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Cooking, Carafes and learning Italian

We’ve a brillant guest blog from Kate at Cooking and Carafes She talks about her experience of learning Italian both at home, and in the country.
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I’ve always liked languages, when I was little we used to holiday to Spain and I always had my hands on the phrase book. I would be learning the basics myself and then would endlessly recite numbers, days of the week and other basic phrases to my parents. I enjoyed learning languages at secondary school but French and German didn’t have the same affinity with me as Italian (which wasn’t an option to study). Although I studied Latin which I’m certain built the perfect foundations for when I later went on to learn Italian.

From the age of 10 we started to go on family holidays to Italy and that’s where my love affair with this beautifully romantic language began. Not only did I fall in love with the country; the scenery, the people, the food, the hand gestures, and the list goes on… but the language too.

Italians are so passionate, I used to watch them speaking to one another, gesturing, emphasising some phrases over others and thinking ‘I wish I knew what they were saying’. So once again I began with the phrase book and as holidays became more frequent both my mum and my sister took up Italian evening classes so I would use their books to teach myself.

I taught myself a fair amount and would use the books and the tapes/CDs to help me. When I went to university I got the chance to study Italian as one of my modules on my course. It was by far my favourite subject, so much so I got a First in this particular module. We had a great teacher, Claudio – he made learning enjoyable and fun and would take his time when you needed help.

After uni, I couldn’t contain my desire to travel and learn a language any longer, so in the midst of not knowing what I was going to do once I completed my degree I applied for jobs as a holiday rep in Italy. I was lucky enough to land myself a job with Citalia based on the beautiful island of Sardinia. I thought I’d hit the jackpot… and I had!

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That summer I flew out to Italy and completed my training in the town where my love for the country first began, Sorrento (near Naples). After a few weeks there I flew to Cagliari (an airport that would soon become my weekly hangout with new arrivals and departures!) and was based in the south of Sardinia in a little town called Pula on the coast of Santa Margherita di Pula about 45 minutes from the island’s capital.
Here is where my real language learning journey began…

I moved into my own apartment, right in the heart of Pula, Piazza del Popolo and lived next to a delightful older couple Angioletta and her husband. They ran a small souvenirs shop next door, she would greet me every morning and evening…Piccolina! And would continue to talk to me at a rate of knots in Italian, I didn’t understand a word! In the first few days of being on my own this is when I realised to enjoy this I had to embrace the language. So I began slowly; può parlare più lentamente per favore became my favourite phrase, and the more I tried, the more I learnt.

Sardinia is more popular with German and Italian tourists so although a lot of my friends spoke English it wasn’t as good as some of their other languages. I immersed myself in their culture, I would spend evenings with friends and I would be the only English person so naturally they mainly spoke Italian and the more words I heard and the more I asked what they meant, they slowly began to stick. You learn familiar conversations and can start responding more easily, learning key phrases and words and more importantly how to piece them together – this was a turning point to being able to engage in conversation.

My real time to practice was on my coach journeys to and from the airport, as a lot of my friends worked in hotels or bars so knew English, just some weren’t as confident or as fluent as they were in other languages. However, my coach drivers were all Sardinian so if anything they just spoke more Sard (the island’s dialect), so each week I would have two return transfers with different drivers so I would practice my Italian with them and then when a flight was delayed we’d teach each other over un cafe in the airport’s bar. They would try to get me to learn their dialect and to this day I think I still only know a few phrases one of which was Comme menti staisi? How are you? Which in Italian is Come stai?

I could sit here and regale many moments of learning Italian in Sardinia… like when the concierge from one of my hotels helped me on my first day and I thought he didn’t speak any English so the entire time he let me muddle my way through broken Italian… later on I found out he was fluent, he also turned out to be one of my best friends!
Once I returned home at the end of my season my heart was heavy with love for ‘my’ beautiful island, its people, its culture and my desire to keep speaking Italian.

I continued with a few local lessons and then one to one lessons with local Italian Romilda who was wonderful – her enthusiasm and confidence in me knew no bounds. Unfortunately work and day to day life got in the way and my Italian dwindled.

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A few trips to Italy though and it’s amazing what comes back to you in a short space of time, you only have to hear a word once and it comes back so easily. Now with another holiday on the horizon (to ‘my island’) it’s motivated me to refresh my language skills so I’m using the app Babbel at the moment which is brilliant as it works on repetition and across writing, speaking and listening, along with grammar modules and all at various levels.

Obviously language learning has moved on in the last 20 years since I was at Secondary school, you can now access more tools to help you learn. The internet and smartphones have transformed learning a language, and at the touch of a button you can look up words on a smart phone with Google translate, use an app to help you learn, read articles in different languages, speak to friends in other countries more easily using skype/facetime and messaging services like whatsapp and so on.

However you decide to learn whether it’s at a local college’s evening class or within an online community or in the country itself, it will help build confidence when conversing in other languages, whether it’s on holiday or for business. Learning a new language is hugely rewarding and will also help stimulate your mind so why not start learning a new language today!

My love for Italy has continued, mainly with my love of their food and wine so check out my Italian recipes ideas and wine reviews at www.cookingandcarafes.co.uk

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