Living, Learning, and Language

While it may change in the (not too distant future), we are still living in Italy.  It has its challenges, but we have acclimated and are enjoying our life in Rome.  Aside from the 2 or 3 months in the summer of unrelenting, stifling heat, the climate here is one of the aspects we enjoy most, especially in comparison to Vancouver; we manage to get out (almost) every weekend to go for a hike or to go rock climbing and I find myself getting excited each weekend for new adventures.  It’s a beautiful country and we are having an amazing time exploring it.

Interestingly (or not), one of the main complaints I have is still my lack of Italian.  In retrospect, I realize I should have taken a course when we initially moved;  I have friends living here who went to school every day for 4 months (4-5 hours a day) and that was enough for them to get a good handle on the language as a solid foundation and then just gradually work from there in improving vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.  In my case, when we first moved here, I was home with Frankie and didn’t have 4 hours a day to learn Italian so I would just log into Duolingo each night for 20 minutes or so after she went to sleep.  Eventually, we got a tutor but 1 hour a couple of days a week is just not enough to make fast progress.  I continued to work through Duolingo, however, (eventually purchasing a couple of other applications with which I’ve had limited success) working myself up to the level where I can have simple conversations, can understand fairly well (subject dependent), and can read quite well — basically, as my tutor says, “sufficiente” (I like to say that I can hold my own but just barely).  I’ve had my current tutor, on and off, for over a year and we speak via Skype and he allows me to speak in Italian without (too) much fear of embarrassment — actually, he’s great, very patient, and our conversations are always entertaining.

Living in Italy doesn’t mean one simply learns Italian by some strange osmosis; one actually needs to be immersed (actively listening and speaking in Italian a majority of the time).  And for us, unfortunately, we speak English.  We speak English at home, Jesse speaks English at work and Frankie is currently not sharing any of her Italian with her dumb parents (yes, she speaks Italian and, yes, she has the cutest little accent and I couldn’t be prouder).  We don’t have Italian friends — the friends we have who are Italian speak English very well so it’s just more natural to speak in English, rather than stilted Italian.  So, it’s a slow process but it’s progressing and I’m ok with that.  Plus, we have a great foundation for learning other Romance languages so I’ll be at an advantage when I start my next language.

As you may or may not be able to imagine, we are still having our share of embarrassing language experiences and, after recounting 1 or 2 of them to my parents last night, I decided to really just cement them in my brain forever by dedicating a post to a few recent mistakes.  Firstly, I’d like to preface this by saying that when I say “we” I am referring to BOTH myself and Jess; these mistakes are not just mine alone — when Jesse told me a few months ago that he mistakenly told the police in Sardinia that he and his friend were just going to go and play instruments at the beach, rather than go for a swim at the beach as they were planning, I laughed for longer than was probably kind but it was just such a relief to hear someone else recount a story of verb-mixing because it’s soooo relatable.  So, a few days later, when I told another mom at Frankie’s daycare that Frankie rained (instead of cried), I didn’t feel quite as dumb as I would normally, as I understand that it’s just a normal part of learning and happens to everyone.

That said, I will admit that I did feel dumb the other day at Frankie’s daycare (where I have recently begun teaching English) when a 4-year-old said to his friend, in front of me, “she doesn’t understand anything”.  And while I wanted to scream that I understand enough not to pick my nose in front of a classroom of kids, I just smiled and turned away to hide my tears (ok, I’m joking, there were no tears, I just answered him in English that I did understand and I asked him in English if he understood me — BAM, taught that 4-year-old a lesson…ok, joking again…).  Accents and kids are funny, especially in the little town where I live because there are not a lot of foreigners and the ones who are foreign speak Italian very well, so I understand that it’s difficult to understand me and my strange accent.  And, actually, the kids are just a reflection of the adults; often, when I try to pronounce a particularly difficult word when I’m chatting with the other parents at the daycare, the mom or dad will say “Oddio” (basically, like oh God) because they don’t understand me and feel uncomfortable.  And, then there’s Frankie’s teacher (who I love), whose voice just proceeds to increase in volume until she’s almost yelling and I still don’t understand (because it turns out that saying something louder actually isn’t effective!) and everyone just feels uncomfortable.

But, honestly, as I’m writing this I’m laughing because, as frustrating as it is, it’s funny and I think this makes me a better person (in some convoluted way, no?).  So, when I reflect back about how someone asked me yesterday, in a way that I’ve never heard before (in Italian, there are hundreds of ways to say the same thing) where I am from and I gave them my current street address I just have to smile and think of all the character I’m building.

4 Responses to “Living, Learning, and Language”

  1. Your Mom ;-) says:

    Wow! I can’t believe you managed to write this — so well, so entertainingly — and with a deft use of semi-colons to please your English Prof Mama 😉 — since we FaceTimed yesterday. Dad and I relate to this so well, although we’ve never had to live in a second language for as long as you have, nor manage all those daily interactions. We experienced the same thing in your little town this winter, though — numerous times, even though my Italian was clearly very limited, the person I was speaking to would simply repeat what they were saying, but louder, and often faster. Didn’t help at all!

    • Rhiannon Sprout says:

      I was thinking about this post for awhile and then, after we spoke last night, I decided to just go for it.
      Yes, it’s a tough slog for English-speakers (with only one language) to learn another but I’m hoping the next one is easier. I’m sure the Italian is probably at least a little familiar to you guys, right? Anyway, glad you can relate and thanks for your nice comments. ❤️😘

  2. Zach says:

    Nice photos! You guys are getting up to some very cool adventures.

    I love that that little guy thought he could talk behind your back but in front of your face! Motivation to learn the language even better? Pretty impressive progress you’ve made already.

    • Rhiannon Sprout says:

      It was so funny, actually. He just turned to his friend and went “lei non capisce niente” and I was like, “excuse me sir!”

      Yea, I need to work at it more but it’s not that fun and it turns out I’m a bit lazy.

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