Learning Italian in Italy

Submitted by Natalie Kaucic on the 2018 spring semester program in Rome, Italy…

I was lucky enough to have three semesters of wonderful Italian teachers at UD, but nothing quite prepares you for being thrown in a country where Italian is everyone’s native language. While Rome does have many English speakers especially in the city center, most Italians are not fluent. This is especially true in Trastevere where I live. The hardest part for me was getting up the courage to try to use my minimal Italian with native speakers. There was so much nervousness and anxiety that accompanied me while speaking to other people that I simply chose not to.  I still feel that stress when I talk to someone in Italian, but I feel completely different than I did at the start of the semester. The difference between me at the start of the semester and today is that now I try so much harder to be understood in Italian and truly have more confidence to make the sincere effort to communicate in Italian.

While most of that confidence came from practicing simple things like ordering food and having simple conversations, a portion of my confidence came from the unexpected support of the people of Trastevere. There are a wonderful handful of people that work in the grocery store below me called Elite that are always willing to practice with me and exchange a little conversation. They all now know me by name and treat me with such kindness! Though, I have to say my best conversations have happened at the bar I frequent. Note: Bars are Italian coffee shops. It’s a bar right across from where I live and I go there around three to four times a week in the morning or mid-afternoon. The same two people work there every single time I have been there and they have helped me not only with my language proficiency and conversational skills, but have helped me understand the many cultural differences that exist between Italy and the United States. They always give me a big warm smile and are nothing but kind to me. The man that works there lived in London for six years so he is fairly fluent in English and is a great resource when I need help with a word or conjugation. I always feel so filled with joy when I leave the bar. Partly, because I leave fully caffeinated, but mainly because I had such a great conversation in Italian with people who genuinely care.

While I am not nearly fluent and still freeze up or accidentally use Spanish in a conversation, I am learning and using my Italian every day to communicate with the wonderfully kind people I encounter in my Italian neighborhood.  While not every Italian has been as warm as the people I previously mentioned, I now have the confidence to use my Italian with them anyway which puts me one step closer to my goal of becoming proficient in conversational Italian.