AT RANDOM: Talk like an Italian

Buon giorno. It seems like a dream to finally be taking the Italian class that I have wanted for so long...

Buon giorno. It seems like a dream to finally be taking the Italian class that I have wanted for so long, so it is fitting that the instructor is named for an angel, Raffaele. Raffaele is one of the archangels, the one who brings good news, maybe. It will be good news for me if I can speak more than seven words of Italian next time I go to Italy.

The Naples native is friendly and has a good sense of humour. He came to Canada a few years ago, the result of romantic love story with a beautiful Canadian who is now his wife.

The thought did cross my mind, “Oh, I am going to learn to speak Italian with a Neapolitan accent. It’s probably someone’s arch-enemy football (calcio) rival and will get me in trouble along the line somewhere.” The accent is different enough from the standard Italian (based on Tuscan, apparently) CDs I had listened to that even I, with my limited exposure to the language, could tell the difference. Seems there are hundreds of various accents, even dialects, in Italy and sometimes people in different parts of the country have difficulty understanding each other.

Everyone else in the class has some Italian connection — parents, grandparents, spouses. The students range in age from high school student to retired. Some have been to Italy, some are planning to go.

The first class, Raffaele showed some photos of Italy. It was exciting to look at the view from the top of the dome of St. Peter’s and recall my own climb up the hundreds of stone stairs a few years ago.

Each student took a turn with saying the alphabet in Italian out loud and Raf (he said we could call him that) was encouraging. He told us some family stories to illustrate the language points which made it more personal. Nice to think of his sister as a child calling their father Bappo.

I had to miss the second class because of a work assignment. Confused by the articles and prepositions, well, who needs articles and prepositions? Italian is all in the hands, isn’t it?

Raf explained how the change to the euro currency affected Italy. Seems that for most people, everything got twice as expensive while wages were effectively cut in half. Had to wonder how they could manage. At least they still get to live in Italy.

He said that Italians really appreciate it when people from other countries try to learn their language, even a little, even imperfectly, because it can only be used in Italy and it is a great compliment.

Since I have a good knowledge of French and a little Spanish and there are similarities with Italian, I have found myself mixing up some things. Other students say the same. But paying careful attention to the similarities and differences can be a good way to learn anything.

I was disappointed that we did not do more oral practice from the start because I need it so much, but that is coming more in later lessons.

I am not doing as well as I hoped I would, but I practice rolling rs sometimes when I’m driving which I think gives it all a more impressive effect even if the rest of my pronunciation is improbable. The other students seem to be doing very well, but then they do have Italian genes. One said she spoke Italian as a child but had forgotten.

Raf is very patient about explaining things as many times as necessary and is encouraging about the value of learning languages. He is pleased that his Italian niece is learning English in kindergarten and is looking forward to teaching Italian to his Canadian niece.

“I like to give to you what I have learned over the years, the Italian language and the culture,” he told the class. “For you guys, everything.”

I will get it, eventually. And I will go back to Italy. I know I will — I threw coins in Fontana di Trevi.

I like to imagine myself going into Florian in Venice and saying casually, “Vorrei una ciccolatta calda.”

Grazie, Okanagan College, for making this continuing education class, and others, available to the community.

Ciao, ragazzi.

—Cara Brady is a reporter for The Morning Star