What’s the word I’m looking for?

Before I made my hopeful journey to Italy, I did some self-studying and took a language class with my mom.  Even though I grew up surrounded by my relatives, who immigrated to Canada, I never really learned the language. It’s one of the few things I regretted when I was older, but something I’m making right now.

When I first moved here, my Italian was minimal, at best.  In the beginning, I stayed with my relatives here and struggled to understand the mixed Italian and dialect that flowed my way.  My means of communication was a string of subjects, un-conjugated verbs, and hand gestures to make myself understood.  Often my days ended with sheer exhaustion.

At some point, I’m not sure when, something must have switched on because, as if overnight, I was able to think and speak in my second language.  Although my Italian isn’t quite at a native speaker level, I get by and at times I’m even complimented.

Now, the biggest problem is switching between the two languages.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to think of a word in English only to come up with the word in Italian instead. Sometimes things don’t translate the same and I find myself using Italian colloquial because it just fits better than any phrase we have in English.  There are even moments when I’m speaking to my non-Italian friends in Italian without realizing it and it’s only after seeing their confused faces that I actually notice that they have no clue what I’m saying because I’m speaking the wrong language. And, let’s not leave out when my friends tease me for saying things in English incorrectly because for some strange reason I’m translating in my head from Italian to English.  It seems the more time I spend here, the more worse (just kidding!) …the worse my English is becoming. Yikes!

Needless to say, I’m quite proud of myself and how far I’ve come along with my Italian language skills.  I love the idea that I can finally say that I’m bilingual. Knowing another language opens you up to a whole new world allowing you to see things from a different point of view. Having a greater grasp on the Italian language, I’m able to delve deeper and discover more – whether it’s having profound conversations with friends, inquiring about traditions or learning something about my past. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to connect with others!

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” – Rita Mae Brown


1 Comment

  1. karenincalabria

    January 13, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    “Sheer exhaustion” – oh, do I ever know that feeling! I studied Italian on my own and then went to a number of intensive language schools in various Italian towns for a month at a time. The classes were in the morning, usually 9 to 1. Well, it doesn’t sound all that strenuous unless you do it. I was completely exhausted from the intense concentration – trying to understand and trying to make myself understood, all in Italian.
    Learning a language is difficult, but so rewarding, as you point out. I also have had the issue of mixing up languages – and if you add a third, I can attest to the fact that it’s even trickier to separate them. I think this is natural, though. I’ve read that people who grow up bilingual have less of a problem with it. Apparently they instinctively know whom to address and in what language, and the brain switches automatically between one language and the other. So from everything I’ve read and experienced, it sounds as though you’re completely normal and you’re right on track, so congratulations on your Italian language accomplishment!

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