I have been meaning to write this post for a while and the time has finally come.
The Italian Writing Challenge, the creative project that required participants to write a short Italian text on a different topic every day, is over and it has been an awesome experience.
For me, it has been great for many reasons: I have connected with some very special people, I have been blessed with many personal stories that participants kindly decided to share with me, and I have enjoyed the incredible love for the Italian language that people have and that always gives me a lot of energy.
As a teacher, this experience has been really useful because I was able to identify the grammar elements people struggle with the most, the repeating patterns in mistakes, the topics Italian language learners are most passionate about but, most importantly, it reinforced something I strongly believe in: language learners are brave people!
Every time one of my students apologizes for not speaking good enough or for making a mistake, I always tell him or her the same thing: never apologize, you should be proud of yourself for doing this! I repeat this so many times that I thought it was time to write a post about it and the Italian Writing Challenge gave me the right opportunity to do so because it has been a perfect time to reflect on the language and on the process of learning.
Most of my students and the Italian learners I interact with on social media have started learning a language at an adult age. When you are 40 or 50, your life is pretty much settled: you probably have a good job or a career, maybe own a house, maybe have a nice family. You may have reached some important goals and feel quite self-confident. Then you decide to learn a foreign language and everything changes.
You start realizing that learning a foreign language is a real adventure, which feels like climbing a mountain sometimes, and that it really challenges all your beliefs and even the image you have of yourself. You may be a very self-confident person but if you find yourself in Italy, somebody asks you a simple question and the only thing you are able to do is mutter some unintelligible words, your level of confidence undoubtedly goes down quickly.
I have been there myself many times. When I was learning German, I went to Germany for a study trip. While I was there, I went to the bookstore to purchase a German novel requested by the curriculum. When at the cashier, the lady asked me if I wanted a bag and I didn’t understand the question, so I just looked at her dumbly, while she was looking at me and then at my German book with a very judgemental look in her eyes.
Twenty years have gone by and I still remember that because I felt the dumbest person in the world. But if I could speak to that girl now, I would tell her that she had been so brave, leaving Italy to spend some time in a country she didn’t know, having to deal daily with people who spoke a language she could barely understand. She should be proud of herself!
And the same goes for you, my dear Italian language learners. You have decided to learn a new language in your adult age and are willing to show up daily and face the challenges that this adventure sets for you. You are willing to come to Italy and try speaking the language even if you may end up looking as dumb as I did in that German bookstore. You are willing to call into question your beliefs about yourself and put yourself into embarrassing situations. You are the bravest of them all, guys!
So, it is really time you stop apologizing if you are making a mistake or feel frustrated if you are not able to speak as well as you thought you would after a certain amount of time. Never forget that you are doing something not many other people would be willing to do and this is why you should always be proud of yourself. And, as I have written in an old post of mine about speaking Italian, please keep in mind that Italians love when you speak the language, even if you just say a few words. We love that, we really do!
I have seen so much love for the Italian language during the Italian Writing Challenge and I see it every day with my students and you have to use it as the fuel to keep you going even when it is hard. You love this language so much, you know so much about Italy and you are willing to do such hard work every single day, that it only takes some patience – and more hard work – to get to your goal, believe me.