To Learn the Language (and Not Sound Like an Idiot)


One of the things I find most frustrating about learning another language is how stupid I sound sometimes. I can usually get my point across in a conversation, but I’m forced to do it using childlike language as opposed to sounding like an adult. I’m capable of expressing myself pretty well in English, I like to think, so when I speak Italian I often find myself essentially talking myself into a corner – wanting to say one thing and then finding myself unable to and having to talk around the obstacles in order to explain myself. Again, more often than not I’m able to get my meaning understood by whoever I’m talking to, but it’s frustrating all the same to be unable (as yet) to express myself using the same level of language in Italian that I use in English.

To-Learn-the-Language-and-Not-Sound-Like-an-Idiot

Imagine my dismay, then, when I read some recent items online – one telling me that the Italian language is even more ornate (especially the written language) than English, so I really have much further to go than even I thought; and two talking about how SMS (that’s text-messaging to anyone from the US) has invaded “normal” Italian writing, so I have yet another language to translate now. Egads.

The SMS thing is probably the lesser of the two evils here, as it’s just a matter of decoding. It’s not surprising that the Italians might not be crazy about how common SMS abbreviations are getting, but I love that they’ve got a watchdog group keeping tabs on it. To be fair, they’re really keeping tabs on the Italian language as a whole, but the warning about teachers being “on their guard” to keep SMS abbreviations from getting into their students’ papers seems a bit much. Would any teacher really let that slide?

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Deirdre has collected what I think is a useful list of SMS abbreviations and what they really mean. She’s got photos of a couple that were turned into graffiti, but most of them are just listed in dictionary form. I think I’ll have to keep this page bookmarked and study it later.

As for the “real” written language, according to Elizabeth, who is taking private Italian lessons to help her perfect her writing and presentation skills in a lanugage she’s spoken now for 25 years, it’s all about style – as so many Italian things are. She discussed this with her tutor:

We talked about the different “concept of style” in Italian with respect to English. How it is not as important what you say, but how you say it — a question of style. She told me that it is just a cultural difference that you have to accept if you want to write well in Italian, you have to work on being ornate, not succinct. Circumscribed, not direct. Pay attention to the sounds of the phrases, the rhythm and flow.

Admittedly, the “rhythm and flow” of Italian is one of the things that draws me to it – I find it to be such a musical language, and (I can’t think of any other way to describe it) it just feels good in my mouth. It feels good to get my tongue around the sounds of the Italian language, that’s all there is to it. So I love that the language is, at least partly, about style. And yet I’m faced with the reality that even if I consider myself to be reasonably fluent someday, I’ll still probably sound like a grade-schooler for many years. I guess I’ll have to satisfy myself with simply being understood.

Photo by: stacymae