Language by Osmosis


Next week marks a year in Italy. It’s crazy how quickly that went. I’m in a unique position that while I live here now 99% of my day-to-day business is still conducted in my mother tongue. I speak English at home with the family. I support Reclaim Hosting folks in English. I blog in English. Hell, I still dream in English 🙂 So, moving to Italy hasn’t necessarily been a linguistic leap for me, although that is not the same for my kids. They speak, read, and write Italian everywhere but at home, and they’re the better for it. Watching them master another language this past year has been a highlight, and the fact they are now working on German is an added bonus.

I have some guilt about my lagging language acquisition. I have friends here in Italy that speak solid English, and they have no problem practicing with me. There are times when I have occasion to speak my broken Italian, and I usually preface it with “Mi scusi, il mio italiano è piuttosto male.” Fair warning goes a long way towards understanding, but I am realizing while my speaking still leaves a lot to be desired, by comprehension has come a long way. This struck me last night when I went to see François Ozon‘s latest film Frantz.* One of the things that annoys me about Italy is their dubbing industry. Just about every film here is dubbed, which means I’ve struggled through my fair share of films in the theater this year. Ozon’s film is in German and French, so I knew there was no hope for me regardless, so I figured what the hell. Surprisingly, I probably understood at least 80% of the film, and Antonella filled me in on the parts I missed. It wasn’t particularly difficult, admittedly, but it felt good.

I also think it makes the case for being surrounded by a language, despite my attempts to insulate myself from it 🙂 I have heard so many terms and phrases so many times the last year that I am not translating them anymore. They just make sense. Language is cultural context, and while I’m fortunate enough not to depend on my Italian to survive—I can’t help but understand it more and more. I’m not making any real focused attempt at understanding Italian, it’s just slowly and naturally happening. That said, while comprehension seems to work that way, it’s not the case for speaking. You have to regularly practice that, and I still need a ton of work there. And now that I’m getting ready to enter my second year  here, I think it is high time to double down on that part. I guess language by osmosis can only take you so far, I’m gonna actually have to do some work now….dammit!

*I really liked the film, as I mentioned on Twitter it was kind of like nostalgia for 90s nostalgia films about old European melodrama.  It was pitch perfect, and I was surprised how taken I was by the story from the very start. Beautifully acted and gorgeously shot. I’m a big fan.

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One Response to Language by Osmosis

  1. Grant Potter says:

    Hope you are working on your “charming first-generation Italian immigrant darling accent and equally delightful malapropisms!’

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