I said something in an earlier blog that was not entirely true. I said the only Italian I knew was from Olive Garden. While this is basically true as far as ordering pasta goes, it leaves out the important phenomenon of Romance language interference.
During my past two years at Baylor I have taken French. On my last trip to France (during the Oxford trip last July), all I learned was that I didn’t know much of anything about the language. This was pretty reflective of my opinion of the first two semesters of French I had taken at that point, mostly because I had begun to believe I could never learn it. Due in part to a better (healthier) schedule, but mostly to a change in professors, I started to like the language more during my third and fourth semesters. I started to translate my thoughts into French, and posted Facebook statuses in French. I listened to French pop music and could get the gist of a news story. Mostly.
Maybe it was just missing the language after not using it for a few weeks, but everywhere I went I wanted to speak French in Italy. For some reason, Rome reminded me a lot of Paris. Its personality, rhythm, atmosphere… And therefore, every time someone would ask a question, I would respond with “oui” instead of “si” or even “yes.” I thought about how I would say things in French when we were struggling to make the Italians understand our Texan English. I even started randomly teaching my sister some phrases when we would be walking around. (She is a long-time fan of Spanish and wants to be fluent after taking it at Baylor, which I’m told is entirely possible with the level of difficulty of the program). Our combined Latin-root skills from our foreign languages helped us join together to decipher bits and pieces of the Romance language surrounding us. When she wouldn’t know a word from her Spanish vocabulary, I would compare it to a French word and vice versa. I did get to read a bit in French on art explanation guides in the museums and on a few menus, but most of the time everything was posted in English if it was in a language other than Italian.
Really, the Italians we met were great language-learners. Maybe it is an all-European thing, but they all spoke at least two or three languages. One girl selling tickets to an opera said she spoke four or five and her friend spoke more. Together they could speak pretty much any language they would encounter from tourists! Very impressive. And convicting.