Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I Just Work Here

It's amusing to me that in studying Italian I am subconsciously becoming more and more aware of how little I know about the grammatical structure of my native tounge. I frequent the bar across the street from our apartment to take a break from work and have an espresso. Over the last month or so I have become friends with the barista Miguel. When we first met we spoke mostly in English, for the sake of my understanding. While his English is probably still better than my Italian, we now speak mostly in Italian. The nice thing is that while he wants to learn to speak English better, he doesn't insist and enjoys speaking Italian with me. This evening however, we got into a discussion about grammar and comparing tenses in Italian and English. In my nerdiness I found it quite interesting, and even more so when I couldn't answer a couple of simple questions!

Miguel: Does "Ho vissuto" mean "I lived" or "I had lived" in English?
Me: "I lived."

Miguel thought it was "I had lived", and when I told him that wasn't exactly right...

Miguel: Why? What is the difference?
Me: ...crickets...

After a few seconds of silence...

Me: La differenza fra 'I lived' e 'I had lived' e` quasi uguale come la differenza fra il uso di il passato prossimo e l'imperfetto.
Miguel: Ho capito!

This he understood. I explained that the difference between the two is similar to the difference between the Italian tenses of passato prossimo (recent past) and imperfetto (imperfect). If any English and Italian buffs out there know this to be incorrect, please correct me. I apologized to Miguel for my uncertainty and told him I would find out. Another question followed:

Miguel: How do you pronounce "ch" in English?
Me: Like "ce" in Italian. Except sometimes when we pronounce it like "ch" in Italian...

Miguel: Quale parole (Which words)?
Me: ...crickets...

In Italian ch is pronounced like ck in English. I again apologized and assured him I'd come up with an example or two (and I have: architect and chorous). These questions and my troubles answering them really underscore the fact that as a native English speaker, I don't really know the language, I just speak it.

It's things like this that I really love about living here. I am really glad to have started finding friends, for lots of reasons. I learn much from them - about Italian, English (go figure), culture - but more importantly, friends are just good to have. They help dull the edge of being a foreigner, and help this place feel more like home.


The journey of a cowgirl said...

so I think that there are many things in the english language that have no explanation. it is a mystery. i find it just as amusing to learn about languages as you....you are definitely not a nerd. sitting and talking about and in different languages sounds lovely. I like getting to hear you voice in the matter of life in Florence. I think it will give me a bigger picture of all that is happening.

Stelle in Italia said...

this is interesting reading about your encounters with Italian and English. I teach English in Macerata (Italy), and I have a harder time explaining the differences between past simple and present perfect, as they don't fall into categories in Italian. I think it's really hard to explain some English verbs in Italian. Anyway, it's great that you are so interested in the language, and it sounds like you are making a lot of progress at understanding.

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