by Melinda Gallo

Mi manca Firenze

Dave and I are missing Florence. Our daily dose of pasta, my trips to the market for fresh fruits and vegetables, Italian coffee, and our view on the terra cotta colored tile roofs. I miss our small terrace filled with plants that sometimes has big black bees flying around and geckos climbing the short walls in the early evening. It has become our home and we love it.

I love it here in Corsica, but I don't get to speak Italian. I speak French and translate for Dave. I'm not a translator. I love to speak a language, to let the meaning of the words come to me without translating. And sometimes, it's difficult to translate because I understand the meaning, but can't find the exact words fast enough in English for Dave.

It's great to practice my French a little even though a few Italian words make their way out of my mouth. I haven't lived in France in about 10 years now and am surprised at how much I have retained. I don't read or watch any TV although I'm always disappointed when I switch on a French TV station that I understand it much better than its Italian counterpart.

In Italian, I still have to pay more attention to everything, read the subtitles sometimes, underline words in books (or write them down), and memorize much more than I do in French.

It can be a bit upsetting because it feels like I don't learn things as fast as when I learned French or maybe with French I was forced to learn quicker because no one dared speak English for fear of humiliating themselves. Or maybe because I was immersed for much longer speaking French than I ever was speaking Italian. Whatever the reason, I'm still climbing up the hill and it's a struggle. But, it's one that I'm encouraged to succeed at.

I have talked to a lot of French about learning Italian and they didn't know how much more complicated it really is in comparison with French. In French, every noun that is plural (when spoken) you don't need to really know if it's masculine or feminine. There is no difference in sound. So "l'enfant/les enfants" (children) and "la banane/les bananes" (bananas) could be masculine or feminine (with the exclusion of the article). And if you add in an adjective, like "les enfants gâtés" (spoiled children) and "les bananes mûres" (ripe bananas) you can only tell if it's masculine or feminine when you write it. In Italian that's not the case. You always, always, always, have to know if a noun is masculine or feminine. The same words would be "il bambino/i bamini" and "una banana/le banane." With an adjective, they would become "i bambini viziati" and "le banane mature."

And of course anyone who studies Italian (and knows French) knows that it doesn't stop there. The other huge difference is in the verbs. The little words that make every single sentence work!

So, in French, we say "Il faut que j'aille à Paris" (I have to go to Paris) and "Il a fallu que j'aille à Paris." (I had to go to Paris). The subjunctive verb, "aille", is the same in both cases. Not so in Italian. In Italian, we say "Bisogna che io vada a Parigi" and "Bisognava che io andassi a Parigi." Yes, it's true, in French, they should say "Il a fallu que j'allasse à Paris," but if you say that they'd look at you like you just fell off the turnip truck!

The last difference is the Italian's vocabulary, which seems vaster than the French. It may not really be the case, but the number of words that Italians seem to use seems far greater than the French.

I can't be 100% certain of this, but I can say that I can finish most people's sentences in my head (and sometimes out loud as well). Not because I'm so smart, but their expressions seem to be well diffused and more common.

Every day I seem to hear a new word or a new expression in Italian. I've been here in Corsica for 9 days and haven't learned any new words! (It might also be due to the fact that I studied French longer and lived there, but nothing new has come up!)

At any rate, the Italian language is much more complex for us English speakers because of all the grammar, vocabulary, and verbs. We're not used to it all. But it is very interesting to give our brain some mental gymnastics to keep it fit!

So, when we get back to Italy, I'll be back focusing on improving my Italian once again. Maybe this vacation is good for my brain to relax too. Sometimes it's tiring to keep learning every day...our brains need a break too.

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