30 October 2005

"What is?"

What language do I speak?

When I open my mouth, I don't quite hear Italian. But it doesn't exactly sound like English most days, either - just ask anyone I try to converse with. Far beyond my elementary years, I've developed my own language. I am between languages.

I'm not alone. I hear it when other interns speak. I am reassured by others who have "been there" that it is ok to both speak quasi languages, and that it will pass (into what, though?). I guess I should soak up this phase while I can, no?

I caught myself dreaming in Italian on the way back from the hot springs the other night. Or rather, I dreamed about me trying to speak Italian, parsing out sentence after sentence; it was very real life! More often, I have Italian conversations in my head (what will I say if Carmen asks me about the ingredients in today's lunch?), run through vocab, or think about what I actually said that made Angelo give me that funny look. If nothing else, I try to learn a new word or phrase every day, either by necessity (I never imagined myself looking up "cubic meter" in my Italian-English dictionary), or through a random flipping in a dictionary or book (yesterday: dappertutto/everywhere; today: fuori rotta/off course). All of this together is so much better than my years of high school Spanish...

One of the more difficult, but fascinating, aspects of learning a new language immersion-style is realizing how I feel about myself within the process, and also how I am perceived by others. Mostly, I feel like a different person, and see that I come across differently to Italians than I do to people I can readily speak with in English. I am often quieter in Italian company, less gregarious...when inhibitions are down, I'm an eager speaker, though I'm aware of my grammatical mistakes, if not the halting in my speaking. I speak on.

I do hate that my skills in English spelling seem to be on the slip right now. I remember the pride I felt in Mrs. Hill's weekly spelling bees! Is it always that one must lose something in order to gain another?

I dislike more that I can only know people *so* well here - the workers, other Italians I meet. I've enjoyed gaining a new sensitivity and a new perceptiveness when interacting within the language barriers, but it doesn't make assessing someone's experiences, intelligence, or intentions any easier. I do appreciate that the sentiment of "you just have to laugh" carries through other cultures and languages...

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