I am sitting here writing this in the Biblioteca Delle Oblate, a must stop for anyone spending some time in Florence. The library opened in 2007, and is a true gem in the middle of central Florence. Just steps from the Piazza del Duomo, it also offers insane views of the Duomo and the surrounding amber Florentine rooftops, which is actually my current view! (lucky, me). The library has a very university, student feel to it- and you will find local students and abroad students alike huddled over their laptops or stopping in for a quick café, cornetto or panino.
It’s Monday, so I have this week, but then next week is my official last week with the British Institute. I seriously cannot even wrap my head around it! Plus, I just had a bit of a break as the Institute’s language department was closed for a bit for Easter.
While on my 10-day break from classes, I found myself missing them a ton! So, I’m really, really not ready to be done next week. I have learned so much during my time here and met so many wonderful people that I feel very grateful for. All of my colleagues and teachers at the Institute have been so wonderful and kind. I have had the pleasure of learning with Massimo, Susanna, Catia and Bea- all four of them are extremely patient and my Italian has benefited from each one of their teaching styles.
One of my favourite parts about class at the Institute is how hands on the nature of it is. You are not sitting there having grammar drills nailed into your head- of course, grammar is a large part of what I’ve been studying these past couple of months- but it has not been the main focus of the classes at all.
For this reason, I feel like my understanding and speaking in Italian has improved so much since I first got here. This is because at the Institute, they prioritize speaking first and really encourage this, which is so important when learning any language. As mentioned in another one of my posts, I went through four years of studying in French in high school, yet when I graduated- I could barely string a sentence together.
Speaking is intimidating, and especially feels that way at first. But one of my biggest pieces of advice I can offer about my Italian language learning journey since I arrived here is that speaking with mistakes is welcomed, normal and in fact, compulsory.
You cannot expect to wait to speak until you feel you have mastered the grammar, verbs and conjugations. This is because if you wait until then, you will never speak- and most importantly, you’ll never learn! Trust me when I say I know the struggle of this. You don’t want to sound “dumb”, you’re scared of what the other person will think, especially when talking to an Italian native.
But in my experience, when you say you’re learning, people are usually both impressed and willing to practice speaking a bit with you. Even if you mess up a verb conjugation, oh well! They still understand what you’re trying to say, trust me. Since I’ve been here, I have made sure to always order using Italian in cafes, restaurants- or wherever I find myself.
When calling a taxi, practice your Italian. In the taxi, practice with the driver! I have had some of my best conversations with taxi drivers who have all been very willing to entertain my mouthful of mistakes while stringing sentences together. Actually, you’ll be surprised to find that most people are very complimentary towards you if you just try. I’ve gotten a lot of “brava’s” and “bravissima’s” when I’ve told them that I’m learning the language.
A bit of language learning for you, dear reader:
For example, today in class with Catia, we went over “l’imperfetto” and “passato prossimo.” If you’re not familiar with these two tenses, I’ll give a brief overview. Essentially, they’re both used to describe things that have happened in the past- and are both used regularly in conversation.
The main differences between the two is that the passato prossimo is used when talking about an action in the past that is finished and not continuous, something that you did once. L’imperfetto is used when describing something continuous in the past, repeated actions (for example, I used to do this every day or I used to have), physical descriptions, for emotions. There are definitely more detailed explanations of these two that you can find online- I’m just giving you some basic knowledge that I have learned so far in my Italian studies!
Starting with passato prossimo, it is formed with the verbs avere or essere– and therefore two verbs need to be used when speaking with the passato prossimo. To make things a tad more complicated- (Italian tends to like to do that, you can’t blame it though- if you want to learn the most beautiful, melodic language in the world, this is the worthy price you have to pay!)- you also have to make sure the participle agrees with the subject but only when using essere.I will outline this a bit easier for you in a few examples below:
- Questa matina sono uscita presto (feminine, singular) – this morning I left early.
- I ragazzi sono partiti alle undici (masculine, plural) – the children left at eleven.
Avere is easier when using passato prossimo because it doesn’t have to agree like essere does.
- Ho guardato quel film- I watched that movie
- Hai scritto la mail? – Have you written the email
Now moving onto l’imperfetto, to make things a bit easier: you can keep in mind that what is characteristic about l’imperfetto is the letter “v”.
(Io) Parlare- parlavo
Essere is one of the most common irregular verbs, but there’s only four main one’s that I have learned. I found this useful chart of them online that I will attach as a photo below.
Today in class, we had a conversation practicing l’imperfetto. Naturally I was a bit nervous, frustrating because I know the difference between the two- but when speaking, you’ll find it’s easier to get the two mixed up. Of course, Catia is very kind and patient, so she helped to put me at ease.
One of the most common cases that I’ve learned where l’imperfetto is used is talking about something you used to do or have in your childhood.
- Quando ero piccolo/a, giocavo a calcio ogni pomeriggio – When I was little, I played soccer every afternoon.
- Da piccola avevo I capelli neri – When I was little, I used to have black hair
I didn’t realize how lengthy this post was getting, so I’ll leave you here. I hope you enjoyed that mini language learning lesson about using Italian in the past, of course, all credit goes to the amazing teachers I’ve had at the Institute! I still have a long way to go, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come. This wouldn’t be possible without the nature of the classes at the Institute, and the teachers who are truly passionate about what they do.
Today’s idiom: In bocca al lupo!Meaning: Into the mouth of the wolf. Yes, this has absolutely nothing to do with the actual meaning behind this in Italian, which is to wish someone good luck. So if I was to wish you good luck with your language learning, you would reply- Crepi il lupo!(may the wolf croak!) instead of replying with thank you. This one is one of my favourite’s and just goes to show how colourful the Italian language really is.