A trip to Italy: some thoughts on first impressions concerning languages

The Colosseum in Rome

The Colosseum in Rome

This summer, I spent a week in Italy (Rome and Vatican City). Even as a language lover, I was completely clueless concerning the language before I arrived. I did not know anything about its phonology, grammar, etcetera. To be completely honest, the only words I knew were ‘yes’ and grazie ‘thank you’. Whenever I visit a country of which I do not speak the native language, I cannot help but feel intimidated. I experienced this for the first time in Spain, where no one I encountered spoke much English. I expected to experience this once again in Italy, but my assumptions turned out to be incorrect.

When I arrived on the airport, my first observation was that all signs were bilingual: in Italian as well as in English. Considering the location, this shouldn’t be too surprising, however, so I decided not to draw any conclusions just yet. And then, I heard Italian for the first time (well, probably not, but I can’t remember hearing it being spoken by natives before that). At first, I was a bit disappointed. One of my friends, who has been learning the language for years now, claims that it is the most beautiful language in existence. According to her, it is much more friendly than German, for example. To my ears, in contrast, it sounded rough, loud, and unfriendly. It didn’t help that I could not decipher it at all. This thought stayed with me for a few days, but I gradually warmed up to the language. Maybe, the fact that most Italians appeared to speak English well enough for me to talk to them allowed me to start feeling comfortable in the country. After thinking about my first encounter with Italian some more, however, I came to a different conclusion. My first impression had just been unlucky, as the “unfriendly Italian” I had heard had been a policeman speaking to someone who seemed to have done something wrong. Naturally, this would not have sounded friendly in any language, however beautiful its phonology. Hence, I decided to ignore this first impression. This decision, combined with me becoming more comfortable in Italy, made me warm up to Italian. It shows that contexts may influence a language in a way that does not necessarily reveal anything about the language itself. Therefore, conclusions should never be drawn based on one situation alone. No, Italian is still not on my priority L2 learning list and yes, I still prefer Germanic languages above Romance ones. Nevertheless, I grew to like the language enough to buy yet another Harry Potter book: Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). This means that I will most likely attempt to learn Italian sometime in the future, although I do not know when yet. Despite negative encounters, I got to experience that this language is just as beautiful as many others which did impress me from the start.

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