27 December 2010

Abbicci and the Art of the Italian Language

Abbicci is how we pronounce ABC in Italian.  It means ABC, alphabet, primer, rudiments, and basics.  I love that abbicci is a word instead of merely ABC.  The English equivalent is abecedary, though, I must admit, I have never heard it.

Many of my friends in the States often comment to me that I must now be speaking fluently and like a local.  Magari! (I wish) Anzi! (on the contrary).

Since a child and growing up in Los Angeles where Hispanics make up approximately 47% of the population, I spoke Spanish.

My first visit to Italy in 2003 inspired my desire to learn Italian. I thought it would not be too difficult since it is similar to Spanish.  Wrong!  Spanish is a piece of cake.  Italian is -- I don't know what to compare a piece of cake to. A piece of marble?  It requires chipping away at the stone for a long time to speak the language at all well.

Twice I received a month-long scholarship to study the language here in Florence, Italy.  Once I began studying Italian, my brain told me, "You must decide. Will it be Italian or Spanish?"  The two languages are similar yet still so different.  Spanish is spoken in more than 20 countries around the world; Italian, primarily in two countries, i.e., Italy and the Ticino region of Switzerland. It would have been more practical to choose Spanish, but I found the Italian language beautiful, melodic, enchanting, and seductive.  And I knew I would continue to return to Italy.  I chose Italian.  Now when I speak the word "gracias," it doesn't sound correct to my ears.

I am in Italy since about a year ago, and I would hope my Italian were near perfect by now.  I believe that practice does not make for perfection, rather practice makes permanent.  If you play tennis with a bad backhand and continue to play with that bad backhand, it's never going to correct itself.  It becomes a permanent bad backhand.  Old habits are difficult to break.  Yes, I can speak all day in Italian, but I make errors in every other sentence.  I imagine I sound like I just crossed the border into this country.  I can survive and get along quite well with my level of Italian.  But I want more.  I want to be able to speak and understand better than I do.

Speaking on the streets and in my day-to-day life, the conversations rarely get deep enough to stretch my language skills, and because most Italians appreciate our attempts to speak their language in their country, they rarely correct us.  And, frankly, there is too much English spoken in this town with so many tourists and English-speaking expats. Therefore, I keep reinforcing that bad backhand.

By summer I was becoming frustrated that my Italian was actually getting worse, not even staying at the same level.  I had forgotten the rules and the exceptions and was questioning myself when I spoke. Summer of 2006 is when I last studied, and my language was at its peak then.  Speaking well, not perfectly, is high up on my list of priorities since I chose Italy to be my home.
At the end of summer, I decided to take private Italian lessons with one of my favorite professors from 2006.  It's been a few months now since my professor and I started to review the grammar from the beginning.  Days come when I arrive to my professor's office for my lesson and tell him, "I used to love this language, but now I hate it."  The only easy part learning Italian is the pronunciation: What you see is exactly how you say it.  Italian has a ridiculous amount of rules, and for every rule there are about 20 exceptions.  And the verbs... 21 tenses and moods.  In English there are several, but we use only about a handful of them and not much changes in the conjugations.

Just this week we are studying the subjunctive tense (congiuntivo).  There are four moods: present, past, imperfect, and past imperfect.  It is a challenge to learn all the ways to use the subjunctive.  I am determined to grasp the proper usage.  At this stage in my review of the language, subjunctive, is when the language becomes rich and colorful, where it advances from abbicci to pure romance.  We no longer speak only in the indicative, facts:  See Dick. See Spot.  See Spot chase the squirrel.  See Dick chase Spot.  I need to express myself clearly.  My favorite topics of discussion are often subjective topics, which makes the subjunctive mood a necessity.  I am on the edge of properly expressing my hopes, dreams, wants, desires, opinions, doubts, suppositions, uncertainties, fears, experiences, expectations and more and having give-and-take dialogue clearly with others in a foreign language in a foreign country.  And it finally is sticking to my brain. My backhand is improving.  It is exciting to be able to express myself and understand what others say to me in Italian, to have much deeper, more meaningful conversations, and take the relationships to an all-new level. This is the very meaning of to be rich. The wealth of words and language to me is wealth in our hearts.  And with this kind of wealth, many doors open wide.  Abbicci spells opportunity.  Just in time for the new year.

My New Year's resolution?  Expression, self-expression, and a wealthy heart and mind.  My pursuit of the Italian language helps me achieve that resolution.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you really out-did yourself with this post!

    Your remark that "The wealth of words and language to me is wealth in our hearts." reminds me, unfairly to you*, of Nelson Mandela's comment, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

    *Unfairly to you because a two sentence quotation, taken out of context, does not sufficiently illumine your post. You had a lot to say, and you said it well.