Surrounded by the reflective gold of the Shwedagon Pagoda, I pressed my bare feet on tiles warmed by the sun. It was our first day in Myanmar and this trip was about to teach me many things. Including patience, gratitude and Italian.
You see, I was an American, learning Italian, in Myanmar.
Learning a Foreign Language at an Older Age Is Difficult
By now, I should have learned Italian.
I married Paolo nearly four years ago and have struggled to learn Italian since. Learning a new language takes time, something adults running their own business rarely have enough of.
I’m at the point now, where I comprehend Italian, yet the words I need to speak it, somehow get stuck in my throat. Elena, Paolo’s Mom describes the same feeling. She too is trying to bridge the language gap and learn English.
Let’s be honest. Learning a foreign language at an older age is difficult.
Traveling Without Understanding the Language
Marrying into an Italian family in my late 30’s has been life changing. All of the sudden, I have a Mamma and Papà who love me deeply but can’t talk to me. Yet still, they give freely. Their love and the gift of travel, inviting me to join the Ferraris Family Vacation each year.
As frustrating as it can be to speak two different languages in one family, it’s never stopped us from taking trips together. It has, however, led to some pretty funny moments around the world including a few on our trip to Myanmar.
Without words to understand the world around me or my Italian family in Myanmar, I began to rely on overly expressive motions and sounds.
Joy and excitement, shown through gigantic smiles, jumping up and down and clapping my hands. Much like a kid would.
In a moment of silliness, I devolved into making sounds like Beaker.
On that trip in Myanmar, Beaker became a running family joke. We would randomly break out into Beaker noises.
We basically sounded like this:
We didn’t think much about our family joke, until Beaking away one day in a local market in Lake Inle. Nearby Burmese women began looked around as if a bird or animal would be making those noises.
We caught their confused looks and Elena and I just started laughing. Realizing it was me, the strange tourist making the noises, the Burmese woman also began to laugh.
Paolo snapped this photo moments later.
Our Beaker noises might not have meant anything, but we all four understood each other in that moment. We were grateful to be there together and showing patience with each other as we learned to communicate.
Learning Italian in Myanmar
I picked up many words in Italian on that trip. Momma would point and say just one word to help me learn.
How Can Adults Learn a Second Language?
Elena and I are two emotional women who desperately want to be able to talk to each other. Especially when we travel the world together as a family. Right now, we have to communicate through Paolo as he translates for all of us.
His brain is constantly flip from one language to the next. Repeating everything. It wears him out. He’s unable to fully enjoy his time, with his parents because of me.
I believe Elena and I can both learn a new language, but it’s definitely slow going. I still won’t be able to speak Italian that well, for our next family vacation.