Confessions of a wannabe Italian Speaker
Guest Blogger: Andrew Wenger | Foreign Language Specialist
A while ago, before a trip to the beautiful lakes of northern Italy, I had a fortnight “free”. Instead of doing something useful like cleaning the gutters or replacing the broken patio slabs, I decided to do something useful like learning Italian. Or rather, I got to page 2 of my Teach Yourself Italian book and decided it was similar enough to Spanish (which I had studied to university degree level) to be able to wing it. Pronouncing Spanish words with a comedy Italian accent seemed to be the way to go. So, I took the book back to the Oxfam bookshop so that someone else, whose linguistic need was greater than mine, could benefit. And then I went and did something else useful, like watching the test match.
Feeling rather smug I couldn’t wait to get started. My first few conversations went pretty well, but to be fair, they consisted mostly of Ciao, buongiorno, grazie, molto bene, si, arrivederci. In the field, it turned out that I didn’t have the confidence after all to say anything past the initial pleasantries, which anyone can learn in fifteen minutes. So much for my linguistic superiority!
And then I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Roberto. The owner-manager of a little shop opposite the hotel and officially the friendliest man in Italy. Somehow I felt sufficiently at ease to venture beyond the very basics, and using my general Latin language formula, was entering into something that could be described as a “conversation”. Even when he broke into German I was able to tell him – even in Italian managing to instil a suitable amount of mock indignation – that I wasn’t in fact German (Non sono tedesco…) but English and that I would like to continue speaking Italian.
Roberto indulged me. We continued our conversation; I was on a roll, happily and I thought successfully using Spanish-esque words and phrases, but copying the tonal inflections of the Italian footballers being interviewed on Match of the Day so that I could be sure of sounding right.
Gradually, after an increasing amount of smiles, he raised his hand and mimicking my earlier phrase, told me: “Non sono spagnolo!” (I’m not Spanish).
Straight back to the Oxfam bookshop…
Andrew Wenger is the founder/director of SameSkyLanguages, and will gladly teach you Spanish, German, French… but not Italian.