Episode 4 of our free series of articles with audio for students of Italian is ready for you to read/listen to, when you have a minute.
‘Vita da Romani’ covers such fascinating topics as childbirth, the fate of newborns, the daily lives of aristocratic boys and girls, the power of the head of the family, and the way artistocratic men and women were named, along with freed slaves and foreigners like you and I.
I’d be Daniel Britannicus OnlineItalianClubus, or something like that. Unless my pater familias had sold me as a slave while I was still a prole, or had me killed for some impertinence. And I suppose my daughters would have been named Britannicus Prima and Britannicus Secunda, which would have made life easier for their elementary school teachers.
There are plenty of interesting details in Episodio 4. Vita da Romani, though not just historical ones.
The main objective of this material is to provide reading and listening practice, for free. But if you’re interested in improving your Italian grammar and vocabulary, there are lots of real-life examples that will help you consolidate what you have already studied, or give you insights into how Italian works and in which ways it varies from your own language (many!)
To pick out just a few at random:
“Se il padre lo prende in braccio, il bambino è accolto nella famiglia”
“If the father picks him [the newborn baby] up [from the floor, where he has been placed], the boy child is accepted into the family.”
There! A nice example of an object pronoun (I think that’s what it is…) and a passive form. What else can I see?
Ah, here in the next sentence:
“Spesso i bambini abbandonati vengono raccolti e cresciuti come schiavi.”
“Often abandoned children are collected (?) and brought up as slaves.”
A variant passive form! ‘Come to be brought up’, perhaps. The same basic idea as ‘are brought up’ but with a different structure. Note that ‘crescere’ in Italian translates as both ‘grow up’ and ‘bring up’, which causes my Italian students of English endless confusion.
I have time for a couple more:
“Le donne romane possono scegliere se allattare i propri figli.”
“Roman women can choose whether to breastfeed their children.”
Interesting that the Italian structure is so different – possono scegliere (can choose) se (if) allattare (to breastfeed) – which really doesn’t work in English (choose if do), which is why I translated it using ‘whether’.
And again, there’s a vocabulary trap, as with ‘crescere’ (grow up, bring up, but also raise), a simple and common word that causes complications for learners. This time it’s ‘figli’, literally ‘sons’, potentially ‘sons and daughters’, and used to mean ‘children’.
Italians generalise with the male pronoun, so ‘ragazzi’ (boys, lads) could be either a group of boys, or a group of boys and girls, whereas ‘ragazze’ is plural girls, no boys included.
As a pater familias I possess tre figli, which doesn’t mean three sons. Actually two of them are ‘figlie’ (Britannicus Prima and Britannicus Secunda, remember?) Italian would-be learners of English (it’s rather a lost cause, I’m afraid) often get confused when I tell them I have three children, adding proudly that the two girls are at university and the baby boy is taller and stronger than I am.
I use ‘children’ because it’s a handy collective noun. Otherwise I’d have to say ‘sons and daughters’, because according to the rules of English, ‘sons’ would not communicate ‘figli’ (plural males or plural males and females) but only ‘figli’ (plural males).
Children means ‘children’ in English, but it also means ‘sons and daughters’, or just ‘sons’ or just ‘daughters’, whether they are actually children or not.
There’s lots to learn, isn’t there? And my examples come from just a short section of Episodio 4. Vita da Romani. You could probably spend all day analysing the interestng elements of grammar and vocabulary that the whole text contains, were you so inclined.
But I wouldn’t, if I were you.
What I do with my own language-learning is to focus on the general meaning, and let the details look after themselves. Given enough time, and enough practice, your brain will figure stuff out, especially if you don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to understand ‘everything’.
It’s said that the best language learners are tolerant of ambiguity. Which means that they don’t go barking mad when having to deal with masses of stuff that they can’t possibly know (yet), but persist at doing the best they can and so avoid becoming demotivated and quitting in disgust.
I’d say this was particularly true when you’re just starting out, so basically at the first two or three levels. Don’t sweat the details, look out for forests, not trees.
It’s bad form to quote yourself, but what the heck! As I wrote last week sometime, “The road to the scenic town of Understanding lies though the grotty metropolis of Not Understanding”, or something like that.
Language-learning is a journey, a fascinating one, but there’s a lot of road to travel, so if you stop to examine each flower and blade of grass you see by the wayside your progress will be impeded.
Read/listen to it. Don’t worry about the parts you don’t understand – it’s not a test. Focus on the doing, not on the meaning. Press play, adjust the volume, listen until it stops, following the text with your perfectly manicured finger as you do so.
If you’re not sure how to do reading and listening practice (because when learning languages at school you only did grammar), there were some tips in Friday’s article: Roma Episodio 3 and misc.
And if you haven’t done episodes 1-3, yet, those are on our history page, here: https://onlineitalianclub.com/history/
Suppose you detest history? Then go listen to/read Saturday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news instead.
There’s an article about ‘I Bucatini all’Amatriciana’, with a rather mouth-watering picture.
A mercoledì, allora.
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