When I hear people speaking in Italy, I’m always amazed at how beautifully the words fall off their tongues. I love the eloquence and the melody of their phrases. Their words are so expressive and beautiful and I’ve decided that I want to sound like that, too! Even though I am pretty fluent in Italian (it was my first language and one I still speak all the time), I still have so much to learn in order to pull it off authentically. I have hurdles to overcome, but hopefully with some diligence, I’ll be able to fit in like a native! Well, at least, a native once removed!
My first hurdle is learning the art of speaking formally! My parents taught me Italian, but it was the Italian spoken between family and friends – not the Italian that I would use if speaking to the Prime Minister or the Pope! (Even though, I don’t think Papa Francesco would mind if I spoke the familiar with him – he’s so cool that way!!)
In Italian, when differentiating between the formal and the informal, they use the terms “dare del lei” or “dare del tu” – where “lei” is the formal form of you, and of course, “tu” is the informal. My mom always said she loved English because “you” was “you” and it didn’t matter who you were addressing, it was the same either way! That is so true, and therefore, we English speaking folk don’t have to change our pronouns! For me, this is a very difficult thing to handle in Italian. I find that my speech is stunted because I’m afraid off offending someone because I am not giving them the “lei”. It’s not natural to me, whereas the “tu” has no problem coming out of my mouth! I’ve decided that my only solution for this is to practice and practice until it becomes second nature to me. I will be speaking all my Italian in the formal from now on (at least until I have it mastered). I’ve already begun speaking to my Italian cousin this way, and at first, he thought I was speaking about someone else instead of addressing him formally! Ha! Ha! But when I explained what I was trying to accomplish, he understood but said that he found it hard to address me with the “lei”. I just told him to pretend he was speaking to the Queen 🙂
My second hurdle comes from some certain verb tenses – don’t ask me which ones because I have absolutely no clue what they’re called! (All this business of linguistic terms like passato remoto, futuro anteriore, etc. mean absolutely nothing to me – heck, I don’t even know what they’re called in English!) But they’re the ones which deal with the plural (we, they, them) of “should have”, “should be”, “could have”, and “could be”. I’m sure there are others, but right now those are the ones that come to mind. I find myself getting stuck on those words and end up modifying my sentences to make it work! A good recovery, but again, not spoken like a true Italian!
And finally, my last hurdle (again, probably not really the last one) is the pronunciation! I’ve been told that my American accent is charming, but I think people say that to be nice – what they’re really thinking is “who is this hick trying to speak our language”? Sadly, I think this all stems back to the fact that I was embarrassed that I spoke Italian when I was growing up . I felt like I was different and I didn’t want to be different. Therefore, I toned down my pronunciation and Americanized it. I didn’t want to stand out in any way, and so I got sloppy with the “r’s” and the enunciation of all the syllables. I also learned to speak rapidly, which I believe doesn’t allow you to say the words in all their eloquence. So….I…. am… going… to… try…. to… slow… down… my…. speech…. and pay more attention to those “r’s”!