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How A-Typical italian was born
Introducing this blog and the person behind it
The reason I chose this “business nickname” is tied to my personal history. I hope my story inspires you to learn a language – in a course, with some private lessons, online, using an app – or helps you looking at people from other countries in a different way.
It is not a story of “I am the perfect polyglot who never had any difficulty and constantly becomes fluent in tons of new languages every month”. It is just a story, my own. And as an Italian – typical or not – I do find very difficult to shut up, so… here comes my tale!
Bear with me: I will switch register often here, because there is some serious stuff and some funny anecdotes as well.
My passion for languages – How I learned languages (and how I failed at them, too) – my first translations more than 20 years ago
I remember I liked English very much from the start: in 1993, I began what we call middle school (Italian: scuola media, a three-year school we attend from age 11 to 14). My class was assigned a very good teacher, with decent pronunciation, an open and international mind, a flexible approach to language teaching.
Believe me, I was lucky. Plenty of people had teachers with pre-intermediate/intermediate skills, and a pronunciation worthy of the worst mocking video you can find on YouTube.
My passion for music and cinema also helped: since my favourite artists all sing in English, and many films in their original version are in English. Therefore, I grabbed any opportunity to be challenged with native or native-like inputs or with non-controlled practice anyway.
The funny thing is, the first time I went abroad and put my oh-so-good English (according to my school grades and to my final report) to the test… it was a disaster! I couldn’t understand what the handsome Israeli boys were telling me! It took me at least a few more years to relax into it. The same thing happened with German: my Zertifikat Deutsch wasn’t enough to allow me a smooth and flawless hotel reservation in a hotel in Tyrol. Some might argue that a Zertifikat Deutsch does not help in Tyrol 😉 !)
The reason I started taking private, individual lessons with a native speaker of German? During a holiday, I fell in love with the German-speaking part of Italy, South Tyrol, especially the dresses, the food, and the landscape of the Dolomites. Then, even worse than that, I got to know The Sound of Music… so I don’t have to tell you more.
When the time came to go to scuola superiore (roughly high school/Oberschule; a five-year school Italian young people attend from the age of 14 to 19), I did not choose the so-called liceo linguistico (Modern languages lyceum) because there were way too many subject at the time. Italian school used to be known for the great amount of study and homework given to students. 31 to 36 hours of classes X many subject X about one hour of studying and homework per subject per afternoon did not seem like a good idea to me. I went for a reformed version of the glorious liceo classico (classic lyceum/ Ancient languages lyceum/klassisches Gymnasium/Altsprachliches Gymnasium), a school based on the study of Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek. Daily translations of texts from these ancient languages into Italian were assigned as homework. The reformed course of study I enrolled in included English as a five-year subject, and more math hours than its older, unreformed version. I always feel like choosing a liceo classico really boosted my language and translation skills. Anyone who has dealt with Ancient Greek can manage German easily! Besides, I gained a solid comparative and analytic linguistic background I still cherish today, and I learned the art of a professional translation at a relatively young age.
Yes, our teachers taught us what a translation is, how to approach a text in order to translate it, and required a professional mind-set from our side. Failing to follow their instructions resulted in bad marks. Bad marks could lead to failing the school year.
So, here it is. I took well-structured courses with several different didactic approaches. In my late teens/early twenties I had several brief experiences abroad. Then, in my mid-twenties, I finally went abroad to study, research, work, and live. I am still living abroad! I failed a lot, and I also managed to accomplish a few things here and there. English and German have been my education, studying and working languages in several branches.
I am very proud when someone assumes I am a native speaker of English or of German. I assure you, it happens! Since I wasn’t raised bi-/trilingual, it’s a huge acknowledgment for me!
Why “A-Typical Italian”?
So, hence my idea for my business nickname (according to Austrian law, it’s not my “business name”): I am atypical because I master two foreign languages, as opposed to the common idea that Italians do not speak any, and if they do speak one, they are not intelligible (I like fancy words). My home is full of books, DVDs and stuff in both languages, and I use both languages in my everyday and professional life daily.
Obviously, I am not the only one, so I am not claiming to be exceptional and/or exclusive! It’s more like I would remind that you don’t have to be exceptional to do it. You just have to find your own way, and then practise.
But, well, I am also typical, as my ex-boyfriend (the Austrian one) and as many customers often stressed. You know… fashion, make-up, food, social life, bidet (one day I will launch the Bidet Imperialism Party, beware). Oh, and I am always very loud when I talk or when I do things. Some even say my curly hair gives my identity away. Would you agree?
So, what do I do? I spend my private and professional life trying to harmonise my Italian, Modenese, English-speaking and German-speaking sides.
How does my multilingual brain work? (Does it work? Really? – OK, so, this was typical Italian humour!)
I have a memory that works mainly via images and sounds; however, I also recognise language structures (grammar, syntax, sequence of tenses) easily: I get their logic quickly, besides “seeing” them and “hearing” them. When I went to school, grammatical, logical, and syntactical analysis were an important part of our school program, and I find these very useful, because they suit my personal attitude towards languages. It also comes very handy when I have to explain grammar to my students, if and when it is needed.
I sometimes dream in English or German too. I often think in German or English, especially if the thoughts are related to something I was working on in that specific language, but sometimes even in a more spontaneous way.
The only thing I always do in Italian is… counting (especially subtracting), unless it is something as simple as a countdown or counting a few pieces/banknotes.
Your experience with languages, living abroad, translating, enduring Italians, whatever?
If you are curious or interested, feel free to drop a comment about your own experience!