Recently, it has become painfully clear that I don't really speak Italian.
I Can Get By Italian
Shelter and Fashion Magazines Italian (not to be confused with newspaper Italian. That I don't speak well)
Running Errands Italian (my butcher, the shoe repair guy, drying cleaner lady, etc. somehow understand what the heck I'm saying)
Easy Conversations With My Italian Friends Italian
I had a HUGE wake-up call the other week. I started an internship (more on that in another post) with a Italian furniture/interior design firm. Everyone speaks English, so we are able to communicate. Also, they have many international clients and vendors. I can help out with those projects.
However, it's an office in Italy. When I have to call Italian vendors or clients, I completely panic. This is not good.
My reading comprehension is decent, but I had no idea my verbal skills were so low. Then I thought about it. I speak and write English pretty much 95% of the time here.
I do have Italian friends, but I work in America. I watch American programming and read American news. I do know what is going on in Italy. However, I'm not married to an Italian and before I did not work with Italians.
If I'm honest with myself, I worry that being fluent in Italian will somehow, "throw off" my English. I'm a screenwriter working in Hollywood. I can't afford to forget words in my mother tongue.
It's easy in Rome to be lazy. There are so many expats here. Many of the shopkeepers speak some English because of all the tourists. The majority of my close Italian friends speak English.
I went to a party in Monti with a friend and her Italian friend. He said, "look around, this is why your Italian isn't stronger." Almost everyone at the party was American.
That same night I went to a good-bye party for an British-American friend who was returning to NYC. That crowd was the exact opposite, all Italian. This friend was in Italy for only a few months and spoke better Italian than I did (I had been here three years!) She's also a writer, writing in English. I can't use that as an excuse anymore.
My Italian friends switched to English because I asked them to or they sensed my frustration. I'm concerned that I sound like an idiot in Italian, so I clam up. I should just plow ahead and speak. Italian grammar is no joke. Even very well educated Italians sometimes misuse the subjunctive. I can't believe that tense shows up in childrens' books. grrrrrr
I know some expats get annoyed if you speak or try to speak Italian with them. I guess they think, "We're American why the heck aren't we speaking English?"
Well, I'm going to try an experiment, more immersion. It can't be full immersion because of the work I do. If I'm not working on my book, scripts, blog, etc. I need to be writing, reading, and speaking Italian.
Last week I watched THE GOOD WIFE dubbed and with Italian subtitles. About twenty minutes in I switched to original language and keep the subtitles. It was so much easier to enjoy the show because I didn't have to concentrate. After ten minutes I turned it back to Italian. I have to suck it up and stop taking the easy way out.
I wonder if it's useful to watch American shows dubbed in Italian, but with the English subtitles.
Anyway, I'm going to try this experiment until the end of the year. I'm curious to see if I can actually speak this language well or if I'm a lost cause.
It might mean stepping back a little from the expat scene. I'm not talking about my close friends who happen to be expats, but the larger circle of acquaintances.
My expat friends are fluent. Most of them are married to Italians and/or work with Italians. All of them have said this level of Italian is the hardest to get through.
The last two weeks, since starting my internship, I've spoken more Italian than in all of 2011. Today when I turned on the Italian news, I noticed my comprehension was better. Small steps.