Why Study Italian?


La Maestra Maldestra

La Maestra Maldestra

Let’s just get this out in the open right from the start: Italian is not considered a particularly useful language.

Don’t gasp. Don’t cry. Don’t be surprised to hear this coming from me. I may love Italy and all things Italian, but I know the score.

In the grand scheme of the world, not that many people speak Italian. The big discussions between political leaders don’t happen in Italian, and not many people (other than those living in Italy) are forced to learn Italian at school. You don’t need to understand Italian to read Dante any more, and you don’t need to speak Italian to get a job unless you live in Italy. You don’t need it in order to travel around Italy because a ton of people there speak at least some English, and you don’t need it for immediate access to pop culture anywhere outside of Italy.

In today’s world of immediate gratification and propelled by the widespread need to do things for the main purpose  of “getting ahead”, why push yourself to eke out a bit of time from your jam-packed schedule to learn a language that isn’t going to help you in pretty much any tangible way? (At least, that’s what you think).

English is the language of the world, and any of us with it as our Mother Tongue should count ourselves lucky. English is it. Italian (and every other language) is out. Isn’t that the general consensus? 

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I’m here to tell you that contrary to popular belief, Italian is useful.

It’s useful, it’s helpful, and it’s a language that, through its nature and the nature of its speakers, lends itself to being fun.

Knowing a second language in general is a good thing. It’s like gymnastics for your brain when you switch back and forth between the two. They say that people who know and use a second language, ward off alzheimer’s disease longer than their monolingual counterparts. Who doesn’t want that?

Also, if you tell me that Italian hasn’t been useful in my job hunts, I’ll eat my hat. I have had four, count them, FOUR jobs that knowing Italian has helped me get: my job working for a tour operator in Tuscany, a group leader for summer abroad students in Italy, writer for an Italian-Canadian magazine, and Italian instructor at a university. In a couple cases, my knowing Italian was the deal maker/breaker in my getting those job offers. Now tell me that it hasn’t been useful. And tell me that those jobs aren’t at least somewhat cool. Tell me!

You can’t do it. Because the jobs are cool, the experiences were/are amazing, and Italian has proved itself useful for helping to feed my salvadanaio (piggybank).

Then there’s the more “Italian” side to this argument, the touchy-feely side.

Think of how many more people you can talk to if you know a second language. And think about the people who speak Italian. There are a lot of real personaggi (characters) on that peninsula, and by knowing Italian, you get to talk to them. You get to get to know them. You get to read Dante in all his original 13th century splendour, and you get to listen to songs like “We No Speak Americano” and understand all the words.

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We don’t study Italian because we need to, like everyone who studies English does. We don’t have that pressure. Our jobs, (well, most of them), our livelihoods, our families don’t depend on our knowledge of la bella lingua. But maybe that’s just it, the beautiful part of it all. We study Italian because we want to, not because we need to. Because the music of the language moves us to learn it, to engage in this “impracticality”, to throw some of our precious time to the wind and do something simple for the pleasure of being able to pronounce words like piacere.

dizionario

And if I wasn’t convinced of the merits of knowing Italian before, a conversation with the owner of a language school in Rome this summer really tipped the scales for me.

Sarah,” he said, cigarette in hand, leaning casually on the railing of one of the school’s small balconies. “In this Italian school, we used to also share the space with an English school. Our two sets of students were completely different. The English ones, well, they didn’t want to come to class, they walked around with their heads down, all grey, you know,” he shrugged.

“But the ones who were studying Italian,” his eyes lit up and his voice took on a breathy quality.

“Sarah, the ones who were studying Italian were just more…” he waved his hand casually as he searched for the word. It didn’t take him long before he plucked it out of the Roman sunshine and gave it to me through a slow smile.

“… Beautiful.”

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Ciao, Professoressa!


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"In true Italian fashion, I decided to take the month of August off from blogging. I’ve been chiuso per ferie (closed for holidays) for awhile now, and my time off was filled with travel, relaxation, family, friends and food.

