On why I STILL don’t speak Italian

Before coming to Italy, I predicted learning the language would be my biggest struggle.

I was right.

But not for the reasons I anticipated.

I thought it would be because I wasn’t a kid anymore and my brain wouldn’t be as good at learning a new language. I also thought I’d have enough English speakers available to me that I’d still have friends without the motivation to learn Italian.  I also thought it would be similar to Spanish and confuse me a bit.  All of those reasons proved to be true, but the biggest obstacle was my perfectionism. That one seems to get me a lot. Hence the name of this blog.

I’ve lived here for a year and a half now, I studied 20 hours a week for a month last January, and honestly, I can understand quite a bit of what most people say. But speaking the language. Oh man. It’s terrifying!

So terrifying in fact that I literally freeze up and all parts of my brain quit functioning. Let me tell you some stories…

Early in our time here our doorbell phone rang.
Si I answer like Nick taught me.
Phone drop.
As in I literally I let the phone dangle and hang there while I ran to Nick and made him talk to the guy.
Unfortunately, my doorbell phone answering and packages retrieval skills have not improved.

Sitting with all the moms in the ballet class waiting room.
I get brave and attempt to make some small talk. I end up telling everyone my husband speaks perfect Italian because he’s lived here for 50 years.

I’m about to take the bus to the airport.
I’d bought my ticket a week in advance and wanted to make sure it would still be valid even though it wasn’t purchased the day of my travel. I used the most bizarre mix of Spanish and Italian and I didn’t even know what I was asking him anymore. He at least he managed to tell me he wasn’t the airport bus, it would be the next one.

While these mistakes may seem harmless or not a big deal, to me they’re mortifying. I STILL think about how stupid those and so many other mistakes were.  The last thing I want in my life is to look like an idiot. And I totally do. After so many failures, I’ve given up on trying to speak Italian. And now knowing that we’re leaving in a few months gives me zero motivation to keep trying.

So I live in silence.
Which leaves me feeling like I look like a super rude or super ignorant person. Birthday parties for my children were the most overwhelming for me – how can I host when I can’t speak? I want to shout to them I can speak!  I’m a good host! I’m smart and educated and funny too!  Instead I hide behind the camera and shuffle things around to look busy.

And caveman grunts of words
“My. key. not for apartment. husband no home. wait.” Yes, that’s how I tried to tell the courier who came for our Amazon return that I’d just locked myself out of my apartment while signing for the package that came right before him. The combination of my language skills and common sense thoroughly impressed him I’m sure.

I’ve learned from this – and quite a few other life experiences – that I’m not a super gritty person. I like life easy, with very little mistakes or challenges or problems. Hahaha. Oh that’s funny to see that typed out.  That’s so not how life is. Life is messy and imperfect. Maybe one day I’ll learn to let go of a little control and go with what comes my way. Maybe I can learn to laugh at my mistakes and get up and try again.

One comment on “On why I STILL don’t speak Italian

  1. Susan Harrell says:

    Hi Rachel, I have read a few of your blog entries and enjoyed your pen. Thank you for the transparency and the candor with which you share. Let me share a little of my story as well.

    I have been a Second Language Learner two times- both times immersed in another culture and both times as an adult. I have taught English to Speakers of other Languages for 25 years. I can say with all certainty and authority that your process is normal. A lot of the fear and timidity does come from your perfectionism, but I would also venture to say you are a bit of an introvert? (not that you are shy but that you recharge by being alone). You have the answer in yourself how to move past the struggles. Relax. Make mistakes. Enjoy the journey. Just talk. Just laugh. Just share your life!

    My husband and I are waiting for the day (literally, we are waiting for Visas) that we will be living in Italy again. I would like to think that my third experience at crossing cultures and studying a language will be different, but I know they will be the same- painful, fearful and stretching. As our children learn to speak differently, so do adults.

    Have a great Easter! Hope to meet you soon!

    Susan Harrell
    Myrtle Beach, SC