HAVE A TIN EAR ?
WELL, JOIN THE CROWD
I knew seven Italian words when I first attempted to learn the Italian language. All seven had to do with food and wine, which is probably why I described learning the language as ‘a piece of cake.’ Of course I had completely forgotten my efforts, in my early twenties, to learn the Bantu language, Chinyanja. Yes, I had succeeded, barely – I spoke Chinyanja like a baby – but the quest was fraught with difficulty and now, here I am, a middle-aged man, trying to learn Italian.
It seemed so easy. Like Chinyanja, Italian words have a rhythmic ring to them and most syllables end in a vowel. What could be easier? Besides, every foreigner I ever met, said English was the most difficult language to learn and hadn’t I learned English? When Donald mentioned that English was my mother’s tongue, I meekly replied, “Well, at least I learned it,” adding with a flourish, “and, I can can learn Italian too!”
I should have known that very, very few studenti become fluent in the blessed language. I now know, after twenty plus years, that I will never become as adept at the language as I once thought I would. What I didn’t realize when I started out was that reaching native or bilingual proficiency wasn’t even a possibility nor did it matter.
What did matter was that I spoke. It mattered that I spoke when I knew only a few words. It mattered that I spoke when I was fearful of making an error, even when I sure I would make a fool of myself. And, it mattered that I never stopped trying.
Had I given up I would not have experienced the the sense of accomplishment, pride even, not to mention confidence that comes with speaking, at any level, a new language. I would not have gained the patience and persistence that came with the effort. Nor, would I have met and befriended Guilio, Manuela, Francesco, Stefania, Patrizio, Monica, Paolo, Yuriko, Maria Pia, and so many others, who have enriched my life. I would have never hosted our wedding party or my Peace Corps reunion in Italy, both of which gave me a sense of pride and such joy, as to be unforgettable. I would have missed an untold number of glorious adventures. And, I would have never laughed so hard and so often.
Speaking Italian, even as a baby, a toddler, or a very young adult, has inspired me and kept me young at heart, in mind and spirit, and feeling very much alive.