Read, help and criticise…

Englishman in Italy

Ok girls and boys, I have been invited to submit a post (under 1000 words) to a newspaper and after a long think, bearing in mind I can’t use lots of pictures, this is the one I will send. Unless you have a better idea.

I would love any feedback, you can be critical and I won’t be offended. I might just un-follow you  🙂

Grazie PN

Today is back to school day for most of the children in Italy. My Italian wife, Mrs Sensible is a primary school teacher. This year the Italian education authority thought it would be a good idea for her to teach English, mathematics and music in a school five villages away and English and Italian in a school six villages away. My wife seems to spend half her life driving from one school to another.

While I sit here typing this blog Mrs Sensible is colouring in posters for her new classrooms. The little quip I made about, I hope you have finished all your work before you started colouring in your pictures was almost met with physical violence.

I too have to go to school; Mrs Sensible has forced me to go to the local evening class to learn Italian. I suppose forced is maybe a bit hard, my mum forced me to school by threatening me with the slipper, Mrs Sensible used the “If you want to stay in Italy you need to learn the language or maybe we should just go back to the UK” threat.

I have never found my lack of Italian to be a huge problem, I can order wine and grappa. I can also request the cost of items at the local shops. In fact my lack of Italian has been quite useful, Scusi, io inglese, mi dispiace non capsico, (Sorry, I am English I don’t understand)  has saved me from buying expensive items or helped me escape from street traders trying to sell me bags and belts.

So, as my good wife had become exasperated with being my interpreter, she enrolled me in a basic Italian night class run by the local municipal for stranieri (immigrants). The teacher Maestra Piera is in her late 50s. Her eyes glitter with excitement as she explained to my wife that if I want to learn Italian, all I have to do is listen to everything she says. Oh and importantly attend her class regularly. This seems far removed from the way I was taught in school. I seem to remember it took the threat of the cane and detention for me to apply myself to the lessons.

On my first lesson, I was determined not to draw attention to myself. I quietly entered the classroom and walked to a desk at the back of the room.  As I started to sit down, Maestra Piera pointed at me and announced to the class “Lui e’ Inglese, si chiama Peter.” (He is English, his name is Peter) She then pointed to a desk at the front of the class and shouted “Vieni Peter, vieni qui.”  (Come Peter, come here) The horrors of my former school life quickly returned as I slowly dragged myself to the front of the class and sat down in the desk that is normally reserved for the naughty boy. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to produce a sick note signed by my wife when I decided to skip a lesson.

The classroom is the same as any schoolroom that I have sat or stood in the corner of. The only difference is the desks are scored with graffiti in Italian, Giuseppe Ti Amo Loradana. (Giuseppe loves Loradana) As I sat waiting for the lesson to begin I started to thumb through my new Italian – English dictionary, wondering if my homework would include backing it in brown paper. As I sat there wishing I was somewhere else I become aware of all the different languages that were being spoken in the room Russian, Ukrainian and a lot of French but no English.

We started the first lesson with a simple subject. How to change a singular noun into a plural noun, while remembering to change the article at the same time. We also needed to remember that the rules are different for male and female gender nouns. Not only is it mind-boggling, but all the explanations the teacher gave were in Italian. Logarithms without a table or calculator would have been easier. It wasn’t until I showed Mrs Sensible my notes later that night, that I became aware of what I had been listening to for the previous two and a half hours.

At one point during the lesson Maestra Pierra looked at me and said with a huge smile and a nod. “Peter hai Capito?”  (Peter you understand?) I slowly shook my head no. Huge mistake! She walked to my desk smiled at me, leaned in close and raising her voice to a shout proceeded to give me the exact same explanation, once again in Italian. “Oh ok ok io capisco” (Oh ok ok I understand) I said. I never made that mistake again.

In the early lessons I think Maestra Piera thought I was her perfect student. I never asked her to repeat anything twice and I wrote down almost everything she said. It was only later that she understood how badly I was progressing in her lessons. One of the problems with the lessons, was I didn’t understand Italian therefore I didn’t understand the teacher. The second problem was the class had a massive mix of abilities. There were the French, Spanish and Romanians who with their Latin based language could argue with the teacher over the correct structure of a sentence and then there was me who needed pictures of cats and dogs with gatto and cane (cat and dog) printed beneath them.

I struggled through two years of classes with Maestro Piera and I know it was as much a struggle for her as it was for me. The symbolic certificate she gave me saying I had attained level 2 in Italian was presented more for my dogged attendance and also to make sure I didn’t re apply for a third year.


**Thanks for the suggestions, I have updated the post. So if the comments below don’t make any sense, it is my fault.

50 thoughts on “Read, help and criticise…

  1. I normally give a ‘Certificate of Attendance’ to students like you 😉 ‘Bless him, he’s rubbish but at least he showed up!’ Really nice post! One typo – a simple subject, not simply. As it’s for publication, I’ll go all English teacher on you! Sorry!


    • It would be nice. A lot of the students understood French, so the teacher would swap from Italian to French. Which confused me even more as both languages are totally Greek to me. 🙂


    • Thanks,
      I hope they do. I wonder if Portuguese schools are like Italian ones…. under funded, parents are asked to supply reams of A4 paper and toilet rolls, etc

      There are a lot of dedicated teachers, I have watched Mrs Sensible create her lesson plans.


