Italy Bound

Italy Bound

Monday, August 15th, 2011

In a recent post I talked a bit about studying Italian in Italy. There are the obvious advantages of being in a place where everyone is speaking Italian. It is that prod that is needed to get past the embarrassment of speaking like a 3 year old when in fact you are a well educated adult. With your familiar “madrelingua” (mother language) to fall back on it is hard to pick up and really exercise an expanded vocabulary. It’s also hard to develop the rhythm of a different language. There is also the temptation to always be translating. “Ok, this is the way that I say it in English and so I’ll just change the words and say the same in Italian.” Well, it really doesn’t work that way. This is doubly true when someone is speaking to you in Italian. So you just kind of have to rewire your brain since things are said differently. Just one little simple example. Say you are talking to a friend about a book. In English you would say “ I’ll give it to you.” The Italian form of construction is “You it I give.” (Ti lo do.)

I have found that in learning Italian I have learned a lot about my own language. I hadn’t thought about adjectives and adverbs, pronouns and articles since I was in gradeschool for God’s sake and now I have to think about such things. Quick, tell me what a gerund is! I’d forgotten that one too. So all of that, of necessity, starts coming back. Then when I talk to my friend Massimiliano in Turin I find other curious things about English. Here’s an easy example: “I used to play baseball when I was a kid.” “Used to” – what kind of talk is that? Try explaining that to a non-English speaker. From what I can see it is the English version of an Italian verb tense called “imperfetto” which is a special form of past tense of the verb that really doesn’t exist in English. So I’m starting to meander around a bit here but I think that you can see the point. It’s not just learning a new set of words, it’s how a lot of things are used in a sentence, the cadence of speech and so many things. It makes it all fascinating, perplexing, frustrating and in the end, satisfying.

So I mentioned that I am fully committed to go to Italy. I will be in Bologna for 8 weeks of study starting the first Monday in September. Planning all of this is not insignificant. I am relieved to have been able to sublet my apartment. I’m happy to have it occupied and the money is helpful as well since this is not an inexpensive trip. I’ve found a reasonable place to store my car. I’ve bought a laptop, a great camera, an unlocked GSM cell phone and all kinds of other odds and ends that will be useful for the trip. I’ve packed and unpacked and found the right set of luggage to see me through. One carry on suitcase for travel within Italy augmented by a large one to carry enough clothes and other stuff to support an 11 week trip. I’m now educated on wiring money internationally so that I could prepay for the school. Once I get there I will be able to have a bank account and wire myself some money so that I won’t need to have large amounts of cash stuck under my mattress.

So where am I going and how did I choose. The school selection process started over a year ago when I started rekindling the dream of study abroad. The web is certainly a godsend for such research. I ruled out some locales for better or worse. I am not terribly fond of either Turin or Milan. Likewise I feel like Florence is so full of tourist as to be the art Disneyland of Italy. I didn’t really want to be south of Rome and I’m not sure why other than unfamiliarity with that area and some idea that somehow I would pick up a southern accent and sound like the equivalent of an Italian who learned his English in Mississippi or something. I really wanted to go to Liguria since I like that area so much. Unfortunately Italians and other Europeans like it a lot so it is really rather a resort area and the pricing was not attractive for an extended stay. I didn’t want to be in a small medieval town so out went Sienna, Lucca and Montepulciano even though I love them all. So the winner is: Bologna. I spent a few days there once and found it a great place. The food is great and they had at least 3 candidate language schools.

So the school that I chose. The letters stand for Accademia Lingue e Culture Europee. See how easy the language is – you didn’t need a translation, did you. The acronym “alce” also happens to mean “elk” or “moose” in Italian.



Not something that one sees often around there. Still, they adopted a logo that looks a lot like Bullwinkle so I liked the tongue in cheek humor of that. The thing that really tipped the scales for me is that they guarantee no more than 8 students in a class. My hope is that since it is not summer I will have no more than 6. I need all of the help that I can get and that is not consistent with a large class size.

So I am signed up and prepaid for 8 weeks of instruction: 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I am also signed up for a homestay as opposed to apartment or dormitory style of living. So I will be staying with Italians who don’t speak English. We’re talking maximal immersion here with hopefully the desired outcome. In planning the trip I know that all work and no fun will make Joe a dull boy so I have reserved the last two weeks to travel wherever I feel like during my time in Italy. With my newly burnished Italian that should be fun. Also I plan to visit my friend Max on a weekend trip to Turin as well as another to visit Gabriele who lives in Salsomaggiore in Emilia Romagna. Gabriele wrote a post about his area that you can find here.

So starting in early September I will be doing some posts while in Italy. I’m sure to have some interesting experiences and of course I’ll have my spiffy little camera with me all of the time. I may even change the background on the home page from Portofino to Bologna if I feel that I’ve got a great picture for a replacement.

4 Responses to “Italy Bound”

  1. Dana Says:

    Wonderful! I’m jealous actually – I won’t be able to go this year. But I look forward to your posts. Buon Viaggio!

  2. Joe Says:


    I have high hopes and at least a little trepidation. 11 weeks is a long time after all. Still, I think it will be great. I hope you’ll have a chance in the not too distant future for a sojourn,


  3. Cathy Says:

    Hi Joe,
    Your forthcoming trip to Italy sounds like a real adventure! Years ago, I thought of attending a language school in Italy too, but somehow I never got around to making it happen. I enjoyed doing a short course in learning Italian before my first trip to Italy years ago, but don’t think I would cope well with the ‘full immersion’ experience as you have selected! I believe that it is the best way to learn though, and I’ll be keen to read of your experiences over the next few months.
    From your post, you seem to be well prepared for your trip to Bologna. I am curious to know, what you are looking forward to the most about returning to Italy?

  4. Joe Says:


    Well, I hope that you go. If you’ve read my posts then you know that I did this once before, spending a month in Rome. There is such an experiential difference between being a tourist running to and fro to explore whatever interests that you might have and actually living in a place. You learn the neighborhood, shop in the same stores often for pasta or wine or whatever. Add the learning of the language so that you can actually talk to these people in even a modest way and it can be a very satisfying experience.

    In regard to your question then it is really feeling in some small way as a resident even if only for 2 months. I also dearly hope to improve my Italian well enough to be able to have relatively casual conversations with Italians that I meet. I’ll be posting from time to time so I’ll let you know how it is working out.


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