always felt as if there were a hole in my education because I don’t speak another language other than English.
So, imagine my delight when I learned we were moving to another country where I could immerse myself in another language – a beautiful Romance language no less. I was naive enough to think it would be easy. I thought, “First I’ll learn Italian since we will be living there. Then I’ll learn French because the kids are learning it and I certainly don’t want my teenagers to have a whole other language that they can communicate in that my husband and I do not understand. And, besides France will be so close and its a Romance language too so how hard can it really be?” HA!
It has been a year and I still don’t speak Italian, let alone French! I can get around, I can order food in a restaurant. I have simple conversations with shopkeepers, but I am frustrated at how long it is taking me to really learn Italian.
Learning a new language at age 49 is very difficult for my old brain. Il mio cervello e’ stanco e anziano. I had always heard (from other Americans) that, “English is one of the hardest languages to learn.” My experience, and discussions with people who speak English as a second or third language does not bear that out, however. The people in my Italian class and our European friends all tell us that English is simple. In English the articles do not change very often (a, an, the) and our verbs do not change for every person as they do in Romance languages. Granted, English pronunciations and spelling are difficult, but our grammar is relatively simple.
Italian verbs change for every person (I, you, he/she, we, us, you guys, them) that you are speaking of or about. And they have a separate verb tense if you being polite. There are so many articles I need charts and graphs to remember them all. And, there seems to be an exception for every grammar rule that I learn.
I also discovered that Italians don’t believe in silly rules. Rules are mere suggestions. When I asked a friend why the grammar rule that I just memorized didn’t apply, her answer was “because it is more poetic to say it this way.” Now I have to think about the poetry of the language too? Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.