I will be the first to admit that my progress with acquiring a respectable grasp of Italian is sporadic at best. I can get the gist of a piece of simple written text by reading very slowly. The more complicated requires a dictionary. If someone speaks to me … slowly … I get the general meaning of the words. Once they get into the full flow though … forget it. I might as well be listening to Russian. I don’t have enough vocabulary to say more than the usual tourist needs without elaborate preparation but what conversation is prepared beforehand. That is a speech not a conversation.
The one achievement that gave cause for me to do a happy dance was finally mastering the ability to trill my r‘s. That was so hard. Now I suspect that my flapping tongue is giving me away as a strano … foreigner.
Of course, the first thing one says in greeting is ‘Hello’ … buongiorno. I have been driving my coworkers crazy all year practicing my greeting with a flourish of trills. On my first serious attempt here, apart from the immigration police who never listen anyway, my victim switched to English straight away. What had I done to give myself away in one little word?
I listened. Maybe my buongiorno was more bonjourno so I tried harder to articulate the u, remembering that every letter in Italian is spoken. Still no success. I was sure that I had listened carefully to the word but maybe not, so I tried again.
I think I have discovered that the culprit is that pesky r. After all of the effort to teach my tongue the gymnastics of the trilled r, it seems that only stupid foreigners do that. Native speakers can spot it a mile off. Now I have to give my theory to to test with someone who doesn’t know me.
There is one problem with mastering the greeting like a native. The rest of the conversation will be in rapid fire Italian, leaving me once again in the linguistic dust.