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Rediscovering Italian: The Second Time Around

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As the new year is approaching, I’ve been thinking about picking up Italian again. I used to speak it conversationally but lost it when I started studying programming.

If I do start studying it again, I wanted to write this post first to share how much Italian I studied in the past a s a reference point.

Why Italian?

According to Babbel back in 2018, there were around 60 million people who spoke Italian as a first-language, making it the 20th most spoken language in the world (source.

Why then, would I study Italian first something more practical like…Mandarin?

Well, I decided to study Italian back in college for a few reasons:

  • my other Romance Languages would help (Spanish, Portuguese)
  • my ancestors immigrated from Italy
  • it had a heavy influence on the dialect of Spanish I chose (Rioplatense or Argentinian Spanish)

So with room for an extra elective senior year in college, I decided to take Italian 101.

Italian in Undergrad

I wanted to make the most of my last year in college so I decided to do what I always wanted to do: study Italian. I had enjoyed my Spanish and Portuguese classes so why not add one more language.

This was in Fall 2015. It was taught in the traditional way. Classroom with about 20-30 students, mostly using a mix of textbook and lecture. It wasn’t that fun, but I picked up the basics.

I continued with Italian 102 the next semester and did the same thing.

Come May, I had been chatting with lots of folks in the language departments because I was thinking about what I wanted to do after I graduate: go get a PhD in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching.

But there was one thing stopping me…in order to do the program, you first needed a Masters degree.

I can’t remember how this had come up, but my Italian 102 professor knew about my desire to work in academia.

Fast-forward to my Italian 102 final in May. I turned in my exam and my professor, “Hey! I have good news. Let’s talk outside for a second.”

He pulled me outside the auditorium to tell me that his colleague at another university led a Masters program in Italian Literature and Linguistics and had an opening for a graduate assistant. This meant I’d get a stipend and discount on the program. This was huge!

At the time, it was my best option post-graduation and I thought it’d get me closer to the PhD program so I took it.

Pursuing a Masters in Italian

I made the quick decision to pursue a Masters degree in Italian Linguistics and Literature at Cal State Long Beach. The only problem? I only had two semesters under my belt. And I was going to need a lot more in order to complete all my graduate work.

I can’t remember all the classes I took, but I jumped straight into 300-level undergrad Italian classes and then in my second semester, started some of my graduate level courses (they were tough).

Fortunately, I did record a couple short (2min) videos of my speaking Italian back in November 2016. Here’s a link to the playlist on YouTube.

Leading a Study Abroad in Italy

In addition to all that, I offered to lead the summer abroad in Recanati. Basically, I organized all the applications, gave presentations, etc. and in return, got to go on the trip myself (flight and place to stay near students). It was an awesome deal and I would 100% do it again if I could.

While I was in Italy, I pretty much had all the time to myself. I had to attend and organize a couple events while I was there but for the most part, I was just enjoying the summer.

This was the time where I had actually decided to leave the program and pursue a career in programming. So my focus wasn’t on Italian but moreso on programming.

Thinking back to my language skills, I was at conversational level. My pronunciation was okay. My vocabulary was good enough to get by, but I could do things like:

  • get a membership at the local gym
  • order at restaurants
  • hang out with natives and speak Italian over beers

But the coolest part of that an entire summer was something else…It was going on an adventure to meet my distant relatives.

And all I had was an address…

That’s a story for another time, but I will say, that I showed up to someone’s door, explained how we were related, and spent the rest of the day in their house, hanging out and getting to know them. So yes, my Italian wasn’t great, but it was good enough for an experience like this.

Now what?

The last two years of raising my daughter bilingual has me bitten again by the language learning bug. My goal has been not only to raise her as a Spanish speaker, but also reach native-like fluency with my own Spanish.

My Spanish is very close but there’s still more I want to improve before I’m happy with my level (i.e. vocabulary, speed and pronunciation).

However, I’m wanted to get back into Italian for a couple of reasons:

  • I’m wanting something new for 2024
  • I’ve been researching my eligibility for dual citizenship, and knowing Italian well would help
  • I want to try Refold from scratch with a new language*

If I do start with Italian again, I’m going to do it very slowly and do the “input first” approach where I focus on getting a lot of input before I try outputting.

I had a really interesting conversation with a friend at work who is doing this Vietnamese. I think he said he’s trying to hit 1000 hours of input before outputting. He’s had a couple of conversations in Vietnamese where the words “just flew out of his mouth.”

I have had this a few times with Spanish but I have so much “school knowledge” that I’d like to experience this “language intuition” with a new language like Italian. So that’s really the itch I’m trying to scratch. Can I get that feeling with a new language? We’ll see.

*Technically it’s not from scratch since I took 2 years of Italian in college. But since I’ve mostly forgotten it, it’s kinda like starting from scratch.