Indiana University Overseas Study

Language of Love


Everyone seems to have one of the few set reasons for studying in Italy: fashion, religion, art, or heritage.

The utility of other languages is unquestionable. Spanish wins you Spain and most of South America; French gives you France, a lot of Africa, and even parts of Canada; German is useful not only in Germany, but also with a multitude of medical terms developed in WWII.
But Italian? Italian is spoken for love.

For me, Italian is for that last reason: heritage. My father emigrated from Italy so although I don’t look it, I am half-Italian.

Portrait of my father (left) and his family

Portrait of my father (left) and his family

I never learned the language when I was little, and when I needed to speak it my vocabulary was limited.
I had a set and fairly unimpressive dialogue for speaking to my Nonna (grandmother):

-Ciao Nonna, sono Adriana.
-Ciao bella!

Then one of us would ask
-Come stai?
The other would reply
on a normal basis or
if we were sick.
-E tu?
we continued. Then the other person would reply in the same format, as to whether they were good or bad. It would normally end there then my Nonna would say
-Ciao, amore, baccioni/un abbraccio (kisses/hug)
-Ciao Nonna!

For a long time that was the extent of my ability. Of course, I wasn’t even sure of what I was saying, thinking “Come stai” might be written “Quomestai” or “abbraccio” to be “bracho.”

Nonna preparing lunch for the family

Nonna preparing lunch for the family

Gradually, I gained a little more knowledge. School became “scuola” and rice “riso” and night “notte.” These simple words and phrases hold a similarity with the English language- allowing me to add a little more spice into the short conversations with my Nonna. Eventually I could say “School is good” or “I am tired.” These similarities also made me presumptuous, however. Understanding the language as one in which you add an -a or an -o to the end of English words, I would try to tell her stories. One day, I was trying to tell her a story about a spoon. And how do you say spoon in Italian? Spoon-o!

Actually it’s cucchaio.

So freshman year at IU, I began taking Italian to learn those tricky nuances and grammar which were until then concealed from me.

I fell in love with the language—with my passionate professoressa (female professor) and her lilting accent, with the refreshing break from science classes, with the study of culture and the connection to my heritage—that I have been taking Italian classes ever since and somehow ended up here, in Bologna, playing hooky from my microbiology major waiting for me back home.

My Nonna surrounded by her grandchildren

My Nonna surrounded by her grandchildren

Not only has learning Italian been an invaluable skill as far as giving me this opportunity to study abroad and to integrate into a new culture, it has also granted me the gift of talking to my Nonna in her mother language. She tells me the history of our family—of abandoned babies and earthquakes; she teaches me to cook traditional dishes—olive ascolane and ravioli alla ricotta; she gives me books of poetry—poems written by my grandfather…

Studying Italian is not a whim or a requirement for me—it is a passion. It is a discovery of an ancient culture, of lauded tomes of classic writers, but more importantly, it is a discovery of myself.

View all posts by Adriana

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