Learning Italian…or not

In Rome there’s a language lesson lurking around the corner every day. At least there is if you don’t really know Italian.

So far, my efforts to learn the language of my host country have been, in a word, unimpressive. I took lessons with Paul when we first arrived. That was extremely useful. Twice a week for two hours at a time, we were actually making progress. Then Phoebe arrived and our interest in learning a new skill shifted–to parenting.

Since then I’ve made efforts to study the numerous language books, CDs and computer programs we’ve bought. We’re like would-be dieters who trick themselves into thinking, if I just buy a diet cookbook I’m bound to lose some weight! However, as we all know, one must actually use the book in order to see progress. So, that’s that.

In the meantime, my daily jaunts have proven to be quite educational.

There’s the hair salon, where my very nice stylist of about a year speaks English but attempts to “talk” to me in Italian. Quotes are necessary because it’s not really a good conversation. Sometimes I understand, sometimes I laugh politely, sometimes I don’t even know what the topic is. So, that’s that.

I have discovered though, two interesting patterns in the Italian language: words are often based on a root word shared in English, or they’re just very long.

For the first, I was tickled to learn that carne means meat. As in carnivore. Cane means dog. As in canine. There’s an important difference there but it’s interesting to me that the word you seek in Italian is often something close to the very formal version in English. Pastore means shepard, which is neat considering the role of a pastor in church.

For the second, my favorite example came at the post office. I needed stamps. Stamps to mail thank you notes to the States. They use the word “stampe” here but it’s not about mail. That kind of stamp is another cultural lesson in itself: Italians love “official” and “original” stamps, documents and stickers. For things like parking permits, an original copy of everything related to the car will surely be essential–and it’ll likely need a special stamp of some kind. However, on this day, I just needed postage. I tried to say, “stamp”, thinking maybe the word wasn’t vastly different and since we were in the Post Office itself perhaps the context would be enough. It wasn’t. Luckily for me, the clerk in the next booth over heard me and spoke English himself. The word is francobollo. Of course it is.

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1 Comment

Filed under Italian culture

One response to “Learning Italian…or not

  1. Sharon M

    HA! When I traveled there I practiced saying “Vorrei comprare dieci francobolli per Stati Uniti per cartoline”. I was so proud of myself when he handed me 10 stamps. Not sure that was all completely correct. But it did the job.
    Hang in there, Charity!

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