It didn’t come easy!

Italian Language Workshop
Italian Language Workshop (Photo credit: Context Travel)

Daily Prompt: Apply Yourself

Describe your last attempt to learn something that did not come easily to you.

So there I was, sitting in a cramped classroom in the Dante Alighieri Centre in Johannesburg, reciting verb conjugations.

“Io sono, tu sei, lui è….” the class droned on. My tongue stumbled over the vowels and double letters (which are both supposed to be pronounced in the Italian language). I couldn’t even hear the difference between one letter and two letters! We spent the three hour weekly lesson following the antics of cartoon characters an badly photocopied pages and repeating grammar drills endlessly, but we never seemed to apply those drills in any conversation of our own. Our frantic pleas for more conversation skills was that you had to be ADVANCED level to attend the conversation classes. Say WHAT! I was sure I would never get to that level, or if I did, I would be old and grey.

Nevertheless, I persevered, and after two years was considered to be at the pre-intermediate level. I could use the present tense fairly well, but the past was still a mystery to me as I grappled with passato prossimo and trapassato, not to mention passato remoto. To speak a romance language, you need a good memory as there are so many tenses and conjugations to learn. My memory was getting an olympic workout, but only giving amateur results! I made myself a vocabulary book with pictures and the names of common items. That helped me to learn more words. I thought I was doing brilliantly! Initially, I had been learning for fun, but around that time, a life change resulted in our move to Italy. Boy, was I in for a shock!

I arrived in Italy in October 2002 thinking I would seamlessly integrate. I pictured myself making friends and having long conversations, but the truth was that I could hardly understand what people were saying, and every time I wanted to dive into a conversation with a comment, I found myself momentarily (or sometimes permanently) lost for words. By the time I found my little comment, the conversation had moved on. People were very kind when they realised my predicament, and often waited for me to find the words, but my frustration often moved me to tears or to clam my mouth shut and only listen.

It’s now ten years later. Have I reached the point where I can have a seamless conversation? Sadly, not. Since I teach English, I speak English most of the day. We have a habit of speaking English at home, and we tend to watch satellite TV – you guessed it – in English. We have a stock saying in the ESL business: Use it or lose it! I can make myself understood when I need to buy something and I can read quite well, but I still make some horrendous mistakes. (More about those in another post).

Have you learnt another language? What were the challenges for you, and how have you fared?



3 thoughts on “It didn’t come easy!

  1. I really admire you for your efforts. Learning a different language was painful for me – and probably even more painful for the teachers! I never was successful at it.


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