Why I Am Monolingual: A Tale of Woe In Three Parts.

I do not speak Italian. I think that perhaps if any person I am currently close to should speak Italian, it’s me. Yet some how, that person is decidedly not me.

Some people have grand tales of how they learned a skill or discovered a gift.  Not me. Join me now as I share the story of how I came to be embarrassingly monolingual.

Some Family Background

da Vinci spoke Italian. I don’t. da Vinci didn’t have a blog. (wikimedia)

My dad’s family is from Molfetta, Italy. My grandparents, uncle and aunts on his side of the family were born in Italy and came through Ellis Island into the U.S.. My father was the only person in his family born in the states.

My family lived in an apartment above my dad’s parents place until I was in the first grade. I’m told that while we lived there, I spoke Italian fluently. Then my family moved to a place where I did not have the need to use my second language. Freed from having to store two languages, my young mind discarded the one I never used anymore in favor of important things like remembering when Speed Racer came on and learning to keep a baseball score book.

I didn’t have a need for Italian anymore, except on the trips we made to visit my dad’s family in New Jersey. I soon realized the mistake it was to put that second language aside when Italian became the method of conducting discussions that I was not to be privy to.  I could not stand for this.

And Then Came The Plan. The Plan Was Good.

In my last semester of junior high, a guidance counselor came to my school to get us all signed up for high school classes. She explained that taking a foreign language class could help us get into college, then she handed out the list of course options. I could not believe my eyes. One of the options available was Italian. It was a no brainer, I was in.

My plan was simple. Simple enough for a junior high schooler to convince himself it would work. I would sign up for Italian class. School would start in September. I would apply myself to become fluent as quickly as possible. I had to work fast, part two of the plan would occur in November.

My family usually went to visit the Italian speaking portion of the family on the Thanksgiving holiday. That is when my work would pay off. I would quietly eat my dinner while discussions went on around me. Secretly bilingual after two months of study, I would know everything that was said. I’d say nothing. I’d just take it all in.

Mini cannoli with chocolate chips.

I would not speak Italian until I saw the whites of their cannoli (Image via Wikipedia)

Once I knew all the secrets, all the scandal,  and all the dirty words I would reveal my new-found language skills. While we all enjoyed our cannoli after dinner I would wait for a lull in conversation. Only then, when I could capture everyone’s attention would I launch into a soliloquy of Italian.

Perhaps I would hold forth on the texture of the cheesy filling of the cannoli. Maybe I’d discuss how odd it was that the people present were celebrating Thanksgiving since it had no relevance to their cultural background. Whatever I decided to say, I’d deliver it in perfect Italian.

The effect would be devastating. I just knew it.

Shockingly, The Plan Begins To Go Awry Almost Immediately

You know that old saying about the best laid plans? Yes, that one.  Apparently there is something to that.

I went to high school that fall. Things were generally going along according to plan for the first few days. The Italian teacher seemed a little odd, but not so much that I couldn’t deal with it. But on the meet the teachers night for parents, things began to go horribly wrong with the plan.

My folks came back from that open house and spoke glowingly of all my teachers, until they got to the one that figured in to my plan. My Dad asked what I thought of her. I brought up the aforementioned oddness vibe I was getting from her.

In his usual indescribable way, my Dad let me know that being odd was the least of her problems as an Italian teacher.

To be continued…


33 Comments on “Why I Am Monolingual: A Tale of Woe In Three Parts.”

  1. hippie cahier says:

    Oooh, a cliff hanger. One of my friends is a French teacher who lived for a while in Italy and learned the language to some level of comfort. It seemed like a natural thing for her to teach the new Italian class when it was added to the curriculum. Instead, it was an assault on her self-esteem that she had never encountered before. I’m pretty sure she’s not your teacher, as she’s younger than we are. Looking forward to the denouement. . . .

  2. Brooke says:

    duh-duh-DUH! I need part 2 stat.

    I have friends that are teaching their children two languages. Farsi is spoken at home during the day and when dad comes home, they speak English. The 3 year old used to get the two confused but is now beginning to understand it all a little better. And I think it’s so cool to see her spout off Farsi to her little sister.

  3. pattypunker says:

    i had to clear spanish from my brain after four years of high school and a double major in it in college. but i’m always having to purge things – my brain has limited real estate.

