Ciao, Parli Inglese? Practicing Italian in an English Speaking World

Gillian Davenport Umbra Institute, Perugia, Italy


September 6, 2016

Upon arriving in Perugia I was blown away by all of the beauty that surrounded me; the food, fashion, architecture, and above all else the beautiful people. The women of Perugia always seem to have tan, glowing and dewy skin (compared to the sweat that creeps from my hairline and upper lip every time I attempt to tackle one of the cities many MANY hills), and are perfect examples of ‘la bella figura.’ The men are well groomed, well dressed and leave a behind a hint of Acqua di Parma cologne as they pass you in the piazza. Even the little round babies wear pastel leather sandals, and have ringlet curls that seem to perfectly frame their plump cheeks.

Studying is easy to procrastinate when there are so many beautiful people to observe (that and the late night wine and dance parties I have with my roommates, but I digress). Fortunately, there are many prime locations for people watching, one of which is ‘the steps.” The steps are located in Piazza IV Novembre (which is a site of ancient Roman Forum), and overlooks Fontana Maggiore along Corso Vannucci, the shopping and entertainment center of town.

During the day, people of all ages can be found reading, eating, or relaxing with their friends on the stone steps. At night, primarily from Thursday through Saturday, the steps are alive with the many students, both foreign and native, that attend a university in Perugia. As my friends and I have discovered, the steps are a great place to meet people (and by people, I mean guys) from all around the world. As my father would say, it is a great opportunity to practice the Italian that I assured him I spoke enough of (after a single semester) to travel alone to Italy. However, this isn’t as easy as it seems.

As nervously eager as I am to tell Fabio all about my interests, passions, and love of his native land, the rest of the world has done a much better job of teaching their students foreign languages than America. Many of the Italians that I have met are much more proficient in speaking English or German than I am at Italian, and we seem to end up conversing in one of the languages I am not here to study. Beyond telling them my name, age, and where I am from, they usually get tired of correcting my conjugations or sloppy use of passato prossimo, and revert to speaking something else that they think I might be better at. Fortunately, a week in and I somehow tricked a few tourists into thinking that I was Italian (mission accomplished) and surprised them when I revealed my actual heritage. Unfortunately, it was a sweet elderly couple, rather than a dashing young Romeo, so I might need to brush up on the imperfect tense a little more.


Italy Semester