“Come si dice…?” (How do you say…?”) My most used Italian phrase, right after “No, non grazie” because a local is offering me a third serving of salty prosciutto and I can feel my arteries clogging just by looking at it.
We had prepared for months to immerse ourselves in the Italian culture. We would be spending two weeks with my husband’s relatives in Rome and Abruzzo. Duolingo was mastered, podcasts were listened to, bowls of Barilla pasta and our sorry excuse for homemade sauce were eaten; but all this preparation was no match for the speed and nuances of the language. Since having graduate courses in accent reduction and language development, I knew this would be true to a certain degree. However, I wasn’t prepared for the native Italian speaker, or more accurately speakers, allowing you .3 seconds to listen, translate into English, translate back into Italian, and speak before they assumed "tu non capisci" (you don't understand). I found myself demonstrating all the behaviors I had witnessed in my students learning a second language.
- I am the student who smiles and says “yes” anytime I am spoken to.
- I am the student who avoids situations and modifies my actions.
- I am the student who is self conscious about my pronunciation and therefore speaks quietly.
- I am the student who has poor eye contact because I'm scanning the environment for clues.
- I am the student who hopes no one notices or speaks to me.
- I am the student who zones out by the time it’s 7th bell (or in my case, by the time tiramisu hits the table).
- Was everyday this difficult for them?
- How did they strategize around their challenges?
- How could I have provided more supports in both languages?
Fortunately, I would be returning to my new position as Data & Outreach Specialist at PATINS Project to work alongside a team of experts in access to the curriculum. Their year round trainings, no cost consultation, lending library, and ICAM resources can turn that defeated feeling of "What else can I do?" to "This student has what they need to achieve!"