mardi 17 août 2010

On Italian, and goals

I'm back from my trip to Italy. As usual, I'll leave it to Allison to fill in the details of our trip and pretty pictures, and I'll talk about what I thought of the language situation.

As I had mentioned previously, my plan of studying Italian during July fell through due to Real Life. I did end up learning a couple of phrases (mostly restaurant, hotel and tourist related.) What I found interesting was that I probably used those little bits of Italian more than I speak Dutch living in Amsterdam. Now, there's a couple reasons for this. One, our interactions with Italians were fairly straightforward commercial interactions with simple scripts. Because we don't go out a lot in Amsterdam, most of our interactions with Dutch are government agencies and other bureaucracy. You need a much higher level of Dutch to be able to deal in those kinds of situations. Second, the fact that the average level of English in Italy is lower meant that the Italians tended to keep speaking Italian, or at least heavily accented poorly constructed English. In that situation, continuing in Italian (or trying to) felt "worth it".

Something I found in Montreal and continues to be true here: I find it incredibly difficult to speak somebody's native language to them when they are fluent in English. It feels fake, like a game. I used to have trouble speaking French to native English speakers, but the communication course I took (where we were all non-native speakers) for the most part cured me of that. For French anyway.

The other thing I found was interesting and certainly indicative of an immersion environment (and so _not_ applicable to either Montreal or Amsterdam) is being able to learn from your interactions when the other party keeps speaking English. For example, repeatedly buying ice cream, you can easily learn the words for "cone", "cup", "taste", "scoop", etc. All of these lead to longer interactions while purchasing sweet sweet refreshing frozen treats. The flip side of this, of course, is that if the server responds in English, you don't have any of this. No trying to speak Italian, and no learning. It's a different environment. To me, the server responding in English re-enforces the "why bother" attitude of language learning.

Rome was also _filled_ with tourists. Doesn't help that we were hanging around touristy places. I probably heard more French than Italian while I was in Rome. Also, Spanish (Mexican and European), Japanese, German, a number of Englishes (US, AUS, UK), and possibly Afrikaans and Greek. (Also some slavik language I couldn't identify.) Hearing a Quebec accent really made me homesick for Montreal, which was unexpected. The Greek I had to guess based on the writing on their guidebook and the fact that they had a 'th' sound. Afrikaans I guessed because I couldn't identify it as Dutch, even though I kept hearing bits and pieces that were very Dutch-like.

In a couple instances I heard tourists speaking Italian to servers, but most of the international communication was done in English. It was fairly easy to tell which one of the group was more comfortable in English, since they would end up doing most of the talking to the waiter or whomever. I wonder if the people who are against tourists who come and speak English instead of learning the local language are less upset with non-native English speakers speaking English, and if their dislike is actually towards native speakers, and more specifically the bad stereotypical US and UK tourists?

So, that's it for the Italy. I still have a blog post to write about French and one about Dutch, but I still have a bit more thinking to do for them. There's a Polyglot Learn Language meetup tomorrow in Amsterdam so I'll probably write somem words about that too.

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