Learning Italian

We had a video call with J on Saturday, and it was a special treat because she took the call while she was working on a cooking project in the kitchen, which meant that one host sister and both host parents made brief appearances. Even better, a couple of times J turned away from us to chat with her host mom or dad, talking weekend logistics. When she came back on, we said, “You’re so good at Italian!” She demurred, saying she wasn’t that good at all. I said, “If August J could hear how well December J can speak, she’d be so impressed!” So: go her. She is having a fantastic time. Her host family is wonderful, the kids in her class are terrific, the school has been easy on her with the academic work, she’s made friends from all over the world, she’s playing volleyball, and she’s been traveling and saying yes to all sorts of experiences.

We’ll be going to visit in March, so Cute W and I have been trying to learn some Italian. I can speak a little broken French very badly, and Cute W can speak Spanish better than I can speak French, but Italian is new to us. We’ve gotten deeply sucked into Duolingo. I don’t want to brag or anything, but. . .

Okay, I am bragging! Look at me! Sadly, this “top 1%” status has no correlation to actual skill at the language; it’s purely that I’ve been consistently trying. But hey, consistently trying is nothing to sneeze at. Our family has had stints of using Duolingo to try to learn French and Spanish before our other trips. But I think between the fact that we are now empty nesters and that we are hoping that we’ll be meeting more actual Italians instead of just sightseeing on the upcoming trip, Cute W and I are more dedicated than ever. We’ll see how we do.

Along with the Duolingo, I’ve been listening to this audiobook while I take walks:

Apparently Paul Noble does these with a bunch of different languages, and it is as-yet-inconclusive how effective it is for teaching me the language, but it makes learning feel very manageable. He basically narrates through a bunch of “How would you says” that build on each other until he’s asking you to say something like, “Can we invite Paul to Rome this afternoon?” and you’re like, “Okay, I know how to say that,” or he’s having you talk through scenarios where you ask where to find the tourist office and then go to a restaurant and order risotto and a glass of white wine. It sometimes feels slow and repetitive, but that’s because a lot of times you have to repeat things a ton of times before you actually remember them, anyway. Now you’ll understand if you see me walking around Old Niskayuna saying, “Possiamo invitare Paolo? . . . Possiamo invitare Paolo a Roma? . . . Possiamo invitare Paolo a Roma questo pomeriggio?”

I fully expect that even with these efforts, we’ll be fairly useless trying to speak Italian once we make it to Italy. But the secret I’ve learned in my travels so far is that most people speak English, anyway, but folks are infinitely more friendly and welcoming when they see that you’re at least putting in the effort to speak their language.

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