We were five around the pizzas yesterday evening, one of my adult daughters having coming back from college briefly.
All our kids’ lives, we’ve spoken English at home, or at least I have. They’ll speak Italian to their mother, and to each other, but never to me.
Often that means I’m left on the sidelines, but after twenty-two years of it – the first half barely being able to speak Italian at all and the second half being too busy with work stuff to know what the hell anyone at home was talking about – I was quite ‘abituato’, as Italians say.
Used to it.
Actually, in language learning, that’s a pretty good objective, I’ve found. Get ‘used to’ not being able to express yourself in your second language as well as in your mother tongue, or understand as well. It’s inevitable, so the sooner you come to terms with it, the better.
And in this case, look at the terific result! The whole family is effectively bilingual (the three adult kids), or practically so (my wife, also bilingual Italian/Swedish, so trilingual…)
Except me, of course. Though I have saved tens of thousands of euros on the cost of English tutition, summer camps, years abroad and so on. So I guess I can’t complain.
When I have, on occasions over the years, had a moan – hey, you guys are all learning English, but I never improve my Italian, given that you refuse to speak to me – I’m well aware that I’m being unreasonable. That the overall benefits (to them) far outweigh the costs (to me.)
And in fact, when I’ve observed other parents and their children, where different choices were made – for example an American girl, who falls in love with an Italian guy, takes months of Italian courses, they always speak Italian together, she gets really good at the language, feels great about herself!
And then they decide to have a child…
Neither parent is willing to give up what they have and speak only English at home for the benefit of the child, who will anyway pick up Italian at school and from friends. For whatever reason, they never even begin the ‘speaking English at home for the benefit of the baby’ thing, and continue to coo in Italian like the love birds they are.
The American grandparents, of course, are furious at being left high and dry, unable to communicate with their first and only grandchild. The Italian grandparents claim not to know what the fuss is about, while secretly thanking their lucky stars that the situation wasn’t the opposite.
So the kid grows up having missed out on a huge opportunity.
But there were five of us around the pizzas last night.
My new roomie, as far as I am aware, is an Italian speaker who knows zero English.
Cool for her to be able to learn some, you might be thinking.
But she has a bunch of other problems right now and needs to be made to feel as welcome as possible. No way would it be a great idea to exclude her from the dinner table chat, we’re all agreed.
And so, like a dog walking on its hind legs, I’m speaking Italian on a daily basis!
First. Time. Ever!
It felt really weird at first, but mi sono abituato (I’m good at that, ormai.)
Observing the looks on my family’s faces, they’re only now realising what they might have preferred not to know – just how lousy my Italian is!
Harder still for them than for me, as they have to try to overcome the lifelong habit of only speaking English with me. I always spoke Italian on and off outside our home, if necessary.
Roomie is happy to be included, I think, as am I, finally!
And when we do lapse back to English – mostly unthinkingly, but on occasions when we want to say things like put these potato chips away, somewhere high up where she won’t see them – she notices, but isn’t that bothered.
Behavior should ideally change accordingly.
For instance, should you decide to come study Italian in Italy. Likely classes will be organised differently from those you might have taken at home.
The lingua franca will be, should be, for your own benefit must be, Italian.
Which can feel like a terrible shock at first.
And of course, you won’t understand what’s being said as well as if the teacher spoke to each individual student in their own mother tongue (in a multi-lingual group, that being impraticable as well as ultimately unhelpful.)
Behavior should ideally change accordingly.
Vedi, ora sono abituato a parlare (e anche scrivere, almeno un po’) in italiano!
E’ stato un periodaccio, per cui non ho niente per vendervi (c’è un nuovo elibro, ma non è pronto ancora) e, in ogni caso, non ho l’energia con cui farlo. Sono proprio distrutto!
Vediamo per la sett. prox.
OnlineItalianClub.com | EasyItalianNews.com | EasyReaders.org (ebooks) | NativeSpeakerTeachers.com (1-1 lessons)
“Sono proprio distrutto”. I really worry about you, Daniel. You seem to be doing too much with much stress. Please take stock of your agenda, and put ‘you’ higher up the list of priorities. Thank you though for another very interesting email.
Sharon Dias says
I agree with Jan, take it more easy. I had to laugh about the grandparents and language. My husband is Portuguese and I speak it as well. Non of my children do, as when I spoke to the kids was corrected by my husband, as my grammar is not always correct. The kids now say why didn’t I persist. However it was very convenient when we didn’t want the kids to understand what we were saying.