I have had an Italian language book and dictionary sitting on the shelf next to my desk for about twenty years. That’s how long I’ve been wanting to learn Italian, always looking at the local language class offerings and deciding that there’s no time. I think it’s because it’s one of those things that’s not considered “useful,” although it certainly would be for me in the next week and a half. It’s sort of a frivolous desire, like wanting to learn how to throw a clay pot (another one of my wishes) or taking oil painting lessons (yes, another item on my wish list).
Why Italian? Well, the obvious reason is that I am half Italian and grew up with an Americanized version of many Italian words. But the real reason is that it’s an incredibly beautiful language — one that was created by picking the most beautiful pieces of all the different Italian dialects to create a kind of spoken poetry. I read that it is most closely related to the language Dante used when he wrote The Divine Comedy, forsaking the more typical Latin of the time in favor of something more accessible to the general public.
Italian is a language of beauty, a language of love, a language of food, a language of faith. I can certainly get behind any or all of those. And so I’ve been reading my Italian phrase book and looking things up on Google Translate and, my new favorite, typing things into Forvo, an Italian pronunciation site. You put in a word and some Italian man or woman (they’ll even give his or her location in Italy) will say the word for you. I’m saving the mp3 download of my phrasebook and the three-CD set of Italian lessons for the plane. Even if I don’t learn how to say much, I’ll get the feel for some of it.
I find it interesting that although Spanish and Italian are so closely related and often share similar words or sounds, the closeness actually confuses me a bit. When I try to say something without reading it from a book it comes out as my own version of Spatalian — a cross between the two languages. I’m hoping I can get my point across even if my accent is on the wrong syllabel or if I say “Me llamo Maria” instead of “Mi chiamo Maria.”
Food and faith are the things I most wish I could talk about in Italian. I’d like to go to a cafe or restaurant and blend right in. I’d like to go to Mass and be able to join in the prayers. Maybe next time. For now I will just have to soak up the beautiful sounds and jump in wherever I can. But I’m seriously thinking about taking a class when I get home. How backwards is that?