Learning Italian – The Italian Way

Ahhh … la bella lingua Italiana. Don’t you just love the way the romance rolls off of your tongue and how even the taxi driver sounds sexy when he’s giving directions and over-estimating your cab fare?

Italian is one of the most beautiful languages in the world and I’m not the first woman to fall in love with a man who spurt its potion. Lucky for me, that man also gushes his sweet nothings in English … so he is a keeper.

I’ve come a long way in the three years since I’ve lived in Calabria. I’ve gone from exaggerated hand gestures and speaking entirely in the infinitive, for example “io andare a supermercato,” and can even throw in an advanced grammar structure and use “voi” in group situations.

But I’m not *that* fluent.

That is why I was eager to register for a free advanced Italian course paid for by the EU and given through a local school in Catanzaro Lido. I signed up for the course in March, and like some of my English-speaking comrades here in Catanzaro, was told the class would start in 10 days and they’d give me a call.

So, I waited. And waited.

Last Friday I got the call.

“The class will start Tuesday at 4:30,” she told me.

Benissimo!” I replied. “Will the class be every Tuesday at this time?”


So I rephrased my question. “Will the class be at the same time each Tuesday?”

Again-a brief silence, then, “I’m just giving you this information now, Ma’am. They’ll have to tell you the rest.”

I should have expected no less!

A few minutes later one of my American friends called. “Did you get your call?” She asked excitedly.

“Yes!” I told her. “Next Tuesday at 4:30.”

“4:30?” She sounded surprised. “They told me 3:30!”

So Tuesday rolled around and being the ever-efficient American student I am, I called to confirm the time. After all, these conversations were in Italian and it is possible one of us misunderstood. I called the number and a young man answered, “Pronto?”

“Is this the number for the Italian class?” I asked.

“Uhm … Si.”

“What time does the class start today?” I asked.

“Uhm … 3:30.”

Alrightly, then.

We headed the three kilometers to the school, notebooks in hand and were met near the entrance by a group of school employees who bombarded us with questions.

“Ohh …,” one man finally said. “You are here for the Italian class? It doesn’t start until 4:30!”

Italian Teachers in Catanzaro Lido, Calabria (southern Italy)
Our Italian teachers Francesca, Amalia and Paola

We  finally made it to class, met with our teachers and new classmates and after several rounds of answering questions such as “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” and “What is your  highest degree?” we were put in groups.

The three Americans with our shining Bachelors degrees were grouped with a retired doctor from Russia. The other four students, immigrants from Morocco and Nigeria were grouped together. In defense of this grouping system, I must add that there was a noticeable communications gap among the students-we were writing in Italian; they were learning basic vocabulary words.

So-for the next eight weeks of Tuesdays and Thursdays, yours truly will be in a classroom in Catanzaro Lido from 3:00-7:00 (Gah!) polishing her Italian skills.

Learning Italian in Catanzaro Lido, Calabria (southern Italy)
Me, with California Girl, Yavette and Arizona native, Laura

So don’t try to pull any quick ones on me, Mr. Taxi Driver … I’ll be ready for you!

This is the first Italian language class I’ve ever taken. Have you taken an Italian-or any foreign language-class? What should I expect? Don’t you think four hours is torturous?

15 Responses
  1. Jake

    Four hours is definitely a bit too much. I studied Italian grammer some twenty odd years ago and I seem to remember it was only a couple of hours a week.
    I definitely think I’d be able to concentrate better for 2 hours!

  2. I love the pic of you guys – you have a pen in your hand, you good little student! 🙂

    And yes, having taught before I can tell you, you will be FRIED at the end of those 4 hour classes. Though I’m sure they will give you guys a coffee break. It is Italy, after all. 😉
    Ha! You are right about the coffee break. I need to pull out my coins for their little machine! 🙂
    Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy’s last blog post..Rome from the Back of a Vintage Vespa Scooter

  3. A word of encouragement. . . I’ve taken so many language classes over the years, usually in the normal one-hour-at-a-time way.

    The only language I’ve ever actually learned was one where I sat in class for seven or eight hours a day. With four consecutive hours (with coffee breaks, Sara has an excellent point!) you can get into more of a groove. Since you all already have a good level of Italian, your class will probably vary from drills to lots of conversation practice, and as long as all four of you are engaged (which is likely), I think you’ll make good progress.

    Yes there will be times when you’re dying to get out of there, but overall my experience showed me that I acquired a lot more language ability in that kind of course than in the one hour a day system.

