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Why I Am Monolingual: The Tale Of Woe Continues

The New Language Laboratory, 1970

The Technology Was There. The Plan Could Work…Or maybe not. (Image by LSE Library via Flickr)

Having tossed aside my ability to speak a second language at a young age, I had formulated a foolproof plan to rekindle that language. I’d spring my knowledge on my unsuspecting family members. Part of that plan rested on the shoulders of one person – my high school Italian teacher. My parents had just met her. My dad was about to hold forth on his opinion of her and I could see that the assessment was not in her favor.

“Being Odd Is The Least Of Her Problems…”

My father has always been an exceptional judge of character. I put a lot of stock in his opinion of people. It was not just an assessment of character he had in mind this time.

I had advanced the opinion that the teacher was a little odd. My Dad said she had a bigger problem than that – “She doesn’t know how to speak Italian”.

The teacher had refused speak English when she spoke to the parents gathered that night. She chose to describe the curriculum and her grading practices in Italian. She would accept questions in English, but she gave her answers in Italian. Apparently her command of the language was not all that good.

English -> Italian Colloquialisms

This was not my English to Italian dictionary (Image by Weefz via Flickr)

If she was not competent my plan wouldn’t remain viable. I questioned my father’s opinion. He just shook his head – “she was making up words she didn’t know.”

You might imagine that it was shocking to learn that my Italian teacher wasn’t effective in communicating in that language. Actually, it wasn’t. I had a clue about this on the very first day of class. I didn’t want to admit it, but it was as plain as the nose on her face.

You Never Get A Second Chance To Make A First Impression

During the first day in Italian class the teacher called the roll. I was surprised when she read my first name and then paused. She studied her typed roster and slowly mispronounced my last name with a questioning tone. Then she looked out at the class with a “someone help me out and let me know if I’m right” look. This was, understandably, standard operating procedure for most teachers. I didn’t expect it to happen in Italian class.

I said I was present. The class giggled, they knew she’d butchered my name. She smiled, greeted me and asked how I pronounced my last name. I said it aloud for her. It sounded not at all like what she’d said.

Then it happened. She asked the question that would set the tone for our relationship until I graduated. “What language is that name?”

Bagpiper 30s Style

This was a no-win situation for me. I decided to just tell the truth. I told her that it was Italian. She glared at me. I felt the class clown label being burned into my skin. Game over.

I know my answer embarrassed her, but I didn’t mean for that to happen. I could have told her my name was Scottish, but that would have caused more laughter and a longer explanation.

So, after starting my years in this woman’s classroom by humiliating her in front of my peers, we charged forward into what became a very hostile relationship.

to be continued…

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28 Comments on “Why I Am Monolingual: The Tale Of Woe Continues”

  1. Brooke says:

    That is hilarious! Part III please.

  2. Yes…what Brooke said…

  3. Betty says:

    What a fraud! And as for addressing the parents only in Italian, did she honestly think she’d never come across someone who spoke the language?

    • omawarisan says:

      I guess she thought there were no Italians in Maryland south of Baltimore.

      As the years went on the rumor among the students was that she was not certified to teach Italian. I had a lot to do with a lot of stuff that went on, but not that rumor.

      She had been to Italy though. We saw the slides every year.

  4. Hippie Cahier says:

    Are you making this up? Too funny! Uh, the slides — they weren’t Viewmaster, were they?

    • omawarisan says:

      No, this is 100% unvarnished truth.

      There are things I am leaving out because they are so incredibly bizarre you’d absolutely be convinced I made them up.

      No, not Viewmaster, real vacation slides of her and the family touring Italy. In fact, that reminds me of something I can add to part III.

  5. Omawarison says:

    Even my teachers do that to our name. I know exactly what you are talking about with the mispronunciation, then the help me here look. Spanish teachers on the other hand breeze through it with the Spanish version.

  6. Pauline says:

    So she basically spoke “tourist level” Italian right? Yikes, not good.

    • omawarisan says:

      Oh, well put. Yes, tourist level.

      Even the people who were breezing through the class because they failed to properly insult her were convinced she was making half the stuff up as we went along.

  7. Margie says:

    I remember her – kind of odd looking too. Are we not allowed to mention her name here?

    • omawarisan says:

      I was hoping you’d come in on this one. Yes, I am avoiding using her name

      You’re thinking of the right one, her room was right next to your French teacher’s room on the back hallway. You can confirm this is an actual person, right?

      Do you remember the plaid fur skirt she made for herself? We always assumed she made it, I don’t think you could get that off the rack, even in the ’70’s.

  8. That is so funny! Timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

    By the way, I’ve always wanted to learn Italian.

    • omawarisan says:

      She is retired, but she is on the net. If you take lessons from her, on the first day acknowledge your last name in whatever form she chooses to pronounce it. If you don’t, you too will be illiterate in Italian.

  9. linlah says:

    Ho cercato di imparare il francese ha due settimane e trasferito in uscita.

    I love the web. where I work I get emails translated from Chinese, it’s a riot.

  10. Pie says:

    I have a French surname which is always mispronounced. I wonder how she would’ve dealt with it. Not well, if your story is anything to go by. The words ‘fake’ and ‘fraud’ spring to mind. And how arrogant of her to speak only in Italian to the parents. Methinks she was trying too hard. On the upside, it’s given us a great story to enjoy. Grazie, Bello!

  11. […] To be continued… 35.410694 -80.842850 If I hadn't written this, I would use these to tell people I'd read it.FacebookStumbleUponDiggTwitterEmailPrintPinterestLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this. […]


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