Feb 11, 2018

Going to bed with Italian

I thought I was covered for the rest of my life. But the duration surprisingly wasn’t more than 1, 5 years!

I wouldn’t say I am studying Italian. Study is in my mind something you go to school for, or take a class. And I actually did, to start with.

2002, after an extremely difficult winter, I took off to Florence to study beginners Italian for two spring weeks. It was an intense adventure as I didn’t know a single word except si and no and the class moved forward exhaustingly rapid. For about 4-5 semesters later on I took evening classes back home to learn more.

My next move was ordering a self study package, which turned out to be a course from the fifties, true to that time illustrated with pencil drawings. Also, the language was kind of dated my friend Agneta, an Italian teacher, told me. It was an Italian nowadays mostly spoken in Sicily. 

The study pace I chose was pretty slow so the 16 jam-packed yellow booklets lasted for many years. In addition, somewhere in the middle of the course the instruction part was lost (it wasn’t in the package), so the grammar help wasn’t there any more. But as I like to finish what I start I persistently continued reading, figuring it would at least not do me any harm.

I love the Italian language. The sounds, the intensity. Just listening to it makes me smile and my heart beat. I hardly understand anything at all as the Italians speak insanely battering fast, still…

In May 2007 my friend Eva and I spent a week in Rome. Many years ago I had read Susanna Tamaro’s Va’ dove ti porta il cuore /Follow your heart /Gå dit hjärtat leder dig, in Swedish. One pleasant evening I stumbled over that book in one of the Rome book stores. And I told Eva while feeling the weight of it in my hand, one day I am going to read this Italian novel. 

It sat on my bookshelf for the longest time. All those years it took to stubbornly finish up the 16 yellow booklets. My routine was to read them in bed right before lights out. The last thing I did for the day was to figure out long complicated sentences in Italian, to take every word I didn’t understand and decipher until it all made sense to me, what a joy!

Now, in August 2016 it was finally time for Va’ dove ti porta il cuore to move from my bookshelf to my bedside table. Along with the Swedish version of it and a dictionary. It’s not one of those really thick novels, pretty ordinary, still I actually thought I wouldn't have to worry about Italian literature for the rest of my life. I mean, I was in fact taking on an Italian novel!

So, I continued my routine. At about an average of ten minutes a day (night) I filled my brain with a foreign language. Dissecting the sentences. Going back and forth between the original and the Swedish translation, peeking in the dictionary when necessary. And this week I finished the last paragraph. It didn’t take me the rest of my life, only 1,5 years!

So what to do now? Was it time to end my day differently? And maybe “study” Italian at some other point of the day when I am not that tired? It would be a really good thing to focus on the grammar which got lost on the way, study from out of a high school book which Agneta has provided me.

Yes, it would definitely be the right thing to do. If my goal was to speak Italian. It was of course when I started out 15 years ago. But I will probably never spend time in Italy any more. So I actually don’t have to be capable in this sense. I can continue reading Italian just for fun!

Agneta told me about a novel by Alessandro Baricco, Seta/Silk. It’s the fascinating story of a French silk worm merchant falling helplessly in love with a Japanese concubine on one of his trips to the country. It landed on my bedside stand two days ago. Already on the first page I loved the way it was written. Seta is not translated to Swedish, so my help this time around is the English version Silk. It’s a thin little book so I am estimating not more than half a year.

Studying Italian is my brain work out. My crossword or Sudoku. And doing it at lights out is cleansing my brain from whatever the day might have been. It’s also my joy. My smiling heartbeat. And the proud satisfaction of learning something new every day. Slowly and patiently conquering new territory. 

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