Really, what more could a girl ask for especially after a summer like the one I’ve had? Let’s recap:

3 months in Italy and France (with brief stops in England, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany) – check!

Firenze from Piazzale Michelangelo

Firenze from Piazzale Michelangelo

Time spent with amazing people in amazing places eating amazing food – check!

Moules Frites

Moules Frites

A new job for the fall – check! (Which leads me to the title of this post…)

That’s right, I’m going to be a professoressa d’italiano (Italian professor) at Wlifrid Laurier University (Canada) for the fall semester. Basically, it’s my dream job. I just hope I don’t turn into the Maestra Maldestra by the end of the term…

What does this mean for Not Just Another “Dolce Vita”? Hopefully that I’ll have even more time to get down to writing and filling your inboxes with all sorts of great tidbits about Italy. That’s why we’re all here, isn’ it?

Where Sundays are Still Sundays


Dinner DisastersAhh, Sunday.

A day of rest. A day of relaxation.

The day of the traditional pranzo della domenica (Sunday lunch) in Italy.

It used to be that I dreaded Sundays in Italy. Nothing is open, beaches are crowded, church bells over-exercise their right to chime and you can feel the marked change of pace in a place, especially smaller cities and towns. The whole country downshifts into a lower gear for a day, and it was an odd feeling for me, coming from a city in Canada where Sundays feel the same as pretty much every other day of the week. I’d find myself at loose ends, an outsider watching families gather in the piazza and pranzare (have lunch) together. I didn’t have family in Siena, and because many things are closed on Sundays, I didn’t have a lot to do.

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When I started working, I drew the lucky straw that had me in the office, without fail, every Sunday morning at 8am. Sunday being Sunday and Italy being Italy, public transportation didn’t run out to the little hamlet where my office was situated, so I’d have to rely on the kindness of my coworkers to get me to work. Bleary-eyed, I’d be up walking through the streets to meet my ride before the rest of the town had begun to stir, getting a glimpse of Siena behind-the-scenes. Slowly, I started to appreciate that little window of time.

Then we’d be in the office, cursing the fact that we had to be there but happy to be getting one of our weekly shifts done on a day less hectic than the other six. Our boss wouldn’t come in until later or not at all, and by the time 2:30 rolled around and it was time to leave, the trains had started running and I could get back home on my own.

As I started making more friends, Sundays weren’t so bad. In fact, some of my happiest, most peaceful memories of Italy are of Sunday lunches that went on for hours, a little table spread out in the piazza, the calcio (soccer) being broadcast on the radio in the background, and friends gathered together enjoying one another’s company. Even this year, on a quick visit to Siena, I had the pleasure of indulging in a beautiful Sunday lunch with a new friend out in the Chianti countryside. If you had seen me then,  eating from a tagliere di salumi (sliced cured meats), enjoying some insalata di farro (spelt salad), and washing it all down with sips of smooth Chianti,  you would have found me the perfect picture of contentment.

I don’t know what it is about Sunday lunch as opposed to Sunday dinner, but somehow, I like it better. Maybe it’s because Sunday lunch affords you more time; If you start at 2pm, you can sit at the table for 3 hours without worrying about anything. If you sit down at 6pm though, by the time 9 rolls around you’re worried about the things you have to prepare for Monday, thinking about how much sleep you’ll get before the alarm goes off and all the dirty dishes that are separating you from your bed.

Call me sentimental, (or maybe I’m just getting old) but I’ve come to love, look forward to, and even crave the feeling of slow Italian Sundays. My experiences in Italy (and recently, in France) have reminded me of what Sundays should feel like: calm, a day of rest, of reconnection with family and friends topped off with some good food for good measure.

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It warms my heart to know that there are still places in the Western world that cling to the idea that Sundays are and should be different from the other days of the week. I experience an often-missed feeling of contentment when I’m in a place where Sundays are still Sundays.

Buona domenica & happy Sunday!