I would love to have a video of our class, it must be hilarious. We are one step above absolute beginner level with a very limited Italian vocabulary. When the teacher asks one of us a question, we start to answer, the mouth opens then we realise that we just don’t have the words. There are lots of umms, ahhs, and ohhs accompanied by hand gestures as if we could grasp the words and pull them from the air. It can be frustrating, but somehow the professor understands and helps us to explain our ideas properly. When asked where I was born, I said in the United States in Illinois. The teacher said, “Oh Chicago?” I wanted to say “No, I am from the other end of the state” but all I could get out was “the other… the other…” while vigorously pointing down. Helping me out, the teacher said “from another city in Illinois?” I took the easy way out, “Yes, another city in Illinois”.
While we manage to muddle through conversations in the classroom, outside the school it is a different story. The first day I was fortunate to meet J (names omitted to protect the innocent), a lovely Japanese woman. Italian is our common language, which was a problem in the beginning since we barely understood each other. We developed an interesting method of communication: When we would succeed in understanding one word, we would just keep repeating it, hoping that we would soon be able to recognise another one. Our conversations would go something like this:
J: Xxx xxx xxx tomorrow xx xx.
Me: Yes, tomorrow, tomorrow?
J: Xxx xxx xxx tomorrow xx school.
Me: Yes, tomorrow, school?
We would continue like this until we could get some idea of what the other one had said or until we would just give up, smile, shrug, and change the subject to start our little guessing game all over again. This method, while mildly effective, was a bit embarrassing.
Then we made another friend and our communication system improved but became more complicated. H is also Japanese, but speaks English. Italian is still our common language, but when that doesn’t work we have an interpreter. However when our brains are saturated with new grammar and vocabulary, things can get pretty funny. H starts explaining to me in Japanese and to J in English, and then I start speaking to H in French. Well, we have a lot of laughs and we help each other with the language. It is easier when there are three of us trying to figure out how to structure a sentence. I was trying to say something last night and needed the correct conjugation. By the time the three of us got it figured out, no one could remember what we were talking about. It must be entertaining for the people at the other tables around us if they are eavesdropping.
One week down, 11 to go.