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Learning Italian: How To Talk Stupid

written by M.E. Evans April 11, 2013

One of the most difficult things about learning a new language isn’t the memorization or the studying which requires just a little time and dedication, rather, it’s trying to keep some of my pride intact while I walk around sounding like a drunk three year old. Trying to laugh at myself while knowing that everyone I come in contact with thinks I’m an idiot. “Those chips me like they good so good,” or, “This dress in window me want for to be in black maybe you no have?” And people spend a lot of time laughing at you, staring at you, and wondering why you just said, “I would like to fuck this thing if you have it,” because for some reason you can NOT remember the difference between scopare and scoprire which mean, “to fuck” and “to discover.”

It’s also more difficult learning a language when you have a partner who is fluent. They’re sitting next to you at a dinner party talking about molecular biology while you’re saying things like, “I went school. I finished. I learned. I moved Italy.” It must be at least a little embarrassing to know me during times like that when all of his friends are thinking, “Nice catch buddy, which institution did you pick her up from?” Since I’m super shy at times it took me much longer to learn Italian then it took most of my friends. My advice to anyone who wants to learn Italian is to get really drunk and then just speak. You can study, you can practice, you can read, “The Idiots Guide To Learning Italian,” cover to cover thirty-five times (which I’ve done) but you won’t be able to speak until you let yourself be stupid. Unfortunately, learning a new language is agreeing to be child-like and uneducated for a certain amount of time but it really is only temporarily. If you commit to sounding like an idiot for a solid month you’ll quickly pick up the language and will be talking like a rather intelligent seven or even eight year old, in no time. 

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notyourvictim April 11, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Everyone has a skill, mine is languages. My comprehension is always better than my production, but people at least seem to understand me, so I assume I don’t completely suck. The one thing that surprised me on this last trip was that when I did make a mistake, everyone nodded at me knowingly and then asked if I was Spanish. People kept arguing with me that I couldn’t be an American, too, but in their defense, I was far more polite than most of the Americans I saw on my trip, so maybe they were just trying to be nice.

Anyway, if you haven’t, I have to suggest you get a copy of “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. It’s various stories about his struggles learning French when he first moved to France with his partner. I read his latest book on the flight to Europe and he apparently still sounds

M.E. Evans April 11, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Italians have a stereotype of what “American” looks and acts like and they are often shocked when someone doesn’t fit into that very narrow idea which is basically a loud, rude, blonde haired, three-hundred pound overweight person wearing shorts and a tank top in december. I have to admit, however, that loads of those “Americans” do exist and are often touring Italy. However, we both know that many, many of us don’t resemble that kind of person. I’ve never been mistaken for an American either. In fact, despite my obvious accent when I speak Italian, most people will assume I’m simply from another region that they’re not familiar with since Italians can’t usually understand people well from other regions. In the south people always assume I’m Florentine, in Florence I’m usually mistaken for Milanese or French. I’ve always found it odd.

I love David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty One Day is brilliant and pretty much sums up most of my time in Italy.

How was your trip? Were you happy to make it back to your dog? Everything went well?

notyourvictim April 12, 2013 at 1:11 am

This makes total sense. I’m 5’6 with dark hair and of a completely average height/weight ratio- I wondered if maybe “You don’t look American” might have been a reflection of my weight!

I had a great time, though honestly Florence was a little ruined for me by the “Ugly Americans” that were everywhere. My favorite was a family of 9 from Jersey whose matriarch yelled loudly at a waiter (in English, of course) about how she was more Eye-talian than he was and he’d better get her real spaghetti and meatballs- well-done! I didn’t even know them but I was mortified to be in the same building! I think if I’d have had someone else with me I could have better appreciated the humor, but instead I felt like people would know that these were my countrymen and judge me for it or something. Insane paranoia, I know, but it was still very real at the time! Rome and Venice were great. I’d still like to move there, but I just don’t see it as being in the cards in the near future. Hell, I used to think maybe one day I’d just meet some awesome European and get the marriage citizenship, but between my crashing failure of a marriage and reading about what a pain it’s all been for you, I’m second guessing that dream, too.

By the end of the trip I missed my dog so much it was bordering the pathetic. Everywhere I went people had little dogs and it just made me miss Bexley more. It seems to have helped with her separation anxiety, though, she hasn’t cried when I leave her at doggie daycare ever since (she goes once a week because she loves other dogs and it’s the only way she really gets to play with them because Denver dog parks suck.) She mostly did great while I was away, though apparently she peed on everything (including other dogs) from the time I dropped her off until the time she came home- something she’s never done before or since! How’s Oliver doing? Did your trip help with his separation anxiety at all?


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