A Little Local Language Goes a Long Way
During my interview to become a tour leader I was asked if I could speak a language. I paused, unsure how to answer that one. At the time the job did not require a language so I said no. I had studied both French and German at school but not very successfully. I spent most of my German lessons outside the classroom due to my inability to stop talking – in English. During my French oral examination, I told the examiners that we had a swimming pool in our garden and we kept fish in it. I meant a pond. On a visit to Paris as a teenager I learnt that the French really don’t care what you say as long as you pronounce it properly. I gave up trying to learn a language.
But things have changed a lot since then and there are different, more engaging techniques available to start learning a language. I discovered this when I was working in a hotel with a lovely Italian family and only the daughter spoke English. It was the spur I needed to start learning Italian so I could communicate properly with them. I was not sure where to start but searches on the internet yielded information about television programmes books, DVDs and courses in Italy. I learnt the basics listening to DVDs and repeating the words and doing exercises in the books I bought. It passed the time while travelling. Tentative attempts to practise what I was learning were met with enthusiasm. My confidence grew. Encouraged to learn more I booked a week-long Italian course in Verona.
My week in Verona coincided with the Verona Opera which was wonderful. I saw three operas in the Arena and one ballet at the Greek Theatre. I had decided to have classes in the mornings so the afternoons were free to explore and practice what I had learnt. One evening I was sitting on the steps in the Arena waiting for the opera to begin and doing some homework. An Italian lady sitting behind me leant forward and pointed out a mistake I had made. That started a conversation relating to the reason I was learning Italian. Italians are naturally curious, very friendly and happy to correct your mistakes but in a helpful manner.
These days anyone can pick up enough words to get by in most languages. A little bit of effort before you go away will reap rewards as I found out when walking my friends’ dog in the Dolomites. We met a local walking with his dog and as both dogs were loose he called out was the dog male or female. I was used to this question by then so I answered female. A torrent of Italian followed this inquiry. I had no idea what he had said and responded, in Italian “I am sorry but I am English and I don’t speak Italian. The dog is Italian but she does not speak”. He roared with laughter as he went on his way. I was happy too, I had made my first joke in Italian. Being able to communicate in another language is liberating and fun.
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