02 October 2008

it's the struggle that keeps you strong

2 nights ago i dreamt that i was standing in the midst of a tempest~ swirling about my calm center were pieces of paper with italian words written on them. no matter how hard i tried, i could not take ahold of a single one. my frustrations grew, & then, as often happens in sleep, i drifted to another place, unrelated. but when morning came, the vividness of that vocabulary/grammar dream that haunted me.normally, the study of anything has come easily to me throughout my entire life, including 4 years of spanish in high school & the study of latin on my own in adulthood. my momma told me that i used to sleepwalk, coming to her in the middle of the night & speaking to her in rapid-fire spanish (she couldn't say if my grammar was on, but she could identify the words). maybe the ease was helped by the fact that 5 days a week we were immersed in a classroom with an excellent teacher who allowed not a word of english from day one, nor would she communicate with me outside the classroom in english. it really was sink or swim with her!

whatever it was, it is embedded in my brain to such a degree that while traveling in italy i have been asked on multiple occasions if i am spanish...not american, spanish! go figure! last summer my instructor was forever correcting little spanish errors too (porque vs. perche...a never ending pronunciation battle for 2 weeks). my time in roma with her was a precious gift to me. & it was also an experience that gave me clarity of things beyond my basic grammar skills...i began to understand a frustration that i did not remember from previous language study.

of course i could recall technical things & use my resources to convey needs & hold a simple conversation, but i could not convey emotions beyond very simple things...i could not state my feelings...i could not express myself in a deeper way. i found that, for the first time in my life, i preferred to be silent. (those of you who know me in the real world, please do not laugh ;-)...for i know you believe that to be impossible!) & now i realize that in the beauty of that silence some deeper learning was taking place.

i was starting to grasp some nuances of this language that captivates me...i could hear the stressed syllables of words that had eluded me...i could hear word order in sentences. i also learned how humbling it can be to be 2 steps behind a speaker's words...to lose an important concept because i was translating 3 sentences behind what had just been said.

yesterday my oldest son noticed my exasperation & asked me about it...i told him that for the umpteenth time that day i had hit a wall in my understanding of italian. (verb tenses & prepositions have become the bane of my existence.)he wondered aloud why i would even attempt this. hmmmm...i love language. italian is incredibly beautiful...i never tire of hearing it spoken. i have been lulled to sleep by its lyrical enchantment. i cannot explain why it draws me to itself. really, i don't care...it is part of my path. & in talking with my son i realized that the challenge of this language for me personally is like a breath of the crisp fall air which surrounded me this morning. it invigorates my senses & the reward of returning to italy with a bit more skill in italian far outweighs my frustrations with expression...quite the opposite~~ it fuels me to apply myself even more. (this one's for you
Baby Girl, my language-immersed child...a little bit of home)...


Paula said...

Oh what a beautiful and wonderous post! I have the images from your dream swimming around in my head and I am at the same time so frustrated because if it were not for this danged DAY JOB, I would be heading off to the studio to put the images into works of art.

I will struggle to keep the images and read your post over and over to keep the dream alive and then maybe I'll be able to make the art.

- A - C - said...

Uh hu... now I do feel guilty (I'll be more careful with emails written entirely in italian) :-D

michelle of bleeding espresso said...

A beautiful expression of the struggles of learning a language you truly love. I hear you ;)

Anonymous said...

I want to get to that point, the one where you are - I would love to be able to get past the very basics and just be able to HEAR more than gibberish. I can't even imagine hearing emotion yet, and expressing emotion is inconceivable at this point.

There are so many beautiful languages that I would like to learn - I think of Italian, German, and Spanish. I've learned a bit of Latin (I should have learned more after 4 years! but I was learning along with elementary school kids...) and now French. The Latin study has helped us with the French, strangely enough. It gives me hope that PERHAPS another language (far in the future) MIGHT be possible, for it MIGHT be that much easier?

Why French? I ask myself - and I think it's much like you described your love of Italian. It's beautiful to me, but I couldn't tell you why. It just sounds like a song. Once I learn it, I may not find it as magical as it sounds to a foreign ear, I don't know. My husband thinks it is a dying language, an illogical choice - but he understands that desire is sometimes illogical. :)

And desire is half the battle if you are making a great effort of any kind.

