Let’s Talk Italiano (hand gestures NOT optional)

Each week on the Let’s Talk series, I’ll be featuring a language learner who will share their heroic process of mastering a foreign tongue. Next up, Ezezz talks Italian.

Ezezz profile_result

Arcobaleno. /ar.ko.ba.ˈlɛːno/ n. Language: Italian. Meaning: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet; the color of all my clothes. Also known as a rainbow.

My name is Elizabeth, Lizz, Betty, Ezezz, Wolverine, and I am 22 years old. Currently I find myself aboard the Sailing School Vessel, The Tole Mour, a tall ship where I am an instructor/deckhand, teaching kids 9-18 how to sail. So why did I learn Italian? Well, my grandparents are immigrants from Italy and the culture is still very strong in my family. I always wanted to be able to speak Italian so as soon as I got the chance I started to study it (which unfortunately was not until university). When I started university, I didn’t know what to major in, what clubs to join, etc.; I just knew I wanted to spend a year abroad in Italy learning the language. So I went, I learned, I socialized and I traveled. Check out my photos at hugshandshakeshi5s.blogspot.com.

Italian is an Indo-European Romance language primarily spoken in . . . take a guess! There are roughly 63.5 million native speakers worldwide. 

Numbers for Words

1. How many years have you studied it? I technically took two years of Italian at UCSB before I studied abroad. However, I am not one that can learn a language in a classroom. When I went to Italy my Italian was atrocious and I don’t think any of my classmates had faith that I would ever be close to fluent in Italian. But boy did I show them. The one year I was in Italy is really when I learned it. So I studied for 3 years (including my time abroad) but really learned it for one.

2. How would you describe your fluency? 1–10 (0, a houseplant speaks this language better than me. 5, I’m just barely fluent; 11, I could write the dictionary.) 7. Although the more I learned Italian, the more I realized how much I didn’t know before. I am very confident speaking the language but I know I still have a lot to learn and a lot of grammar to perfect. I must say though, I have fooled Italians into thinking I was Italian on occasion.

Duomo, Florence: Let's Talk Italian

At the Duomo in Florence

3. Rate difficulty in learning this language on a scale of 1-5 for each of the following categories: 

     a. Pragmatics/communicational competence. (Appropriate use of language in context.) 2- Italians have a much more formal respect for professors, professionals, and elders. There is definitely a formal tense they expect you to use, and I forget to use all the time.

     b. Grammar 3- When conjugating verbs, there are countless tenses and on top of that depending on where you are  in the country and if you are reading vs. speaking, the tenses you use for the exact same thing may be different. There are rules, but for every rule there is a list of exceptions one must memorize. However the language is much more regular than English overall and most Italians tend to be forgiving, seeing as they themselves may misuse the language.

     c. Pronunciation 2- There are a couple of sounds in Italian that do not exist in English. The hardest for me is the sound gl makes (something like glyuh), as seen in the words aglio (garlic) and maglietta (a shirt). For the most part it is an easy language to pronounce.

     d. Vocabulary 3- The Italian vocabulary is extensive, and there are many ways to say one thing (which makes it easier to speak, but perhaps harder to understand). There are also many regional vocabularies along with a variation of vocabulary amongst the generations.

     e. Spelling 1- You spell it like you say it. The only hard part is knowing when you double the consonants or not.

Italy | Let's Talk Italian

Channeling my inner Zen in Italy

Language Meets Culture

1. Reinforce for me in ONE way or ONE example, from your own experience, the idea that language and culture are inseparable. This question is very open-ended, and it’s meant to be ;) 

It is all in the hands. Italians have their own, unofficial sign language. I could have a conversation without saying a word because there are so many gestures that have specific meanings. Towards the start of my time in Italy my roommates decided it would be to my extreme benefit if they gave me an abridged lesson of Italian sign language—you know, only teach me the essentials—and it must have lasted a solid 20 minutes.

2. Did language inspire you to travel? Or did travel inspire/force you to study language?

In the particular case of Italian it is the language that inspired me to travel, because I knew it would be the only way to learn. However, in the case of every other language I think travel has inspired me to learn more languages. After learning Italian I realized I can learn a new language by immersion, so Spanish in Spain is next!

3. Provide an example of how this language has helped you integrate yourself or become more invested in your travels or your life abroad. 

When I studied abroad I went with a program that had other American students. I believe that amongst the small group I was one of the ones that immersed myself better in the culture and came out speaking the language stronger than most. I lived with Italians, studied with Italians, and hung out with Italians, because learning to speak Italian was my goal. I am not saying my experience deserves more merit than the others, but I do believe that my drive to learn the language gave me a better understanding of the culture and without a doubt helped me integrate myself in Italian culture, making my experience abroad simply wonderful.

