Saturday, August 9, 2014


“You live a new life for every new language you speak."
~ Czech Proverb

I want to start this post with a little background information just so anyone who doesn't know me that well will understand this a little better. (Note: When the original conversation is in Italian, I'll use italics.)

The short of it is this:  When I was registering for high school, I wanted to take French because all of my friends were taking French. My father told me that there was no way he was letting me take French because more people in the world spoke Spanish, and I was going to take Spanish. End of story. I took Spanish, and I wasn't happy....until I entered Mr. Tedde's Spanish I class. He was fun, and he taught well.  I ended up liking Spanish so much that I majored in it in college.

My father and mother didn't speak Spanish, nor did they understand it.  My father's parents were Austrian of Rusyn descent (as I just found out a few years ago), and my mother was Italian. The importance to this is that, because Spanish and Italian share some (and I use that word loosely) similarities, Mom could understand a little of what I was learning. My father, who spoke whatever language it was his parents spoke, could understand nothing.  Yay. (A long story that will come out in the book about this trip.)

My Italian grandmother spoke English to my cousins and me when we were children, but I would hear her speak to my mom, my aunts, and my uncles in Italian. I can remember certain phrases and words, but I never really understood her.  Grams once told me that when she ran a boarding house in Columbus, Ohio, after she immigrated, she had a Spanish boarder who understood her. She, on the other hand, could not understand him. I ended up majoring in Spanish and English in college, and I even did graduate work in Spanish at Ohio State. I taught Spanish for four years and still speak it fluently. 

(Sorry that was so long.)

I decided to start learning Italian after our first visit to Gram's village in 2010.  I tried to get by with the Spanish, but Italian is not the same.  I took classes at UNLV through Continuing Ed, but I can be honest and say that being in Italy last year helped me more than anything.  It was the same with Spanish, by the way.  I learned more in three months in Mexico than I ever did in Spanish classes. Using the language helps you remember.

I'm taking classes through Cultura Italiana.  There are a lot of schools in Bologna, but I thought this one sounded best. We have two hours of grammar and two hours of conversation every morning. The grammar feeds into the conversation, so I like the way this all works.

Still, I have a habit—as I think I mentioned last week—of slipping in Spanish words when I get confused or don't know an Italian word.  In conversation class, Maria (instructor) asked me about this.

"I speak Italospanglish," I told her.

"I don't understand," she replied.

"I'm confused," I said. I knew what she didn't understand, but I was trying to be funny.

"I don't understand," she repeated more slowly. "I don't understand this word you said.  Why are you confused?"

"The words in Spanish and Italian," I told her. "They mix up in my head. I say I speak Italo (italiano)-span(spagnolo)-glish(inglese)."

"Ok. I understand. Do you speak Italian to others in Bologna?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," I assured her. "I go to a bar where the owner is Spanish, and I talk to him in Spanish. I get more mixed up."

"You need to find a new bar, Cristina," she laughed.

I didn't have to find a new bar, though. Cesar and Li, the owners, now speak to me in Italian. If I start to slip into Spanish, Cesar will say, "Say it in Italian," or he'll say the word or phrase for me.

Tonight, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I went to the bar to show Cesar some information on the school, and I didn't know how to say something in Italian.

"I have to say this in Spanish," I told him in Spanish. I then proceeded to throw in Italian words because I was thinking them in Italian instead of in Spanish. 

Che buono.


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  2. Thanks for new information. Always appreciated. I knew about Ruthenians before, but had never heard the word "Rusyn". Interesting!