As we checked out of our lodgings at Fattoria il Lago, my new good friend Francesco and I were talking about the number of languages he has had to learn how to get by in while running an agriturism business, and of our common failure in each of us having once tried to learn to learn German in our lives. Francesco told me, “You should learn to speak Italian, John, it is the most beautiful of the languages.”
I told him, “Francesco, I can speak Italian,” and to demonstrate I started waving my hands and arms in the air. He laughed and said, “You do speak Italian!”
One of our guidebooks said that you can get by easily in Europe speaking only English because most of the people you encounter speak it at least somewhat and love the opportunity to practice. According to Francesco, however, this isn’t the case in Italy where the schools don’t promote languages other than the native tongue. He said in the big cities you can run into more Italians who speak English, and with people heavily involved in tourism. This has pretty much been my experience as we found few people in rural Dicomano and in other places who spoke English. Nevertheless, we were able to get along pretty well.
For one thing, we picked up new words quickly, and it is also a big advantage that Italian is based on Latin so that we could frequently figure things out by recognizing Latin roots for words and, applying a little context. There is some satisfaction in making yourself understood in another country; you feel very cosmopolitan and begin to think you can survive anywhere. Of course, drop me in the middle of Poland, where the only word I know is kielbasa, and it would be a different story.