    In bocca al lupo!! It’s so great you have this opportunity!
    It was much better than I thought it would be, although I wish they’d “plan” more stuff for us. So far it is like, “what do you want to learn?” and it ranges from “In Italian we have articles,” to “se io potessi …” (very advanced grammar!) I need the middle ground.

  4. Good for you! I took an Erasmus (sp?) class in Catania. It was a crack up. Me and a bunch of Spanish college kids.. needless to say they left me in the dust!! Have fun.
    Ha! Kids scare me.
    South of Rome’s last blog post..Feudi di San Gregorio Winery (Campania)

  5. Sheryl

    Hi! I’ve been taking classes offered by the comune of Milano for 8 months now. We’re a motley bunch from every corner of the world. The best learning experience I’m getting is when we students socialize together speaking only Italian. No one else speaks English! I think twice a week is great to make it stick. All the best!
    I thought of your comment last night when I was in class. In my group, there are the Americans, a Russian and a girl from Brazil so we spoke Italian 100% of the time-it was great!

  6. Four hours does seem like a long time, especially after a long day of work. But stay with it. Even when you’re tired you’ll absorb. When I first started reading Italian literature, it took me four hours to read one page. But I perservered night after night at the kitchen table.
    I’ve been taking language classes FOR DECADES and while I consider myself mostly fluent, I’m still learning all the time. Last night I finished the last of four poetry classes (in Italian) – everything from Dante to Saba, Montale, Ungaretti and I learned a lot.
    Reading is my weakness. I KNOW I need to read more in Italian, but I like to read for fun-and in Italian, it is work.
    Ciaochowlinda’s last blog post..Pork Loin Stuffed With Prunes and Apricots

  7. Hi Cheerye,
    I love this post. Very very funny! As a former foreign language instructor, I don’t think 4 hours is too much time, as long as the class is student centered and has a good balance of pair/group work, movement, instructor presence, and breaks.
    I have taught intensive language classes before, and I think that as long as your instructors use a learner-centered approach, 4 hours won’t seem that long.
    I can’t wait to hear more about the class and how it goes. Check out my post on my blog if you want to see how I study Italian from this side of the puddle (Atlantic). Does that expression exist in Italian? 😉
    I’ll have to refer to my husband, the expert on that one… I wonder.
    Jennifer Rafferty’s last blog post..Curinga Where You Least Expect It

  8. I can remember taking 3 years of Italian classes in high school( Mr. Biletti was my teacher). What a great experience it was- I actually really enjoyed the classes.
    I have wished many times that I could go back and take those classes again!
    Relearn all I seem to have forgotten.
    I am jealous of your new classes…don’t get discouraged- 4 hours goes by really fast.
    Its only 8 weeks …enjoy- then come back and teach us.
    Hugs- if I were close I’d go with you!
    Fun night out…All you guys need is a bottle of wine!
    We do need a bottle of wine after a 4-hour class. It was great last night, though. Slow in some parts, but fun overall!
    Susan’s last blog post..I have been MIA

  9. Good for you.

    I have been struggling with learning Portuguese for the last two years, so I know of what you write.
    Speaking of speaking Portuguese,we had a new girl in class yesterday. She was from Brazil! :-0
    running42k’s last blog post..Success

  10. I’m very excited for you that you’ll be in the advanced Italian class, and meeting up with other Expats along the way. It sounds very confusing with the schedule, but at least everyone got there and things were worked out into a great (albeit long), class. Please do keep us posted on how it’s going. I’m in awe of you taking the class with everything else you have going on too. It makes me wonder if you ever did come back to the states to live … if Disney would hire you for their Italian section at EPCOT. lol ;D

    *bunny hugs*
    Hmmm … I wonder?!?

  11. You might enjoy this site. http://becomingitalianwordbyword.typepad.com/becomingitalian/ It explains so many of the mysteries of Italian. Ben and I have also just started classes given by a women’s group in Arezzo. Very basic but that is what we need. Unfortunately my Italian grandparents did not allow Italian to be spoken in their home so my father never learned and neither did I. 5 years of French doesn’t help. I understand most Italian but respond ina mix of French and Italian.
    Thanks for the link! I am sure it will help. Good luck with your classes.
    Martha’s last blog post..Monte San Savino is a Star

  12. Ewa

    Hi!this summer I’m going to Catanzaro and I’m going to spend there 6 months. could you give me the address of the school were you learnt italian?

    Welcome to CZ! Send me an email through the contact form and I’ll look it up for you.

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