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November 04, 2005

Heading into the Last Month...

Tuesday, November 1 to Friday, November 4, 2005

Perugia, Italy:

It was like this at the beginning of September and also at the beginning of October. With new classes, new professors, and a new group of classmates (not to mention new roommates and a new apartment, which will be covered in the next post), the first week can leave one feeling a little uncertain. Was it worth signing up and spending another month in Perugia? The answer is definitely yes, but it remains to be seen as to whether the people I meet will be as worth getting to know as those I met in the previous two months.

After three days of class, it is clear that the professors are all quite good and the people in the class, though I don't know many of them yet, seem interesting. Its a bit of an older group and a little more serious. Some of them are living long-term in Italy and a few have been here for a year or more. I'm the only American again, and the class includes a mix of German, Spanish, Swiss, Brazilian (including the Sister from the class last month), Polish, Hungarian, Colombian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Australian, Montenegran, Azerbaijani, and Russian students. In Perugia you can always count on meeting people from the least expected places. I was in a bar a few nights ago when a classmate introduced me to a friend, a girl in jeans with a beer, who could have been Russian, Italian, Australian, or of just about any other background. In fact, she was Iranian. "Oooh, we're not supposed to talk to each other," she joked. "Yeah, yeah, keep away," I kidded back. Of course, she was very nice and we didn't discuss politics at all. (With regard to that country and news coverage here, it's president's remarks have provoked a comfortingly high level of general outrage.)

As for the Italian it's coming along. I make a number of mistakes and am still working on my vocabulary, but things improve noticeably almost daily. I can converse about a number of topics and my understanding of what I hear (spoken, on TV and over the radio) and read is fairly high --- in the last few weeks I've never had a conversation that I couldn't manage (the kind in which you just have to say that you're sorry, you don't understand). After another month I will certainly not be fluent, but I will be closer to it than from it. It's unfortunate that I can only stay in Italy for 90 days without a visa. 120 days or 150 days would be ideal for approaching basic fluency, though even if I did manage to achieve a near-perfect use of the grammar, I would still need more time to develop an extensive vocabulary and knowledge of the various idiomatic phrases. Regardless of how many words and phrases you memorize from a book or lesson, you need to spent time putting them into practice and making errors. In this regard, there is a reason why my abilities to comprehend and speak diverge to a great extent. Hearing a native speaker speak the language correctly, I can usually understand the message quite clearly. Trying to say what I want to say (and quickly, without stammering and pausing) isn't nearly as simple.

At least the work will help my Spanish when I return to the study of that language. Certain topics I never quite grasped in Spanish, including the use of pronouns and the conditional/subjunctive tenses, are pretty clear to me in Italian now. If anything, the Italian is more difficult, so I should be able to apply the concepts to Spanish without too much of a struggle. What will that do to my Italian? I prefer not to think about it.

Posted by Joshua on November 4, 2005 03:54 PM
Category: Italy: Living in Perugia

Totally agree with you on the language learning: immersion is the only way to go. You just don't get the point of mastering another language if you can only see it through the de-contextualized layout of a textbook.

Ahh...bife de chorizo.

Posted by: Espressoman on November 10, 2005 12:38 PM
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