Sicilian travels, archival insights, and all the while I was still desperately trying to build up my skills in Italian. “Piano piano,” Benedetta kept telling me, and although it was slow, I was learning – a lot. Since finishing the lessons in my Italian book from Rome, Benedetta had given me a new book and she let me pick which lessons I was most eager to learn. Each class, she would begin by teaching me the topic – completely in Italian – using a combination of the whiteboard and the description in my book. She patiently adapted her teaching style to my learning style, and after she fielded a massive number of questions from me, we would work on exercises in the workbook. As painful as it was, I would read aloud, she correcting my pronunciation, and then I would attempt to fill in the correct answers. When I answered them incorrectly, she humorously began to predict my “perché??” and would begin explaining ‘why’ right away. The following day we would go over the homework exercise I had completed alone, and we would talk for 5 – 10 minutes in Italian so that I could practice my conversational skills. Before I knew it, I was having dreams in Italian, and I was walking around Florence labeling the objects I knew with their Italian names.
Despite these strides in my struggle to learn the Italian language, I was still discouraged by one piece of information: my current level of Italian was where most of the other students from my semester in Rome had been back in March. It had taken me such a long time to learn the most simplistic lessons in this language, and at first I allowed myself to fall into dismay. Being the lucky young student that I am, however, I had people such as Liliana, Sheila, all those at MAP and even the Italians I attempted to speak with in Florence to tell me otherwise. They encouraged me to continue studying, to stay motivated, and to stop comparing myself to the pace of those around me. If my love of Italy had taken me this far, it would continue to help me through my struggle to succeed in pursuit of the Italian language.
I knew when I started working for MAP that supplementing my internship with Italian classes would be essential, and because I had such a positive experience working with the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci in Rome, I thought it would be a great idea to continue my lessons through their school based in Florence. Once again, my professor, advisor and mentor in all respects, Liliana Leopardi, helped me establish a connection with the school, and she even arranged for my one-on-one lessons to be with a teacher who had experience with the archives. That is how I met Benedetta, an older Italian woman who was practically everything I could ask for in a teacher at this stage of my skillset. As exhausting as it is to learn another language – especially when beginning in your 20’s – working with Benedetta never failed to inspire my hope of eventually being fluent in this beautiful language.
Towards the end of my semester in Rome, I had become quite sick with a virus that affected my inner ear. As a result, I was most keen to begin with the lessons I was out of commission for during the semester. Thus, on the first day, I brought my book from Rome, and I showed Benedetta the topics that I struggled with the most: futuro semplice, condizionale, pronomi diretti e indiretti, imperfetto and verbi riflessivi al passato prossimo. Oddio! That looks like a lot doesn’t it?!
Well, it was a lot, but luckily I understood these topics in their most general sense. What I needed was guidance as to how to apply them practically in speaking, and how to comprehend them in reading. Before my tests in Rome, some of the other students and I would often ask Liliana for help, and in these meetings I was able to see how each of us differed in our approach to language learning. One of the students I worked with had an intuitive understanding of the language, but he often second-guessed himself. For me, the language was not intuitive at all. I needed to have a concrete definition of the rules, examples of how to apply them, and an understanding of why they worked the way that they did. That is a lot of ask of any language, especially when as a foreigner, there is no way I could ever understand completely. Thus, the inner working of my brain frustrated me immensely during Italian 102!
This time, in Florence, I was taking Italian not as a course or for a grade, but because I genuinely hoped to learn, and that difference greatly affected what I was able to take away from the experience. Benedetta and I spent a few of the sessions strictly speaking aloud in Italian. More often than not I was lost in our conversation, or I could not complete a thought back to her, but the effort I put forth helped me remember forgotten words, or pick up the phrases she often repeated. By the end of the first month I was walking into cafés, restaurants, grocery stores, museums and churches with ease, knowing that my small talk skills had improved tremendously!
Shortly after we began, I started assigning myself homework – not much fun after full days of Italian immersion, but still very important. The more challenging parts of my lessons with Benedetta (the vocabulary, the new concepts and the application of them) I will return to in a later post, but for the moment, I was pleased with the progress of my speaking skills, and I hoped they would continue to improve throughout the summer.