  4. I live in the only officially bilingual province in Canada: New Brunswick (English and French). I speak only English (having been born in Ohio, and raised in Southern Ontario, my French is laughable). In order to ensure that my children will be able to be gainfully employed, they were all enrolled in French immersion.

    Your story makes me think of our Acadian people here in the Maritimes…there is a huge concern among francophones that they are losing their language (children in French schools are not allowed to speak English at school, and my children in French immersion are not either).

    Can’t wait for Part 2.


    • omawarisan says:

      This is one of those moments where I’d normally “say really? I thought there were more.” Then I’d kick myself and think “yes really, why would she tell you that if it werent true?” So now I’m going with ‘cool, I didn’t realize that!”

      Anyhow, I like the idea of people trying to preserve their culture. Language is such a huge part of that.

  5. tsanda says:

    change in style again! mr big time! I like so professional, like leon the professional except you don’t hang out with 12 year old natalie portmans…that i know of

  6. Betty says:

    I’m surprised to hear that it didn’t come back to you, after having been exposed at such a young age. Looking forward to Part 2!

  7. spencercourt says:

    I took two years of Latin in high school. After which I became the top sentence diagrammer in English class. And I can detaill the esoteric differences between e.g. (exemplum gratum) and i.e. (id est).

    I also took three years of Spanish (two in junior high and one in high school), which has been very useful. Just today, I advised a caller from South Florida, who spoke only Spanish, that he had to call another number.

    And, I can “get by” in Tagalog, the Philippine national language. For example:
    Mag kano ito? (How much is this?)
    Ano? Mahal! Walang tawad? (What? Expensive! No discount?)

    I like the new look. What’s the name of the theme?

    • omawarisan says:

      You are the world, you are the people…

      I actually picked up bits and pieces of Tagalog in high school. There was a pretty sizeable population of people in my school whose folks were born in the Phillipines. I don’t remember any of it now, even the dirty words.

      The theme is twenty-ten. I goofed with the colors a little and added the photo of shadowy, kayaking me.

  8. Abe's Blog says:

    I like-ah this story! Looking forward to part deux.

  9. queensgirl says:

    The Jolie will get you for leaving us in suspense like that!

    I took a year of Italian in college and did very well, but without practice, have unfortunately retained little of it in the years since. :/

  10. Pauline says:

    Writerwoman said: “I live in the only officially bilingual province in Canada: New Brunswick (English and French). I speak only English (having been born in Ohio, and raised in Southern Ontario, my French is laughable). In order to ensure that my children will be able to be gainfully employed, they were all enrolled in French immersion.”

    I live in Ottawa, Ontario which is half French and half English people and therefore a bit more bilingual than many other parts of Ontario. But yes, there is a huge influence of Anglo influence coming from the States and Britain.

    I speak French but not as well as I’d like because it is too easy to fall out of, due to the stronger English influence. If I have kids though, I will be doing the same thing as you, enrolling them in French immersion.
    They can speak English at home and then French at school!

    @Blurt-In terms of French, it is mostly concentrated in Québec, parts of Ontario (like Ottawa), New Brunswick and parts of Saskatchewan. But yes, French is the dominant culture and language only in Québec.

    Interestingly enough, in Vancouver, BC and areas around and within Toronto, Mandarin and Cantonese are very common due to the large number of Chinese immigrants living there.

    I’m hoping that if I become fluent in French, Spanish and Mandarin that I will be covered! 🙂

    • omawarisan says:

      Cantonese would be amazing to be able to speak. You’re fortunate to live in such a diverse area. I miss that (among a lot of other things) about living in the Washington DC area.

  11. planetross says:

    I’m a “ham and cheese sandwich linguist”. I can order those in 7 languages … sadly, the sandwiches aren’t popular in most of the countries I could order them in.

    note: I speak Farsi at home! … or maybe that’s Farside. hee hee!

    • omawarisan says:

      I miss The Farside

      • Pie says:

        What, Gary Larson’s The Far Side? I loved those cartoons.

        I was taught German at school. Didn’t use it much, so I lost it very quickly. I wish I had kept at it though, because I’m currently on a temp contract at a place where German is spoken as well as English, obviously. I can understand words and half sentences, but it’s frustrating at times. It would’ve been so much better if I were more fluent. We are really rubbish at languages in the UK.

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