The sixteenth post of the expedition – the album with a meta-title

I’ve recently started trying (note – the emphasis is on this word) to teach one of my Italian friends some English before they go to America and Canada later in the year. I can only think poor them however, as they’re certain to get lambasted by the north Americans they encounter for speaking with a British accent, and then by me when I see them next afterwards for having picked up the American one. However this is slightly besides the point of my post.

As I said, the emphasis is on trying, as somewhat paradoxically it’s frustratingly difficult to teach your mother-tongue unless you’ve had formal training in the process, as I’m slowly finding out. Yes, I learnt it at some point in the distant past as well, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you when that was, and even more so if I can tear it apart and explain its nuances and caveats at a moment’s notice.

Take this example that almost flummoxed me today – we were translating our way through an Italian song, and came across the Italian turn of phrase that translated to ‘the beat of the eyelid’ – as in a single moment in time. I instinctively knew the equivalent English idiom, but it took me a couple of attempts to remember it correctly, and a further one or two corrections to get the phrasing right.

Consequently, it has become almost instinctive to challenge anyone that claims to speak ‘perfectly’ in a language. It’s probably the basis for my reserved response when anyone asks how my Italian is going. I’m very much inclined to say ‘fine’, or ‘good enough’, despite what the natives tell me. It’s like one of those mysterious lines your maths teacher tried to tell you about in school, the one that always approaches the axis but never actually reaches it. Heck, I’ve been speaking English for over two decades and still haven’t got that nailed down in places, so I’m highly wary of proclaiming anything other than ‘abbastanza bene’ (well enough) in Italian.

On the flipside of the linguistic coin, though, is the ever present ability to gain more knowledge, and really dive deep into the language below the words and definitions. I don’t know to what type of person etymology (the study of word origins) is interesting, but I seem to be one of them, and it certainly provides a nice backdrop to learning a second language, to discovering even more about your first.

Jack out.


About Jack
A small-time traveller in a big-time world

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