Living in Italy

Language Immersion is Embarrassing

Learning a language through immersion means surrounding yourself with the language. Video of why immersion doesn't always work + immersion fail story.

I thought moving to Italy was going to make learning Italian through immersion easier. Truth is, learning a language through immersion is important, but it’s also hard and frequently really embarrassing. What follows is a brief story to illustrate what learning a language through immersion as an adult can feel like.

To start, a quick explainer video about what learning a language through immersion means.

In short learning, a language through immersion means surrounding yourself with the language. Living abroad in Italy, it’s certainly hard not to be surrounded by Italian.

Language Immersion is Embarrassing

It was so hot during our trip to Lago Maggiore that we left the hotel windows open before going out to dinner. Returning hours later, we opened a bottle of wine to toast Papà’s 80th birthday. After clinking our glasses and settling in, the Italian chatter began. I did my best to parse the conversation but between a cool cross breeze and the wine flowing, fatigue began to set in.

View from Hotel Villa Carlotta
Lago Maggiore, Italy Hotels

Wanting to stay sharp I stood up and moved to the window. Pushing aside the long white curtains to breathe in the cool night air, suddenly startled I jumped back and gasped. Not one, not two, not three, not even four, but five enormous spiders had made their way in the open window and had been hanging just inches above my head.

My gasp drew Paolo and his parents’ attention. Embarrassed I tried to explain.

“Cinque anatre. Cinque anatre nella finestra!”

Now, if you speak Italian, you’ll be about as confused as Paolo and his parents were.

“What are you talking about?” asked Paolo looking perplexed.

“Cinque grandi anatre, Amore Vedi?!” I insisted pointing to the window.

Slowly Paolo stood and walked next to me, stopping at the window he looked towards my outstretched hand and said “Ragni Piccola, Ragni. Anatre is Ducks, Ragno is Spider. You mean Ragni.”

Hearing Paolo’s explanation Paolo’s parents started howling with good-natured laughter. Before long we were all doubled over in laughter at my mistake.

A moment of learning through immersion that permanently cemented how to properly pluralize and properly pronounce both anatra (duck) and ragno (spider) in Italian.

Now, every once in a while the entire family likes to help me remember.

“Ti ricordi? Cinque Anatre!”

How about you? Have you tried to learn a second language late in life? Any tips on how to battle the embarrassment and just keep trying?

language immersion
language immersion

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