  2. Sounds very much like the free comune lessons I attended here in Abruzzo, due anni fa. We had a whole two hours dedicated to form filling at the post office to discover the forms are obsolete now.


  3. pecora, haha, great article! a couple of grammar-ish typo-esque things that i’ll leave mrs sensible to tut over.
    as for learning the language, for me italian grammar a lot like algebra was at school. io sono un po’ dura! i get it, to a point – and actually use it…sort of deftly…when i’m speaking – but in lessons, the moment we get to reflexive verbs [mi, ti, si, ci, vi, si and where to stick gli] or ‘ne’ and ‘ci’ [that is, the ci that is not the reflexive ci], a singularity instantly forms in my cerebellum and vacuums up everything i’ve learned on paper. again and again.


    • Hi Kitty,
      It is all a mystery to me. I think it is much easier to teach English to those I come into contact with, than to try and grapple with the Italian verb structure.

      As I was leaving the supermarket, I told the nice lady at the supermarket that ciao is the same as bye.

      She now greets me in the street with a smile and a bye bye!! At some point I need to explain that we use hello as well as bye.


  4. I really enjoyed reading this, it held my attention throughout and I think you tailed the article off very nicely. Congrats on being asked to submit a post to a newsaper. In Germany my German lessons are also all in German, so I can relate to you on how frustrating it is…although maybe we learn quicker that way?! In the 4th paragraph I think you mean to say quite useful rather than quiet. Ciao!


  5. Great article… and congratulations on your certificate! I assume it is framed and on your wall? I struggled through six months of fairly pointless lessons in England before we moved out here so I sort of feel your pain. At least they were in English though. I really should sign up for a course here so that my wife can take the occasional break from her interpreting duties, but I just can’t quite be bothered. I know that’s bad, and I know I really need to just get on and do it but, like you, I find that not being able to converse with people has its advantages sometimes!


    • Framing the certificate might be a bad idea. I don’t want to remind Mrs sensible about the school or I might find myself enrolled for another year.

      In your blog you say your wife is fluent in Italian.. So is mine but asking her to teach me is like trying to teach a spouse how to drive. It will end it tears.


        • If only Great Britain had expanded its Empire to include Italy instead of India, we wouldn’t have this language problem or the Romans should have taught us Italian when they had us building Hadrian’s garden wall.


  6. Loved it! Made me laugh and while I didn’t burn my oatmeal, my toast did get cold. I only have one comment and it is only applicable if you are writing for an English (as in in England) paper. There is quite a bit of Italian with no translation behind it. If you are writing for an English language paper in Italy, no problem!


  7. I really enjoyed this post! I took two years of college Spanish and a mix-mash of conversational Spanish courses and still, when I went to visit my future husband in Ecuador (he was in the Peace Corps), the best I could do was “Cuantos son?” and “Donde esta los banos?” (Translation: how much? and where is the bathroom?). Since we spent a lot of time in the countryside, I didn’t get to use the second question too often ;).

    For me, I just get overwhelmed with conversation. It’s too fast for me. Interestingly, when I was teaching English to a man from Kenya (many years ago) and learning a bit of Swahili, my Spanish kept creeping into our conversations. Very strange!

    Anyway, I think this is an excellent article for the newspaper. Congrats on the opportunity to publish 🙂
    Hasta la vista,


    • Isn’t it amazing that the first sentences are, where is the bathroom? and how much is this?. Apart from Ciao, cosi cosi (so so) was a phrase I used a lot.

      How are you? cosi cosi, how is your Italian getting alone? cosi cosi 🙂

      Thanks for the encouragement.


  8. Great article, congrats on being published! You have my sympathies, I’m learning Italian at the moment and every week I come out of my class feeling like my brain is scrambled! On the other hand, I feel amazing when I actually ‘get’ something! Other phrases I find useful… instead of cosi cosi, non che male (not that bad) and instead of non capisco, non lo so (I do not know) 😀


  9. Wow, PN is now a journalist!!! The bilingual part will follow shortly, I’m sure. Great post that reminded me of my Engish teaching days. 🙂 I’d get the text copy edited for odds & sods in the punctuation. Put a comma after “Mrs Sensible” in line 1. Also, the sentence “The little quip I made about, I hope you have finished all your work before you started colouring in your pictures…” would read better as ” The little quip I made about hoping she had finished all her work before she started colouring in her pictures..”. Fourth paragraph: a colon after “useful” rather than a comma. Sixth paragraph: full stop after “come here” inside the bracket. Sorry, please don’t unfollow me. It’s my job 😦


  10. Buongiorno. This is fabulous – have you submitted it yet? Did it go down well? Just wanted to say – I have a recommended blog thing on my sidebar now and you are my current featured blog – hooray! All the best, Lucy 🙂


  11. great post! I enjoyed it very much and wish you success with it
    p.s. are the Italian spelling mistakes there on purpose? or shall I point them out? 😉


        • On Friday a friend of ours, invited us for home made pizza cooked in his wood fired oven. We had just started the first batch of pizza, when Mrs Sensible told me she needed to go home.
          When I looked at her (holding onto my glass of wine) she did look white and poorly. 😦

          Franco showed me the grappa, brandy etc he had organised for our evening….

          There must have been a blast of air from somewhere and honest it wasn’t me..


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