That being said, within our first few days here I was completely overwhelmed by how little I was able to communicate with the native Italians. I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of the pool without being taught how to swim. Granted, that was my own fault for coming in with absolutely no knowledge, but I wanted to see how much I truly learned over the course of my time here. The phrase “parla inglese?” became my lifeline for the next two weeks. Over time, I began to explore our area more and soon realized that in the area surrounding the university, most people spoke English anyway due to the numbers of tourists and study abroad students regularly passing through. It became a comfort to me when my Italian inevitably failed, I had English to fall back on.
While attempting to learn through complete immersion, I also opted to take an introductory Italian class to further my understanding of the language, a decision I am very grateful for now. On the first day, our professor handed us a list of Italian words and told us to sort them in to categories and tell her what they meant, a task that seemed impossible to all of us at the time. Slowly but surely, we figured it out as a group with only a handful of words remaining at the end that none of us understood. The point of this exercise was to show us that we knew more than we thought, we just never realized it until she forced us to think about it.
That lesson is the most important one I have learned. You never realize how much you know until you are forced to put some thought and effort into it. A classroom experience is phenomenal and should be a starting point for anyone learning a language. There is a difference, however, between getting a 100 on a vocabulary quiz and actually putting your knowledge to the test. Although I am by no means fluent now, I do think having a combination of both immersion and class time has helped me exactly the way I was hoping it would, giving me more practical skills that I can now use in my day to day interactions. The progress has come in baby steps, but I do still feel a sense of pride when I handle a store or restaurant interaction completely in Italian, especially after looking back on how difficult that was two months ago.
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