I’ve officially started my Italian language school, and I thought it time to check in with my readers… I passed the entrance exam, skipping over the first week of class, and have now completed two days of the second week.
I am loving it.
The school itself is set up as an immersion program, with pretty intense lessons every single day for about 3.5 hours. Now, before you get up in arms saying that 3.5 hours is not much school in one day, let me clarify: almost no English is spoken. Even when introducing new words, new grammatical structures, etc. the instructor tries very hard to do it all in Italian, building off of words and phrases that we know well, and using pointing, gestures, and mime to help us figure out what she’s saying. She’ll confirm or deny if we hazard a guess in English (or French, or German, etc. — she’s amazingly multilingual) but even then, she agrees or disagrees in Italian. Only in dire straights when we’re just not getting it will she speak in our native language to us, and it’s always shocking when she does, because her accent is stunningly good.
It’s absolutely exhausting. Both days I’ve come home from class (after a stop at the nearby grocery store, which is my new daily tradition) and collapsed on the couch for a quick afternoon nap. My brain is overwhelmed with grammar, vocabulary, indefinite articles, conjugation, etc… and I’m loving every minute of it.
I was particularly nervous showing up on my first day, because I actually enrolled in levels 2-5 for the four weeks of class, skipping level 1 entirely. I had to complete a written entrance exam beforehand, with fill-in-the-blank spots on sentences, instructions to conjugate verbs, and even a writing assignment to compose a letter on a certain topic… and I didn’t know some of the vocabulary or how to conjugate some of the verbs. (And no, I didn’t just Google it, because there’s no point cheating my way into a higher level of class and then being dumbfounded when I had no idea what they were talking about.)
Still, even when I couldn’t answer the question, I’d write out my understanding of what was there (explaining what portion I didn’t understand or know how to do) in order to demonstrate some proficiency with the language. When I arrived, they reviewed my written exam and deemed it worthy of the next step: the oral exam.
Here’s where shit gets real, because without the benefit of time to ponder the question and compose your answer, you’re caught on the fly trying to not only interpret the question, but form an answer quickly, and say the answer out loud in some semblance of an Italian accent. It was actually fairly straightforward, with the examiner asking me my name, where I’m from originally, what I do for a living, where I live now, etc. All pretty easy stuff if you’ve gotten a decent exposure to small-talk in a language… and she quickly determined that I was ready to start!
Turns out this examiner is my instructor for the week, and I soon met the other two students in the Week 2 class with me. One is a young German woman, who started this sequence at my school last week. The other is a British man, who (like me) skipped the first week because of prior language proficiency. So far we’ve had a fun couple of days together, taking turns asking each other questions and practicing answers, having dialogue in Italian, etc.
Naturally I very quickly positioned myself as the class clown, taking any opportunity to crack jokes in Italian. (My classmates and my instructor are now well versed in my husband, our dogs, my crazy workload, my misery at the heat and lack of AC in Siena, and my love for wine and whiskey.) I haven’t yet gotten proficient enough to make puns in Italian, but that day is coming, I’m certain of it.
I am very happy with this choice. Who’d have thought I’d be excited about anything requiring me to go back to using an alarm clock?!