I have always been fascinated by other cultures and have been fortunate to travel to fifteen countries. Wanting a deeper connection that can only be achieved through speaking another language, I studied French for five years in high school. Although I loved the language itself, I had poor teachers and was ready for a fresh start.
In high school we focused on reading, writing, listening and speaking with weekly small quizzes and 1-2 larger assignments for each section. Although I learned grammar and the bones of the language, I never understood culture or the smaller nuances involved in truly understanding a language. Italian has not only taught me vocabulary and grammar, but has tied in the ability to understand Italian culture. While 101 and 102 felt very similar to my high school class, the difference was in the ability to connect what we were learning in class to the real world.
For French, the purpose of writing assignments was to show mastery of a single grammar topic; the actual thought and insight that went into each piece was secondary. My Italian writing ability has significantly grown since the assignments require me to think at a higher level to convey my thoughts. It’s no longer enough to just throw in a few key words or phrases; I have to understand what grammar is needed and why to ensure that the points I wanted to make were clear to any reader.
During my years of French, I never actually practiced speaking with someone who spoke it as a first language. Although I felt comfortable speaking with the other students, I was too intimidated to ever try to use my language skills abroad. The presentations this semester have helped me become more comfortable speaking in front of groups, and the interview was a great way of showing how my ability to speak with and understand a native speaker has grown. I enjoyed finding ways to tie Italian culture into the film, instead of just making it an American movie spoken in another language.
When visiting museums in other countries, I would have to rent headphones and take restricted guided tours so that I could understand the displays in front of me. I wanted to read the signs, listen to tour guides, ask questions, and be able to explore the museum on my own. Being able to visit the Nasher and ask questions about what I saw and gain the first hand perspective helped me form new connections that I had not been able to in the past.
This ability to form deeper connections with the world around me was evident when learning about the Sharing Economy by reading and analyzing an Italian article; in America it can be difficult to find authentic pieces showing the views of another country. Going to Italian sources to learn new material really helped me directly learn about the culture; I was able to research and talk about a true Italian dish in the way that it was intended.
As I study abroad this upcoming fall, I feel prepared to take on my travels in a way that I was unable to appreciate before. My love for Romance languages has only grown, especially after seeing the connections between them. I can’t wait to continue my language journey and watch it take me to new places.