Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Buon giorno tutti

Started an Italian class on Monday. I can tell it's going to be challenging, and confusing, but fun, too. The onus is on conversation, which will create problems for me, since I'm the kind of person who wants to know why things are said the way they are. I'm never satisfied with "that the way it is". Of course, no one's preventing me delving into the language more deeply on my own. I found some interesting sites on the Internet, especially Oggi e Domani, which has the most extensive number of lessons (free of charge) with sound files for pronunciation, both from a woman's voice and a man's voice (in this case Venus, from Botticelli, and David, from Michelangelo).

When I say I'm learning Italian, people ask me why. For fun, I reply. They look at me as if I said I love to swim outside in winter. If I'd said because I wanted to travel to Italy (which is the major reason for people in my class), then that would be okay. Even commendable. But for fun?

It amazes me how, in Canada, and probably the States as well, learning a new language is regarded as something of a chore, or an imposition, or an obligation (to keep your job, for instance, if you work in the government).

I don't know if it's a function of our Canadian bilingualism policies. If something is imposed on you, you tend to resist it. On the other hand, before we had these policies, there were no more learning of French (or English) than there is now, if it's not because you have to do it. The attitude is "Why learn French (Spanich, Italian, German), if I'll never use it? Besides, English is spoken around the world."

What most unilingual people don't understand is that, in learning another language, you get an inkling of how people from another culture think, approach problems, interact, live. And believe me, it's different. French Canadian people live and think differently than English Canadian. So do the Walloon and Flemish of Belgium, or the Basque and Castillanos of Spain. I find it exciting to get a glimpse into another culture through their language.

Even within a language there are differences. When I was learning Spanish, I was going out with a guy from Venezuela, who had friends from Colombia, Peru, Argentina. Their use of the same words had different meanings, and in turn didn't match usage in Spain. I found this fascinating. For instance, in Spain, to "coger el autobus" means to catch a bus. In Latin America, it means to fuck a bus. Ooops. As I said, fascinating, even if rife with verbal shoals.

So I'm looking forward to learning more Italian. I'll be able to jabber out the language (eventually) when I go buy my San Pellegrino at Nicastro's, or order my prosciutto without everyone around me glaring. How's that for a reason to learn Italian?

For some Italian art, visit the Galleria degli Uffizi.

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