The Process of Learning Another Language

I just had to write about my experience becoming bilingual on here because I’ve spoken to both my mom and sister about it today and it’s just fascinating to me! You’ll probably find it to be neat too.

I’ve been here a full 7 weeks now, and in this time have noticed some things about my language development.

First off, I’m so glad my classes happened the way they did. I started off in SGV with Denny who spoke some English to me while I learned Italian. This was crucial because I had no idea sometimes what was happening. It bridged the gap significantly to help me start learning and make sense of how the languages correlate to one another. The second school in Catania was fantastic because it provided me with socialization opportunities with other students that I didn’t have in the other school. This I found helped me a ton to practice (with many errors) comfortably and feel more fluent. It was ‘real life’ situations all day every day and that is something you absolutely cannot learn in a classroom. Coming to Tropea has been wonderful because I felt more confident to actually speak the language without having to think as much, and with fewer errors than the weeks prior. I’ve been able to feel at ease with Nicola, the director, and my teacher, Antonella because they’re closer to my age they are very understanding in a way different than the other two places. I’m also the only student most of the time in my class, and that’s really helped a lot to be able to address my specific questions and needs. It’s allowed me to really hone in on things I need and focus on new items. I’ve learned a TON in one week here! Also, I have had the opportunity to socialize some with Nicola’s friends and that’s also been exciting, also making me more comfortable speaking without thinking as much.  I’ve come to realize I’m nowhere near as tired/exhausted I was for the first 5 – 6 weeks in Italy – a huge change for me.  I think of my experiences in 3 different schools as stepping stones that have led me from one step to another in my language development. I’m so fortunate!– At first, I was a lost puppy at times not having a clue what was going on, feeling clueless, alone, frustrated, and tired often. I have realized (and good for you to realize too) that when you’re a foreigner and someone doesn’t catch or understand what you’ve just said, it’s best for you to repeat exactly what you just said, but slower. Often I’ve found that either a) I didn’t realize someone was speaking to me and wasn’t as tuned in as I should’ve been b) was having a bad day and felt dumb and really wasn’t paying the best attention or c) I didn’t understand some words that were said, and I was taking a long time to process it all. It is super useful to hear the sentence a second time to grasp the concept. When I don’t understand, I try to be mindful of telling the person so they can explain it to me in another way. This always helps a lot!

– I noticed often I would try to write in both English and Italian without realizing it because my brain was thinking primarily in English, yet some familiar Italian words would pop up. For example, if I wanted to write “I want to eat some bread” I would end up writing “I want to eat some pane” (pane = bread). I remember this happening to my sister and I a few years ago when we came to Italy together. It’s funny how that happened to me again!– You associate certain people with a certain language. For example, here in Tropea I only speak Italian. There are people who understand English, of course, yes…but I am in their country and I really am comfortable now at this point to be able to try speaking full Italian. Because of this, I hold the standard higher and only speak English with others if I really am having a hard time. I associate them with the Italian language only, and therefore I rarely give in. Whereas, when I was studying initially at SGV, Denny and I spoke both English and Italian. I spoke to him the other night on Skype and found it harder for me to speak to him only in Italian because I have the association that he understands English too, and I tended to resort back to speaking both languages. Weird!

– I’ve been immersed in this culture long enough now that I’m having trouble transitioning from using one language to the next. The other night I went out and spoke Italian only for hours. When I came home I called Ajith and found it really hard to think about transitioning to English, even though I know that’s the language we speak together. I was in the mode of speaking Italian and I didn’t want to stop!

– The longer I’m here, the more I notice I’m unable to access English words off the top of my head like I would if I were at home. The best example I can reference back to is when Lorenzo and I were speaking about the “segway” we saw someone riding. I couldn’t for the life of me think of what it was called! I’m also having trouble sometimes phrasing sentences correctly because I’m still in a mode of thinking about Italian, not English.

Before leaving Seattle, I was having a conversation with a friend’s friend (named Levent) at a birthday party about my upcoming experience. Levent is from Turkey, and has lived in the US for ~10 years. He told me that it’s the little things that get you from time to time that you don’t think about til you need something, then realize the challenges of trying to explain what you need in another language. He told me that for him, trying to get a haircut for the first time in the US was tricky because he didn’t know how to describe what he needed. My hair was cut about 8 weeks ago, and yes…I’m in need. I’m going to wait til I get back to the US but certainly can relate now to what Levent referenced. Haha. For me, it’s also looking for good Italian shoes. I have some really wide feet, and I don’t know where to start to try and explain that to someone. It’s easier to just skip it because it’s really not worth it. I’m picky about comfort anyway so it’s not a good idea for me to buy something here, but still. You get the idea.

Another friend named Martin came from Germany (~12 years ago). At my birthday party he told me that when he really knew he was doing alright with English when he could understand the traffic report in the morning. I thought that was a clever way to gauge your progress!

For me, I want to gauge my progress by my dreams.  I still dream in English, but I know if I have a dream in Italian – that to me is a huge sign that I’m really there mentally! Wouldn’t that be cool?

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