As a student minoring in Italian, one of my focuses this semester has been to strengthen my proficiency in the language. I’m taking an Italian language course while I’m here, but this has only been a part of my education. Here are the places where I have gained most of my everyday knowledge about Italian language and culture.
Grocery Stores: My meal plan for my host university came with a supermarket gift card that has more than covered the costs of my groceries this semester. I have been able to brush up my Italian food knowledge weekly by buying groceries and making my own Italian meals (it’s quite difficult to find any international ingredients in a normal grocery store, so I’ve been making a lot of pasta dishes). Grocery stores have a bounty of vocabulary words with great visuals to provide context clues.
Outdoor Markets: Something that I appreciate about Europe is its outdoor markets. Florence is known for its leather, so I decided to visit the famous San Lorenzo leather market to test my Italian skills and barter for a new backpack. Though I struggled a bit, I learned how to be more assertive and argue in Italian while getting my backpack down from 60 euros to 33 euros.
Libraries and bookstores: I picked up a copy of one of my favorite books from high school, Colpa delle Stelle, better known in English as The Fault in Our Stars. Because the book is young-adult fiction, it’s difficult enough to challenge me but also has enough notable lines that I can pick up context clues easily. I already am a sucker for spending hours in a bookstore or a library, but deciphering titles and learning the Italian names of English classics adds an additional level of novelty.
Churches: I’m Catholic, so thankfully I already know the prayers and when to stand up and sit down, so the rest comes naturally to me. Although the vocabulary tends to be limited in terms of what I can actually use in conversation, I recognize different verb forms and have improved on my pronunciation. Apart from just the language usage, attending church has given me a routine and a greater sense of integration into an Italian community.
Volunteer Work: My host university paired me with a local high school to tutor second- and third- English students twice a week. Though I am technically the ones teaching the students, it has given me the opportunity to practice my Italian skills as well. In order to help explain some new concepts, I have to use vocabulary that they understand.
Though it’s easy to slip into English in an international city like Milan, I try my best to use my semi-Italian features to convince people I’m a native speaker. Constant exposure has tremendously helped me reach my language learning goals.