Used by 64 million people as a mother tongue, by 3 million as second choice, recognised as one of the official languages of the EU, of the Republic of San Marino, of Switzerland, of the Vatican City State and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Italian is classified at 21st position as language per number of speakers in the world. As the afore-mentioned figure suggests, it is also one of the foreign languages most studied. Significant if we consider how tiny our boot is.
Any linguistic enthusiast will know how fascinating Italian is, on discovering how so many English words, which seemingly have very obscure connections to……anything(!), suddenly become crystal clear in their meaning when the Latin origin is revealed…..and can be easily detected in modern-day Italian.
Umbrella. What a silly word. No apparently logical relationship to the concept it defines, like let’s say…..altitude? Magnificent? Bonus? Primary? Of course we’re not kidding anyone – all of these words and thousands more come from Latin, as does “umbra”, meaning shade. Although the Italian word for umbrella is “ombrello” – something that offers shade, nowadays it saves us from getting wet! Equally curious, the word “parasol” – a dainty little umbrella which was used by rich, noble ladies back in the day, to protect their pearly white skin from becoming vulgarly tanned – in reality is easily explained; parare (to protect) sole (sun). We could go on forever….
So whilst many young students complain that the study of what they believe to be a DEAD language is completely useless, they had better think again. Latin is very much alive and kicking, not only in Italian, but in languages all over the world, and it helps us to understand where we came from.
But the beauty of the Italian language is simply in its sound; musical, flowing, expressive. And unfortunately for learners – very fast! The biggest difference from English is the fact that the pronunciation of the letters never changes, so it is very easy to read, even if comprehension is a little more difficult, given the complexity of the grammar. The rolled “R” is not easy to acquire, not to mention the sound of double letters such as “NN”, “RR” and “MM”, which take a lot of practice, since nothing of the kind exists in English, and you can end up uttering some very embarassing words if you don’t master them! Please understand the difference between “Anno” (year) and………..well, you work that one out yourselves!!
Giancarlo and Valerie, the owners of the B&B Villa Tre Angeli at Bedonia, have had a brilliant idea; why not promote their business on Facebook with some “Learn Italian with us” podcasts? Giancarlo was born and raised in Bedonia, so he is a native speaker, while Valerie was born in New Jersey, and speaks perfect American English. Both, over the years, have learned to speak the language of their partner, and are collaborating in these entertaining sessions, a couple of times a week, in which they teach some of the basics. Giancarlo bursts into song every now and again (he just can’t help it!), with a heartfelt rendering of some Italian classic, and, with the assistance of their friend Gina Marcello, they suggest some useful sentences, while explaining verbs and pronunciation.
On the other hand, even if you are not able to fully understand the language, Italians are famous for being very expressive with gestures! Try tying one’s hands and asking for directions…….simply cannot be done! There is a complete vocabulary of movements carried out with hands, arms, fingers, shoulders ….well, the whole body actually. All universally recognised HERE – but which can be terribly confusing for a foreigner.
– Pinching fingers together and waving the hand up and down – what on earth are you talking about? (And that’s a polite way of putting it!)..
– Slapping the base of the right thumb with the left hand whilst waving the rigid right hand up and down – let’s get out of here;
– Brushing the chin with back of fingers from neck outwards in an abrupt movement – I couldn’t care less…….
– And last example but not least…..what we call the umbrella gesture; one slap in the hollow of one elbow with the other hand while raising the forearm and forming a fist – warning – this is not very ladylike, and means, in a very loose translation, stick it where the sun don’t shine!!!
There you have it……romantic Italian at its best!