Browsing through the Daily Prompts on WordPress, today’s prompt caught my eye.
If you could wake up tomorrow and be fluent in any language you don’t currently speak, which would it be? Why? What’s the first thing you do with your new linguistic skills?
I come from Italian heritage. My paternal grandfather came to Australia from an island of the northern coast of Sicily, when he was 12 (in 1880). In 1915 he married my grandmother who had come to Australia a short time before that. I guess being an immigrant at that time was not a popular thing and so my grandfather apparently insisted he and my grandmother spoke only English. My grandfather died when my dad was nine and consequently he and his siblings spoke only English (though my dad and brothers knew some very choice sayings in Italian). I remember my grandmother speaking Italian with her sisters and relatives but I was more intrigued by the twigs (bayleaves) she had hanging to dry in the kitchen corner – not to mention the fact they went in the food she prepared!
Several years ago my daughter thought she would like to learn conversational Italian with a view to one day using it in her travels. I decided to join her, not because I had dreams at that time to travel there but because I thought it would give her someone to practice with and I knew no other language than English. I had done a little bit in high school (sure, a million years before). “How hard could this be?” I thought.”It’s in the blood,” I thought. “The intonation will come to me from that corner of the brain that houses special memories”. Not so, on any count.
Instead I copped the wrath of the teacher. Turns out Sicilian is not Italian as such. Turns out counting to ten and doing greetings and colours is not conversational Italian either. “What kind of Italian name is Kerry-Anne – you will be referred to as ANNA!!” she screeched in good Italian mumma tones (I remember the tone). This didn’t make for a good experience. Often I missed my questions in class (there were only about 8 of us), only to be berated for doing so- I forgot I was Anna and was looking around trying to see who should be answering the question.
I tried very hard but I was definitely a remedial student. I tried to complete my homework. One time it was so hard I typed up my daughter’s HSC assignment in return for her completing the homework for both of us – it came easy to her- and I was more successful in my typing. My daughter was dragged down by my inabilities and we laughed in class the day the teacher said my daughter had to complete the remedial lesson with me while the other students got to play fun games. Many times my daughter would whisper answers to me just so I didn’t get into trouble in class but we were often caught out and that wasn’t a nice experience.
I learnt very little to have a conversation with, but I did learn other things. I saw classroom dynamics as they are primary school – yet these were adult women and men. I found one student (other than my daughter) was more supportive of the slower one (me) while others enjoyed making fun of me to elevate themselves. I learnt that if a teacher doesn’t like you the classroom isn’t a pleasant place to be. I learnt that bright red lipstick isn’t a good look when smudged on teeth of a snarling teacher (in fact it’s never a good look really). I learnt if you aren’t good at something you should just give up (well I got the message but never adhered to it, finishing my 10 week course proudly). So , the course wasn’t wasted time in one way.
I also learnt ‘Il tavolo e marrone’,
and ‘Caffe latte’.
I’m actually planning a trip to Italy with my family in the not too distant future. So hopefully I will have a chance to tell someone that the table is brown and I want a coffee with hot milk while I look for my family. You just never know!