Today we woke up at nine after a few hours of sleep. Rami got ready for work and I struggled to leave the bed and the warm ball of fur that was still snoring under the covers. He went into work at ten. A split shift today because his hotel never hires enough people and some are out sick. Rami’s mother came to drop off some things midday and I was on my second coffee. I did some laundry and entertained Luna who had finally roused herself from the bed. Rami asked if I could look over a friend’s resume in English…bad English, terrible English and so I got to work restructuring this kid’s life, trying to use words he’d understand but still make it make sense. I’m honestly considering starting a mini business helping Italian students with their English resumes and college applications. It’s in the news almost every day recently, 128,000 Italians left Italy last year, many younger, looking for education and work opportunities that just aren’t here in this country anymore. Yes, many know some English here – especially the younger generations, but there are many that wouldn’t have a level of English to work elsewhere without some serious studying.
Learning a language is infuriating – and I don’t mean sitting in a class and pretending the person to your left is a waiter at a restaurant and you can get through ordering a pizza. That part is fun. Learning a language to live it is a saga, a divine comedy that is a tragedy and a dream every step of the way. I have so much respect for anyone that has a brain that can function between two or more. Mine barely does, but it does seem to get better every day. I watched Living Undocumented again and watched a woman named Alejandra go through her life in California. She speaks to the camera in Spanish, but with her neighbors and people at her job, I hear her speaking English. I used to call it “broken” English but I don’t like that term anymore. I can hear and understand her emotions and her thoughts, in Spanish. I can see her nervousness, her uncertainty, her restraint to find the right words in English. Now I know how it feels to be on both sides. To let language flow in one second and feel almost helpless the next.
When I was younger I was fascinated with other languages, but I was outside of them. They were “other” to me, and so even I had the stereotypes attached to those that spoke “broken.” Now I speak broken Italian. But it isn’t broken. It’s getting built. Anything that is being built isn’t broken, it just doesn’t work yet. The kid’s resume didn’t work yet, his written words don’t work yet, but his hands do, and he does as he works the floor of a five-star restaurant in Florence, Italy – all done while speaking English. Alejandra may have been in the US for years and still “doesn’t speak English right,” but she is learning, and she is working her ass off every day and giving back to her community and living a happy life with her family. And here in Italy, I get twice as much interaction in Italian out walking through the neighborhood and the city. In the US, life is so isolated to big houses and driving everywhere and having privacy – it influences language learning an incredible amount.
I do believe that everyone should learn to speak and understand the language they are living in, but everyone needs to understand that this stuff takes an incredible amount of time – especially if we can’t dedicate full days of immersion because we’re trying to make our entire lives function at the same time. We aren’t broken. We’re building, we’re working on it. Please don’t knock us down.