4. You are this language’s lawyer. Build a case for it. Why should people study this language?

The Italian culture speaks for itself. First of all the food, oh my goodness the food! Need I say more? Well if I must, their warmth. Southern Italians are known for being much warmer that Northern Italians, but even in the north they are friendly. The history, the art, the style, the landscape, or the idea of romance, all are at their epitome in Italy. Now here is the kicker; Italians do not speak English well (on a large scale). If you really want to eat the best Italian food, or go to the best places in Italy and really gain a strong friendship with an Italian, learning their language will sure make all this easier and more enjoyable.

Padova, Italy: Let's Talk Italian

Padova, where I studied abroad

Some Fun Stuff

1. Favorite word in the language. 

Lusingata. “Sono lusingata” means I am flattered (or “sono lusingato” for males). This is a fairly fancy word in Italian and not often used, so when people compliment my Italian and I say “o wow grazie, sono lusingata,” it is the cherry on top, and without fail they are always impressed I know that word.

2. A word that doesn’t translate directly to English, and approximately what it means. 

Sticazzi, which is a slang term that literally means “these dicks,” but it is not used like that at all. It is an expression used similar to OMG! or oh shit! or seriously! to emphasize extremity. So if someone has traveled for 2 days straight and their train is delayed, sticazzi! If you got you get a 30 e lode (the italian version of an A+), sticazzi! If your boss is making you work all day and just after your shift ends they ask you to do one more job, ma sticazzi. It is a word that you need to understand Italians to use, but it is another word that always impresses people when a foreigner uses it.

3. A gesture in this language that differs from English.

In America if you are going to say “whatever” with your hands and you are under 15, you may opt to make a big W with your two hands. In Italy, people of all ages use an open handed stroke from their throat off their chin with a gentle flick of the wrist and palm pointed toward yourself to mean “whatever.” YouTube “Italian sign language” and I am sure this will appear.

4. Any insane differences that blew your mind as a native English speaker. 

One very interesting pronunciation difference is the sound we make when we mean no, uhn uh. In Italian this exact same sound means yes. So imagine the confusion. One time I had my homework on the dining table in my apartment and my roommate was cleaning it off and asked if he could throw my papers away. I said uhn uh. Later that week I tore apart my room looking for that assignment and when I asked my roommate about it he said it must have been the papers he threw away. I did say he could, after all.

5. Tell us a funny story or mistranslation you made in your language learning process. 

One time, after I had visited Bologna, I was talking about how it is the city of red rooves (“tetto”); I had climbed a tower there where I was able to look down on the city and see that all of the rooves were red. Unfortunately when I was saying this I threw off my conversation partners, because I accidentally told them that Bologna was the city of red breasts (“tetta”).

Colosseum, Rome: Let's Talk Italian

In Roma.

A huge grazie to Ezezz! Hands up if this makes you want to learn Italian! To check out more heroic language learners in the Let’s Talk series, click here.

Are you a foreign language learner? Email me at athingforwords (at) gmail (dot) com to be part of the series!

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  • Jenni Midgley

    Just stumbled across this, I’m in Italy right now trying to get a grip of the language. Everything Ezezz says about Italians is true though, they are so forgiving and love a trier (thank god).

  • First, I love her pics.

    Next, I did not realize how much Italiano I did NOT know until I got here too haha… I figured I would be able to get by in Spanish… not so much. I love the language, though, so beautiful even when people are fighting :D

    • I’m completely with you on that one, Chanel. When I went there I just talked to everyone in Spanish….not realizing until I did how completely insulting that could be! Now I’m living with an Italian in Barcelona and I can sort of understand shows he watches in Italian, but definitely not the same as Spanish!

  • Anne

    As you know, I’m a big reader. But I can get the spirit of this post just from the images, which I think speaks both to your blog and to the Italian language :)

  • Keep these cool posts comin’! I loved Ezezz’s insight into Italian sign language. Spain has some unique hand gestures but they’re pretty toned down and easy to catch onto. That’s hilarious that the basics of Italian gestures took 20 minutes to teach! :D

    • Hahaha I know, can you imagine having to learn both Spanish and a separate course of “Gestures of Spanish?” Seems like it’d be overwhelming!

  • Jessie Beck

    I love the anecdote about your roommate throwing away your papers (not the missing assignment aspect, but the point it illustrates). It’s always those little things that get ya.

  • Naomi Todd

    I absolutely love this series – finding out how other people learn languages is fascinating! It is so true how you can understand Italians with their hands, I definitely have taken on their animated style ,although ashamedly I have COMPLETELY forgotten Italian thanks to replacing it with Spanish. Would love to take it up again though!

    • So glad you’re enjoying the series, Naomi! And oh man, learning Italian and Spanish at the same time would get so confusing…