So today’s Daily Post is all about language and it reminded me of a lifelong dream I have that I totally forgot about until I opened my inbox this morning. Funny how that happens.
Time for a history lesson: when I was in high school (five years ago, say again?!) we were forced to learn Italian in Year 8. Well, I say forced. I loved it. See, a few months before, my mum had told my sister and me that we have an Italian heritage we knew nothing about. Cool, right? That knowledge, coupled with the fact that I was fascinated by the whole idea of another language meant I was pretty good picking up the language. I remember all my little Year 8 classmates bustling around my notebook like it held all the answers of the universe within its pages.
Naturally, I took Italian as an elective in Year 9 and 10. It was so much better than that first year because we all actually wanted to be there. We learnt the interesting stuff. Plus, my Italian-to-English dictionary taught me all the swear words I needed.
- puttana – bitch
- zitto – shut up!
- vaffanculo – fuck off!
- merda – shit!
- cazzo – dick
I definitely took advantage of my education.
I have two prized memories from my Italian classes.
My first was from my very first lesson in Year 9 when my teacher asked me if I were Spanish. Apparently, when I said my Italian “r’s” I lilt like a Spaniard. Sexy. I claim that, even if I’m essentially half Italian.
My second was from the last few minutes of a class. We were putting our chairs on the desk to help the cleaners. I was feeling helpful that afternoon so I put my friend Tom’s chair on his desk for him. He turned around a few moments later after talking to our mutual friend Ellie, seen his chair, and went to say thank you.
For the record, “thank you very much” in Italian is mille grazie, or grazie mille depending on your mood. And that’s what Tom was supposed to say. But it was last period and we were all Italian’d out. So instead he says, with a huge grin on his face I might add:
which not only means “very fat”, but it’s the masculine version of “very fat”. To call a woman fat you say grassa. So instead of thanking me, he called me a very fat man.
But, God, did he go red when I pointed this out to him. And then we both walked out of there explaining to Ellie what had just happened, laughing ourselves stupid.
Then I became a senior and I tackled both Advanced and Extension Italian. Advanced was great. Only thing was, at the beginning of Year 11 about 7/8 of the class had just got back from the school Italy trip, which I couldn’t go on. Way too expensive. So everyone was writing recounts – in Italian of course – about their favourite aspects of that particular trip. And there was me, writing about what I would have liked to have seen in Italy. On the plus side, my best mate brought me back a bracelet from one of the markets over there, and I still have it. That was cool.
Our class had Beginners in with us because there weren’t that many. We Advanced kids could occasionally feel really smart by explaining things to them. But then, in conversation exercises, we got paired with people at our same skill level. Which was fine…except I was always more of a writer than a speaker (yes, even in a different language). I’d be sitting there, understanding everything that was being said, but when it was my turn to reciprocate, the words just wouldn’t come. I was always tempted just to write out what I wanted to say and give it to the other guy, claiming tonsillitis or laryngitis or that a monkey had stolen my vocal chords. Without sounding up myself, I was in the top three of that class because of my writing. Speaking has never been my forte.
Extension Italian was kind of a bludge. I mean, we had to write a lot of stuff down, but we were in class during the two hours everyone else in our year had off, and the stuff we were writing was usually some kind of break down of this Italian movie called La Vita é Bella. A truly amazing movie that I insist you watch. It truly is bella. Plus, it comes with subtitles. Anyway, the class just kind of meandered along, with a lot of distractions and tangents along the way. I have a feeling my fellow Year 12’s were jealous. Most of the classes that year, especially the extension ones, were hardcore. But ours was just cruisy. And scaled incredibly well when it came to our end-of-year marks.
As I was applying for universities, I looked into languages. I was so close to being fluent. I could understand most everything that was said to me, but I struggled with the whole talking back part. Unfortunately, in Brisbane, languages are only studied at one uni, at the so-called “Language Hub” and I was already dealing with the impossibilities of the registration process at QUT. So I gave it up.
And slowly, but surely, I have lost everything I learnt in those five years of high school. I mean, I still know how to pronounce things properly, that it’s eSpresso not eXpresso, that words ending in o are masculine and a are feminine, that adjectives go after the noun, and how the whole plural thing works, but that really isn’t as much as it sounds. What I really remember are the aspects of grammar that I picked up along the way. It is true what they say: learning another language helps with your English.
For example: in my second year of my writing degree we had a class dedicated to grammar. Almost everything we touched on I had already learnt one way or another in my high school Italian class. How’s that for messed up? High school English doesn’t teach you what an Italian class does. No, high school English teaches you things that university lecturers and tutors try to erase from your brain as quickly as possible. That’s the education system for you.
One day when I have a real job, and have saved enough money and long serve leave, I’ll go to Italy for six months, a year, longer, and pick up the language through osmosis. I mean, apparently that’s the best way to learn anyway.