• Irena Kolbuszewska

Re-learning Italian and what your takeaways could be

Updated: Dec 11, 2021


Passionate Language Stories


Re-learning Italian and what your takeaways could be


This post is to help you on your language learning journey. If you're looking for someone to help you in the long run and guide you along the way to help you reach fluency, you're welcome to contact me at passionate.language.stories@gmail.com


This post is divided into the following parts:


1. How I began to study Italian and then interrupted my learning journey

2. How the Italian language entered my life again

3. Dealing with legal correspondence in Italian

4. Final surprise

5. Tips I can give based on this experience


You will also find a short vocabulary section at the end of this post for words or expressions marked in italics.


I’m not sure what was my motivation when I started learning Italian in the first place. That was a pretty long time ago, over 20 years ago. At that time, I had already graduated with a degree in French and Hispanic Studies. I was living in Toronto but I was looking forward to moving somewhere else. At the same time, I wasn’t feeling very confident about it, I was thinking that I didn’t have enough work experience to find a job somewhere else. I started learning Italian and after some time I had an idea to apply for a grant to study the language in Italy. I needed to fill in an application, attach reference letters and hand them in to the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto. I stopped in the middle of my application process, haunted by self-doubt – interestingly enough, today, I can’t recall what I was exactly apprehensive about.


I continued to study Italian with some success, I had my daughter, moved back to Poland, tried to keep up with the language. I took some courses, managed to read The Name of the Rose . However, eventually I realized that it was too much to handle at the same time. Being a mother was a new, exciting but also challenging experience and definitely time consuming. So I stopped studying Italian and for the next nine years I didn’t hit the books even once.


In 2012, to my surprise, the situation changed. At that time, I was working for an easyJet call centre, however my job responsibilities were not typical for this kind of place. We had received an intensive training to become familiar with a European regulation concerning passengers’ rights in case of flight delay or cancellation. I was responsible for legal correspondence with customers and legal entities regarding this specific regulation. Other cases were to be forwarded to professional lawyers. My desk was situated next to Paula’s, a girl who handled incoming calls in Italian from travel agents. Paula’s Italian was of course excellent. On top of that she would speak very loudly and often repeat the same sentences as callers would often inquire about similar issues over and over again. I quickly learned a considerable number of these sentences by heart and started recalling Italian vocabulary, sentences, structures...


In addition, the team responsible for legal correspondence in Italian (correspondence limited to the claims/enquiries based on the regulation mentioned above) was flooded with work. I didn’t have that many inquiries to respond to at the time, so I assigned myself a couple of emails in Italian. These were messages sent exclusively by Italian lawyers. I understood almost everything, I replied in English. However, as time went on, I decided to take a deep dive and reply in Italian. It took me twice as long to compose an email, with the help of an online dictionary (linguee.com – you can translate whole phrases and find useful sentences and expressions used in official documents). I asked one of my colleagues to check it. He said it was fine. I went through the same process with my second email. The final result was approved by my colleague, with just two small corrections.


So I decided to take a risk and start writing and sending these messages completely on my own, without asking anyone to check them. After a couple of weeks, I noticed I often knew intuitively what I should write in Italian. I would always check it to make sure it was written as professionally as possible without any grammar or vocabulary mistakes, most of the time my guesses were confirmed.


Then one day, I received an email where a lawyer addressed me as “Gentile Dottoressa”. I was pleasantly surprised, as I thought they treated me with respect but at the same time wondered why they had assumed that I had a PhD when in fact I just had a Bachelor’s degree. I asked about it my colleague who had majored in Italian Studies. He explained that apparently they simply thought I was well educated, knowledgeable and had a good command of the Italian language. Addressing me in this way was obviously a huge compliment. So I continued exchanging correspondence with Italian lawyers in their language. I didn’t become fluent in Italian, I still didn’t have greatly developped speaking skills, however, I felt much more confident in it than ever before.


Eventually, the call centre was transferred to another city, so I lost my job. I couldn’t practise Italian anymore in the same way, however I had motivation to keep working on it. I read a lot of articles about painting in Italian and I knew how to say “cast shadow” or “highlight” before I learned the names of everyday objects. However, this is a completely different story.


So, what kinds of tips regarding language learning could I give you based on this experience? First of all, I had a lot of exposure to Italian, as I was sitting close to my colleague and listening to her talking to Italian travel agents. Second of all, I practised writing a lot. It does not replace speaking, however, it is a very proactive way to learn a lot of vocabulary and become more and more at ease using specific grammar structures. Finally, I used a really good dictionary where I could check entries based on authentic, official documents. That allowed me to avoid guessing what I should write and I didn’t turn any of my mistakes into fossilized errors (errors that you make frequently and therefore you are unable to “unlearn” them easily)as I was able to fix them in a matter of minutes.


Vocabulary:


I was haunted by self-doubt – You constantly experience the feeling of no or little confidence in your own abilities and decisions.

I can’t recall what I was exactly apprehensive about. – I can’t remember what I was anxious about, I just felt that something bad or unpleasant might happen.

It was too much to handle – It was too much to deal with, too many problems or difficulties at the same time.

I didn’t hit the books – I didn’t study (in this case Italian).

A European regulation concerning passengers’ rights in case of flight delay or cancellation – A set of official rules regarding what rights passengers have when their flight is delayed or cancelled.

Correspondence with customers and legal entities – Legal entities are businesses or official institutions that specialize in legal matters.

They were flooded with work – They had way too much work to do that they couldn’t do it on time, they were not able to keep up with it.

I didn’t have that many inquiries – I didn’t receive too many questions or requests to provide information.

Cast shadow – When an object blocks light, it creates a shadow on a surface nearby or on another object.

I had a lot of exposure to Italian – I had a lot of contact with the Italian language.


If you're looking for someone to help you in the long run and guide you along the way to help you reach fluency, you're welcome to contact me at passionate.language.stories@gmail.com


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