Aug 21, 2016

The next chapter of my Italian studies

They promised a vocabulary of 4000 words when done with the class. I doubt it. But even if, I don’t have a clue how to put them together!

It was in 2008 a funny little add in a paper caught my eye. It looked like something from the Fifties, a self study Italian course. Some years earlier, in 2002, I spent two weeks in Florence taking an extremely intense Italian beginners class and after that some evening classes back in Sweden. But it kind of never got me anywhere, I didn’t feel like I was moving forward. So why not try self studies?

And so the Fifties landed on my desk. The box was packed with stacks of thin yellow booklets. They looked like something I would have found at my bakers cottage attic, left there by my mother’s aunts. I opened them up. They were filled with text (and I mean filled), top to bottom, only once in a while interrupted by tiny delicate pencil drawings, a perfect image for that time and age.

It was interesting though. The text was only in Italian. No translations. And under the text lines phonetic transcriptions. You learn the language by a text where words are repeated in different contexts until you actually get it. There is also a dictionary following the chapters if you get stuck. And a manual, which explains the purpose of each chapter, the grammers, what you are supposed to learn.

Boy, was this fun! The complete course is 50 chapters divided on 16 booklets. If you are an ambitious student working through one chapter a week you are done with the course in a year. They say. But I tell you, that’s a lot of work! This class was as intense as the one in Florence, although different.

So, I took my assignment on! I was aiming for a chapter a week, but then I found a tumor in my breast and made it one chapter per chemo treatment instead. And after the 6th and last treatment my brain shut down and I was incapable of any kind of studies.

My yellow booklets had a rest for about a year, and then I started all over again, repeating everything from the beginning. July 2012 I was back to where I was interrupted and decided on studying five minutes a day. Yeah, that’s not a lot, but I figured that’s something I could actually do.

And so I did. 5-15 minutes after writing my journal in the evening. The last thing I do before lights out is filling my brain with Italian words and grammars. That’s my daily brain-workout. At midnight. Some do Wordfeud, some sudoku, some cross words. I am learning Italian.

At chapter 9 I got stuck though. The manual describing the grammars for the chapter (and many more following it turned out) was missing. I was lost! I didn’t know what I was learning anymore and immediately felt behind, like missing a class in high school, very frustrating!

What to do? Well I didn’t just want to drop out of class so to speak. So I decided on continuing even though it wasn’t to my satisfaction. I had to find a different approach though. So I went for the go with the flow, kind of. I wasn’t able to do the exercises as they focused on the grammar which I couldn’t follow anymore. But I have been reading every chapter, twice. First one looking up every word I didn’t understand. Second, making sense of it. Every chapter (they are really long) took me about a month, and this July I ended chapter 50, the last one. Eight years after I opened up the first.

I am sometimes thinking, if I would ever be subject for one of those personal interviews asked for who to bring to a deserted island and please name your five most significant characteristics I would (on the latter) respond: persistence, persistence, persistence, persistence, persistence. 

Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not. 

My friend Agneta, an Italian teacher (among other languages) has been my support. She was quite impressed by the grammatical ambitions of the course, as long as we could follow them. But it also turns out the Italian I have been studying is as Fifties as the booklets are.
I have been learning an Italian which is only still spoken on Sicily and in the southern parts of Italy! The most conservative areas of the country. If all!

Anyhow, I didn’t become a drop out, and finally done I didn’t quite know what to do about my bed time routine. Ending the day with Italian studies has been a perfect clearing out the head thing after putting it all down in my journal.

So what to do now? Well, to check what I have learned and consolidate I should take on the high school course Agneta has provided me. Maybe I will, but that will have to happen during day time with pen and paper and computer. So, my new bed time routine is reading and translating Susanna Tamaro’s “Va dove ti porta il cuore”, which I bought in Rome 2007. I had enjoyed it in Swedish and there in Rome dreaming about someday taking it on in Italian. Which I am doing now! Reading sentence by sentence, going back and forth between the Italian copy and the Swedish one. And then about once a week checking it in Translate.

But. I can’t imagine I know 4000 Italian words. And as I am never listening and talking, only reading, I can not put together a sentence. The dream would be to spend three months in Italy. To take a language bath and see if I can learn to swim. But that’s a dream. What’s real though is that “Va dove ti porta il cuore”, although it’s not one of those really thick novels, will for sure last all my life and always clear my head at lights out.

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