About a year ago, I blogged about the things one wants to do but never gets around to. One of those things was reading The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. As mentioned in a later blog, I did finally read it, with great delight.
Another thing I never got around to was learning Italian. I am not sure what finally did it. Watching Divorce, Italian Style? Writing Your Scandalous Ways and immersing myself in Venice (even though Venetian & Italian are not the same language)?
Whatever the impetus, ten days ago my husband and I started Conversational Italian classes. Thanks to our amazingly patient teacher–an actual Italian man who is actually from Italy–I can now greet people (Buon giorno, everybody!) and introduce myself (Mi chiamo Loretta) as well as identify the dog, the cat, the pen, the mother, the father, the blackboard, the professor, the dictionary, and some other things.
Anyway, my vocabulary is growing by something less than leaps and bounds but it’s all interesting and enjoyable as well as incredibly hard, because I am two or three hundred years old, not five or six, which is the age at which one really ought to begin learning other languages. We have one high school student in our class, and…OK, I want to shake her because it’s so much easier for her to learn. It’s a good thing we haven’t any first graders in the class, to humiliate the lot of us.
However, the class also includes a veteran of WWII. If he can learn, so can I.
He, however, agrees that the older you get, the harder it is to learn a new language. And Italian ain’t easy to begin with.
As happens with so many other languages, we English speakers must wrestle with masculine and feminine nouns and the assorted articles one must attach to same. English has one definite article, “the.” It has two indefinite articles, “a” and “an.” This is one way we make up for the completely demented way we spell and pronounce words. Italian, which has a consistent way of spelling and pronouncing, has seven thousand articles. Or so it seems to a beginner.
And we haven’t even got to conjugating verbs yet.
However, my husband and I both did learn Latin back a century or two ago, and while we have forgotten most of what we learned, we do recognize similarities and grasp certain foreign concepts. Like the difference between the formal and informal or singular and plural second person. In English, we lost this distinction a good while back. In English, you are always “you” whether you are the president of the company or my sister, no matter how many of you there are. Not so in other languages. This, I ought to point out, includes the language Southern (my husband’s native tongue), in which the plural of you is formed thusly: “you all.” And contracted to “y’all.”
But I digress.
Why learn a new language at this time of my life? It’s not as though I lack for ways to occupy my time. In fact, my time is horrendously over-occupied.
But as I told the teacher when he asked us why we were taking the class, learning Italian was simply something I’ve always wanted to do. I did not tell him that I am an author, so he doesn't know that my latest book is set in Venice, or that discussions with my brilliant and hard-working consultant, Anna of the Isn’t it Romantic blog, gave me a new appreciation of the language and its subtleties. Yet it’s likely that writing and researching Your Scandalous Ways as well as those discussions gave me the final push to do something that, frankly, is a little scary.
I have been writing for… erm…a really long time. I’ve grown comfortable with the English language and developed a degree of skill in using it. There’s a sense of accomplishment in having attained a degree of proficiency (though by no means perfection) in the language of my early 19thC English characters. It’s gratifying to know something about a particular historical period in a particular place, to be able to recognize names and dates and have a picture in my head of a world that’s invisible to most other people. It's easy to build on this foundation. It's easy to visualize and place people and events every time I open a new book on some aspect of this subject. With early 19th C England, with the English language, in short, I’m in my comfort zone.
Starting all over again, plunging into a new world and language with a much older brain, is humbling, to say the least. And at the same time, it’s exhilarating. Every word and concept I master feels like a great accomplishment. That is not a feeling one has every day in one’s everyday life. In fact, it's the closest I've come to the thrill I felt when I first learned to read.
What about you? Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn–if you could afford it or find the time or work up the courage? Have you done it? Do you think you will? And if any of you have studied Italian–or any other language, for that matter–please feel free to share the experience.