If you’re an expat in Italy, you’ve inevitably been asked at least one of the following questions:
Can you speak Italian?
Are you fluent yet?
How did you learn Italian?
How long did it take you to learn Italian?
First off, I would just like to point out that these questions are highly annoying to answer because they are not formulated correctly and in my opinion, we should stop asking them in this way.
Can you speak Italian? Well, I don’t think that’s something you can say yes or no to- a person could be able to speak to the barista at their local bar and be completely conversational yet but not be able to carry a discussion about global warming or the immigration crisis. Would that person answer yes or no to that question? It’s not concrete. It’s not like one day you don’t speak a language and the next day, *waving magic wand*…POOF! You speak Italian! Yipee! The problem with the second question is two-fold. The use of “yet” implies that at some point, you’re expected to be fluent. Not the case. Why are we putting on this fluency expectation on expats? But second of all, what is fluency? This goes back to the previous point. Is fluency being able to live in a country with ease and make local friends or could it be giving a presentation about rocket science physics? Is it speaking in stops and starts but with perfect grammar or is it speaking fluidly with mistakes? And besides that, I think we also have to ask ourselves…is fluency a requirement to live abroad? Is it so-called “inevitable” that a person will naturally “pick it up” after X years in X country? Because when you ask someone “are you fluent yet?”, you are essentially forcing all those implications on the person you’re asking.
Finally, the third question…HOW DID YOU LEARN ITALIAN? I don’t like the verb tense that we ask this question in. It would be more appropriate to use Present Perfect Continuous to illustrate an action in the past that is still continuing currently and will likely continue in the future: How have you been learning Italian? LEARNING A LANGUAGE IS FOREVER. It is a never-ending process without a finish-line. It’s not like I look back in my past and can say, “ah yes, I’ll never forget Thursday, September 15th…the day I learned Italian”. I don’t make a little cake to celebrate the anniversary of The Day I Learned Italian. Yet this is what is more or less suggested when we ask someone “how did you learn Italian?”. Even the last question there, asking about how long….I think we should re-word that to: how long have you been studying Italian? Because again, the learning doesn’t stop. When people ask me how long it took me, I tell the truth: NINE YEARS AND I’M STILL LEARNING…It’s inaccurate to have an exact number of years, months, days, that encompass when you “learn” a specific language. So please everyone, before asking about someone’s language skills, think about how you word your question. Maybe ask about their relationship with the language, their struggles, what’s difficult for them and what they like about it…I can have days where I hate Italian, or in particular, hate my Italian, or days when I’m tongue-tied. Other days that I love it and feel great about speaking and the progress that I’ve made. Just something to keep in mind! What are your thoughts about this?
For everyone that is curious about what my formal Italian “study path” has been (it's something I get asked alot and is rather dull to hear about but perhaps in list-form, it'll give you a better indication of how I've been studying Italian!), I’ll include it below:
40 hours Italian 1 and 2 (Metro Continuing Education) –this is an adult continuing education course, so no exams, very informal approach to the language. It met in the evenings.
Approximately 10 hours of private tutoring- I did hour-long sessions with my teacher from the above.
ITALIAN 111: Beginner’s Italian (University of Alberta) – these were each 3-credit courses that lasted one semester each. I don’t remember the exact lesson schedule but 3-credit courses are normally around an average of 45 hours (3 hours per week for a 15 week semester).
The photograph above is the Old Arts Building at the University of Alberta where I took alot of my Italian lectures, it is where the offices of The Faculty of Modern Languages is located so all my oral examinations were done here.
ITALIAN 112: Beginner’s Italian II (University of Alberta)
ITALIAN 211: Second-Year Italian (University of Alberta)
ITALIAN 212: Second-Year Italian II (University of Alberta)
ITALIAN 340: Topics in Italian Culture (University of Alberta) - interesting note, this course was taught entirely IN Italian and examined in Italian.
ITALIAN 393: Grammar, Composition, and Translation (University of Alberta)
APPROX. Total Hours of university lecture-time: 270 hours (this is probably on the lower side)
= 320 hours of didactic Italian. This does not include study hours outside of classes, time to complete homework assignment and general review and does not include study activities that I currently do such as reading books, listening to the radio etc.
If you want to watch videos of me speaking Italian, make sure to follow the blog Facebook page: www.facebook.com/questadolcevitablog.
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