Monday, April 25, 2011

Italian versus English. What's the score? - L'italiano contro l'inglese. Chi vince?

I always seem to find myself in some sort of  competition between countries. Fifteen years ago I used to wish that the English would win against the Italian. I mean, not the English soccer team (that will only win if the final price is a life supply of beer, e poi ancora). I mean, the English language versus the Italian language. I used to wish that my Italian words, hopefully at some point, would seamlessly transform into English and that the English words would become so natural to me that people would stop asking that same old question with crappy comment at the end: "Enrica? Where are you from? Oh Italy? Mamma mia!".

In job interviews I was always straggling to sound English. "Yes because, because... No, I should say cause",  I used to tell myself, hoping to find the magic formula to stop sounding so Italian! But no, I couldn't help speaking English with my lovely staccato and emphasis on the vowels, which was a bit like having "Italian" written on my forehead! "The advertising campaign will be shot in Nothing Hill", I ended up writing in an advertising document once. Nothing? Nothing?" Can you imagine the face of the Head of Account Management at the top Ad Agency in London when he read that word with my spelling mistake at our monthly meeting?

How could I possibly learn English to stop sounding so Italian? I got myself an English boyfriend - but I am keen to specify that this wasn't planned-, I ended up spending my evenings listening to audio CDs in English, watching TV programs on the BBC channel, going to see English movies and trying hard to chat with anyone who sounded remotely English. Italian friends were removed from the contacts list on my cell phone. So were my Spanish, French and Greek friends. I was no longer interested in a house if there were no English native living in it and all my energies were directed onto trying to meet English people, with the queen's accent, hopefully from Oxford. You think this should be easy in the capital of the United Kingdom? It is not. The chances of meeting English people in London are probably 40 against 60 of meeting a bloody foreigner (yes, like myself).

There were moments, at work and in social occasions when I really wished the English could overtake the Italian in my sentences. But no, my repertoire of cutie Italian phrases was always there, lurking, waiting for the first opportunity to make a display:  "I am sooo keen!" "how aaare youuuu?" (instead of how're you doing?) "you must read my CV because because because". I couldn't help it. And the Brits were not making it any easier: "Buongiorno signorina! See? I can speak Italian! I wish my Italian was as good as your English!" Crap.

I only started to feel better about this whole thing in Italy, when I discovered that my English was gaining advantage. Suddenly, I had a spontaneous " yeah", "cheers", "sure" and "please" instead of  "bello", "grazie", "chiaro" and "dai" in the middle of my sentences. And my Italian was no longer the D'Azzeglio classic high school type. It had become some sort of  English, Irish, Australian, Italian hybrid!  The cool thing is that the number of English words entering my Italian sentences was increasing each time. And I was thinking in English! Yeahi! I started to feel like one of those English hooligans wearing the union jack in Italy after drinking beer all day long! Later on, a girl with a strong cockney accent said to me in a party in south of London : "you sound from here. Are you?". On that day, I decided that the competition between languages was over and that the English had won, at last! What I did not realize at the time was that she was drunk.

Now the Italian has come back to compete against the English (English American, to be specific) but in a different way and I am now supporting the opposite team. Go Italian, score!

My deep almost religious support for the Italian started when William uttered his first few words: "Mamma", then "nanna", then "pappa", then "daddy", opps it's an English word! Aha, it's ok. Then came "Yeah!, "Hi!" and "Ba-Bye!". The ba-bye  is cute, I will give you that but why can't he say ciao?

William saying "hi" instead of "ciao"
At the baby class: "William, don't listen to that woman. She is wrong. That is *not* a cow. That is a "mucca, muc-ca, MUCCA!" William said: "Mooooo!".  I settled with that.

Recently, William started playing with his favorite car Gigia in the English mode and no matter how hard I try to switch it back to Italian, I have to accept that Gigia now speaks English! Suddenly, I have been hit by a freaky scenario: me talking to William in Italian with him answering back in English.

Child: "Mom, where are my shoes?"
Mother: "Mamma, not mom! Sono nell'ingresso William. Vai a prenderle."
Child: "I can't understand. Mom? Where are my shoes? Mom?"
Mother: "Sono mamma. Ho detto nell'ingresso, nell'ingresso"
Child: "You mean in the lounge mom?"
Mother: "Cosa? Non capisco"
Mother: "William, we have to go. They are in the lounge for God's sake!"

As a mother raising a bilingual child in a foreign country you basically have to turn into a words beggar (and later a whore) to get your child to speak in your native language. Got the idea? It is scary stuff . So I've started to keep scores of the number of Italian words that come out of William's mouth versus the number of English ones, hoping that at some point the Italian language will win. Fingers crossed.

Nanna (meaning: nap) Yeah!
Pappa (meaning: child meal but not fast food)Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!
Cacca (meaning: poop)Ba Bye! Ba Bye!
Soe (meaning: sole, sun)This? This? This?
Acqua! (meaning: water)Yesterday: John? John? while pointing at dad. Dad wasn't thrilled
Nonno! Nonni! while pointing at the PC (meaning: Grandpa! Grandparents!)I kno (or anno') (meaning: I know!) with a British accent
Pa to ask me for a ball (meaning: palla, ball) OK! OK!
Emme (now meaning: letter M)Now! Now!
Uiva! Uiva! (meaning: Olive! Olive!)- this is William's cutest word! He says it constantly!
Due (meaning: number 2)
E' Qui! (meaning: it's here!)
Bimba! Bimbo! Bimbi! (meaning: Little girl! Little boy! and Children!), he says almost every day, while pointing at every single child he sees outside the house.

Few minutes ago William woke up from his nap and started calling me. I was busy washing dishes. I didn't go to pick him up. I then received a call from a friend and said ciao. William suddenly said it. He said it loud: "shao! shao! shao!". I immediately went to pick him up. He was laughing. I can't tell you how happy I am. We have a say in Italy: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." For now, advantage for the Italian! Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment