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Learning Italian: An Example
It takes a metro ride to learn the Italian language...
Italy is like a magnet that attracts people from all walks of life and backgrounds. It appeals to young and to those who already found their places in life. At different stages in their lives and for different reasons people just fall in love with it. I wasn’t an exception when at the age of 6 in the cold and snowy Russian city of Yekaterinburg I discovered Italian opera and Italian language. I was captivated by it. It was just amazingly beautiful to me.
Many years later I rode a metro to the center of Washington DC. A man who sat across from me passed me a free newspaper. There was an advertisement for Italian language classes at Casa Italiana. The feelings that I had as a little girl listening to an Italian Opera came flooding back. Honestly I never thought of studying Italian but suddenly the idea crossed my mind. My second thought was why didn’t I think about it before.
I called the place to only discover that the classes had already begun. I begged and was admitted at my own risk. A few days before my first class I went to school, paid for the lessons and picked up my books. I knew nothing about the language so when I opened the book and started to read the first chapter I didn’t understand most of it. Neither did I guess pronunciation right but it was corrected during my first class.
What followed were a series of classes during which I struggled to speak and to understand. The Italian grammar with many rules outnumbered by exceptions was difficult to learn. And of course I didn’t have a vocabulary to express myself. I am very talkative by nature and I was constantly short of words in Italian. The only good news was I still loved the language and enjoyed learning the culture from my native-speaking teachers.
Tired of struggling, I hired a tutor with the very famous Italian last name Garibaldi. She was sweat and patient. On the first lesson she asked me what day I was born on. I was overjoyed with the fact that I actually understood her question so I happily shouted February 5th while my birthday is actually on February 4th. Numbers between 11 and 19 were impossible to remember. I confused them for about a year making all sorts of wrong statements. The tutor not only helped to learn the complicated grammar but also encouraged me to start speaking the language. She told me about Italian language schools in Italy and about Italian meetups in Washington DC. I’m a relatively courageous person who came to the US from Russia by herself with no money, so I decided to use my vacation and go to Italy to study Italian.
I arrived in Rome very late at night. After some searching at the famous Leonardo Da Vinci airport I found a train station. There was only one cashier left and he didn’t speak any English. I managed to buy a ticket which was an easy process after I showed him money and my address in Rome. Then I mumbled for a few minutes trying to formulate a simple question, “From which train track does the train depart?” I didn’t manage to state the question, but the clever cashier said, “The train will depart from train track number 3.” At that moment my brain finally kicked in and instead of saying, “Thank you.” I shouted very loudly scaring the birds and a janitor, “What train track does the train depart from?” This was the moment I believed I could speak Italian. I asked the right question only a minute after I received an answer! Every day in Rome was like that with me struggling to understand and respond on time.
I didn’t give up and after my return from Rome I continued practicing Italian at the Italian meetups in Washington DC. In one of those meetings I met an Italian from Rome. He was telling me something for about 10 minutes and I only understood two things, he was from Rome and he went back there often. But I also understood some other incomplete details about him and other members. I finally started to respond and stopped confusing numbers between 11 and 19. And then came one of the most beautiful moments in my life. I listed to one of my favorite Italian operas and suddenly I realized that I understood the lyrics. What followed was a game that I played for months while driving. I played my favorite operas and arias and synchronically translated them to English and my native Russian. I finally understood the Italian operas that captivated me at the age of 6.
Many lessons and many meetups later, I can speak Italian. It is one of the best things I have done in my entire life and one of my proudest achievements. There were many uncomfortable moments but I didn’t give up and I’m very glad I didn’t. I now enjoy speaking Italian and I truly enriched myself through learning many dimensions of Italian culture. To those of you who want to learn Italian I have only one bit of advice – give it a try; and to those who are already studying – don’t give up. Even if you won’t go all the way, I can guarantee you will enjoy the journey as Italy has some much to offer at every step of the way.