Non parlo l’Italiano

My brain is not wired for languages.

I mean, I do fine with English, but I attribute that to a love of reading the stories and thoughts of other people who are wired for language.

My dear friend Rachel graduates from seminary this week, having essentially mastered both Greek and Hebrew. Each of these languages comes with its own alphabet and tonal sounds not found in English. Now, she worked hard to master these languages, but in watching her write Hebrew – backwards – or listening as foreign sounds flowed easily from her tongue, it became so clear to me that this is just not something I would ever be good at. [See? Ending sentences with a preposition is a grammatical no-no, but it just feels so right!]

Somehow, my 6+ years of unproductive Spanish classes and hours of sitting in a mystified stupor as Rachel raced through Hebrew flashcards refused to counteract my romanticized dream of learning Italian. You see, my family has been planning a trip to Italy for about 6 months. As the days and months ticked by, my desire to flawlessly converse in this ancient language overpowered my better judgment. I am the owner of not one, but two Italian dictionaries and phrasebooks and have shamelessly checked out multiple “learn Italian” cds from the library.

Having been to Italy several years prior, I got an early confidence boost when words like “buongiorno!” and “ciao!” and “scuzi” sounded familiar. I worked through numbers 1-20 and was only slightly deterred when a middle school boy with an Italian father told me I was “ruining” the pronunciation of “dieci.” (Who needs the number 10 anyway?!)

But then, the trouble started. Extra syllables found their way into simple phrases like “would you like something to drink?” My tongue kept tripping every time I said “il restaurante” and it would come out as “il listaurante” instead. Just when I thought I had mastered the word “giriadestra” it turns out that it was three words all along (“giri a destra” – turn right).

But, my inability to master (or, lets be serious, even begin to understand) Italian may just prove to set me free. I will board a plane to Italy in a little more than 48 hours with, at best, the ability to communicate as well as a toddler. I will be relying on the generosity and sympathy of local Italians to guide me along the way. And perhaps in this way, a more truer Italy will emerge. And as we go, I will follow this beautiful language and dream of renown artists and fierce emperors and simple tradesman following the same routes that I am, and speaking in this language that for me, exists only in my imagination.


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