When the Words Fall Out


I’ve posted short pieces previously about not being a native speaker in my adopted country and that the Italian language can at times lead to hilarious circumstances or great confusion. I’m happy when Italian’s praise me on my command of their language, and do find it easier now after several years to hold more than basic conversations. Partly this is due to my working in an office where 75% of the staff don’t speak English, (apart from the few, less than glamorous English words I have taught the boys). I’m equally proud when English people comment on my language skills; however sometimes I do feel like a fraud as I’m not as accomplished as they perceive me to be. But every day brings new vocabulary and a better understanding of those pesky irregular verbs. Only last week in the office I needed a pair of scissors and Nicoletta was on hand to tell me they are called, forbici

Then there’s those pesky words that trip up foreigners, words like, pesce (fish) and pesca (peach), the amount of times I heard an English person in a restaurant ask what’s on the peach menu is innumerable. Recently I fell victim to these tricky nouns: I was offered a coffee and biscotti by a lovely couple whose house I was showing to clients, I accepted the coffee but told them I’d already had breakfast so would pass on the biscuits. The man then asked me what I’d had for breakfast, and I replied that I have the same thing everyday, an egg. However as the Italian for egg is, uova and grape is uva and my pronunciation was lacking that morning, he assumed by grape I meant I have wine for breakfast, which he and his wife found most amusing.

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The most frustrating part of learning a second language is those days when the words fall out. Some mornings it’s as if I’ve woken up and parts of my stored Italian lexicon have fallen out of my ears during the night. For example this week I had a morning when I couldn’t recall the Italian for the word, who and yesterday I’d misplaced the word for, lost.

Another moment was when out one evening in L’Aquila we stopped to get some take away food and I asked for some salad, however as we were in polite company I didn’t want onions and despite foraging through the deepest recesses of my brain the word just would not come, so I ended up with onions, and onion breath all evening.

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There’s also those other moments when the words fall out, usually after too many glasses of wine the night before or a plethora of Peroni. I’m certain that under the influence my language skills are still adequate (although this could be disputed) but the next day I seem to have left great reams of words and whole sentences on the pillow.

This said, I have come to the conclusion that on the whole people are very forgiving of foreigners who mangle their language. I’ve found all of the Italian’s I have come into contact with very helpful and polite and I’m sure this can be said of most people regardless of their country. Unlike years ago in France when I went to buy a loaf of bread. The French shop keeper huffed and puffed before pedantically telling me my pronunciation was wrong. Needless to say I didn’t buy her bread.

No doubt as I continue on my journey with the Italian language there’ll be many more moments where the words fall out or my flat Northern vowels scramble what is in essence a beautifully lyrical language.

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