I'm curious to know where you are taking classes (a local college? a tutor?) - and how that is going, how often you go, and why you decided to take it to that level. I think at some point if you want to move on, you have to get personal with it, which means talking to PEOPLE. :) Maybe I'll get there one day - I hope so.

Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

I get it ... I've been there. I mean, uh I AM THERE! In bocca al lupo!

Frances said...

I've always had languages swirling around me to.
I grew up in a hosuehold where everyone spoke Italian. Well, everyone but me. Grandma spoke Italian to me I spoke English to her.
Hubby is Puerto Rican and all my business associates have been mostly Israeli in the past and now Indian.
I've never dreamed of or in other languages though.
Waving at you from New York,

Anonymous said...

I hit stages like that too. Everything is gone and it scares me. Then, it all comes back..with more! It's amazing how the mind works :)

Lela B said...

thanks for visiting me.. I liked your pic of the weather alot.That pic was a temptest. no study comes easy to me. Your writing is very natural. Most of mine is satire. You were on the nice site:)

jmb said...

I am looking for photo hunt and have no idea which blog it is on. But I stopped to read this post since I too have studied Italian for years but never totally mastered it. I have been to Italy ten or so times, starting with my honeymoon 47 years ago. Three times to go to language school and do a homestay with a family. While there I am relatively fluent on the whole but even though I take class once a week at home, it drops back for lack of real practice.

I reached a plateau years ago that I cannot seem to climb out of.

My daughter teaches French and is really bilingual. She has a PhD in it. She also is qualified to teach Italian and is extremely fluent in that too, also married to an Italian. Now she is studying Spanish at an accelerated rate and she says she feels as if she can't speak anything at the moment since she is pretty confused.

Hang in there it is a beautiful language and at least you know the complicated grammar of Spanish and although it is different it stands you in good stead.
Now where is that photo hunt?

Britt-Arnhild said...

I think your dream show that you are fast on your way deep into the beautiful Italian language.
Good luck.

Claudia said...

I perfectly understand what you mean, because is what I feel when I study German!

You know, children have to be silent at the beginning in order to learn the language (that's why they are called infants from the latin verb for, faris: to speak).

I think is a common experience for language learner that of silence! And I appreciate it a lot!

rochambeau said...

Hi Friend,
You know........somehow it seems that JUST ABOUT when were getting ready for the next phase of anything including a foreign language things get truly frustrating. This is NOT when a person should give up. Give your self a little break. Your brain will surprise you I think!

Thank you for your prayers of support.
I go to the oncologist with my mom on Tues.
Will let you know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, creation must be beautiful from someone so. I'd love to hear your thoughts not dissected by your mind. Must be a pretty sight.

SabineM said...

First Fabulous PHOTO! WOW!
And love the post. Been there!

qualcosa di bello said...

paula...you absolutely *must* let me know if you do this!!! that would be awesome...

andrea...please don't stop the italian! i need all the practice i can get.

michelle...i heard your 'been there, done that' from across the pond!

jennifer...you are exactly right about the desire. i started with a travel-language book, bought more books (too many!), begged my italian-speaking friends, eventually started meeting with a small group of dedicated americans wishing to speak italian, & finally took a short class in rome. right now we are blessed to have a native italian who teaches english as a second language in our midst for weekly tutoring. & of course, there are blog buddies who put me in the crucible from time to time (thanks andrea!!)

cherrye...i had that exact phrase in my head all last week (thanks to claudia for explaining it last spring!)

frances...you really did/do have languages all around...the beauty of life in the big apple!

maryann...i'm anxiously awaiting the 'it all comes back with more' part ;-)

lela...when i was taking that shot, i kept wondering if i should beat a fast path outta there! thank you for your kind words :-)

jmb...your comment makes me think that my best solution is to move there permanently! thanks for dropping by :D

britt-arnhild...i sure hope you are right!!

claudia...thanks for your reassurance about the silence. i've never heard anyone who teaches language mention this aspect.

constance...a very happy name to see in the comments!!! thank you for your encouragement. i've been holding you in my heart through this move...please do let me know how your momma is. love to you both!! :D

noah...it can also be quite scary...in my opinion at least! thank you for kindness...

sabine...i just bet you have!!