Friday, August 24, 2007

Learning to Speak Italian

Learning to speak Italian has been a remarkable experience for me. I took Spanish for 3 years in high school, but used it sparingly over the years, and never made any headway with improving those skills.

I totally underestimated the difficulty of learning a new particular Italian which is a very "specific" language. They use feminine and masculine forms, and the verb forms change to match the person. There are 14 tenses for conjugating verbs, and there are 7 forms of speaking depending on how, what when and where, you are speaking and whether you are speaking or writing.

At my school there are 6 levels. I of course started at Level 1, and today, I am finishing level 4. I feel a strong sense of accomplishment, but also that I have far to go to consider myself "fluent" in Italian. I would say today that I can speak the language, but absolutely am not fluent.

The courses are set up in 2 week segments. Few people start at level 1 as I have and stay for 6 months. Most often people have been studying Italian for years, and come to the school to take their skills to the next level. Generally they stay 2 weeks to a month. Of course, when you come for a short period of time, you want to learn as much as possible. Therefore, the 2 week courses, are CRAMMED with material.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that "my hard drive was full" and to decide I needed to repeat some of the courses. That was really helpful for several reasons: 1. It allowed me to go at a slower pace 2. I reinforced things I had learned. 3. When I had visitors or traveled, it isn’t so stressful if I have to miss class. It has taken me 20 weeks to complete 12 weeks of classes back to back.

My comprehension, reading and writing skills are definitely at level 4. I am confident when spoken to in most situations of what is being said. I can watch TV, listen to the news, and "eavesdrop" on conversations in the piazza. When it comes to speaking, I am a little behind there.

I can carry on a decent conversation. However, most of the conversations that I have are about the same things....where I am from, why I am here, what I do for a living, my family, my friends, visitors, travels, etc. My vocabulary around speaking of these things is fine and my sentences are usually pretty simple. Books, newspapers, and tv shows usually have more complex sentences, and larger vocabularies, that when reading or hearing them, I can get the "gist" of, but if I had to say those things, would really need to know and be able to use the words correctly.

It is very strange for me to sit in a classroom of very bright international students usually no older than 24, and have them run circles around me in their abilities! It has been humbling but oh so rewarding!

No comments: