Swimming in an Ocean of Italian Verbs

Caravaggio's "Medus" (one of my favorite paintings in the Uffizi) aptly illustrates my first reactions to the abyss of Italian verb tense and conjugations.

Caravaggio’s Medusa (one of my favorite paintings in the Uffizi) aptly illustrates my first reactions to the abyss of Italian verb tenses and conjugations.

Sto nuotando in un oceano di verbi Italiani. I am swimming in an ocean of Italian verbs.

I’ve just completed three weeks of intensive Italian language classes and have proceeded to the next level. “Yay!”, but I really have to commit this stuff to memory by practicing as much as I can. This isn’t like a dreaded, required college course that you take, pass and leave in the review mirror as quickly as possible. My success at building a robust life in Italy depends on my having a strong command of the language.

This most recent level was level 5. Believe me, this is difficult stuff, unless you are a prodigy when it comes to languages (like my dear friend Arun). I’m a bit envious of my fellow students at the school who come from other romance languages like Spanish, French and Portuguese since Italian shares many similarities with them. For English speakers, and students from vastly different languages like Japanese, Russian, and Swedish, I feel a greater kinship. I see the same looks of confusion on their faces when we’re forming sentences with a different logic and syntax from our native tongues.

Moments exist when I “get it” and I actually can put together a sentence that isn’t remedial. I won’t allow myself to feel like I’m stuck in the Italian equivalent of the Dick, Jane and Spot series from my first grade in elementary school. To achieve this I have to practice, practice, practice…and then practice some more. For this reason I crave having additional homework exercises.

Last Wednesday, I left class feeling as though the top of my head was about to blow off and all the information pertaining to Italian congiuntivo trapassato verbs and passato remoto verbs would come shooting out of my brain in every direction. I imagined myself as Medusa, and the writhing snakes were competing verb tenses. You may be thinking I have an overly active imagination and sense of drama. Maybe so, but this is my metaphor for communicating how overwhelmed I was. I also knew I needed space, time, and trust that my brain would know how to process this information and file it away in such a manner that the information actually would become useful. At times like these I am learning to become respectful of my brain saying “Give me some space to do my thing.”

I’m fortunate that Simone is a great teacher and he is shifting into speaking only Italian with me, so I am forced to utilize what I have been learning. We also hanging out with our Italian friends, and even though I often haven’t the foggiest idea of what they are saying, other times I find myself comprehending the gist of the conversation. So, something must be working.

What I have loved learning recently is the congiuntivo trapassato tense. It is a verb tense that I really need to understand and use. Italians rely on it heavily. The congiuntivo trapassato is used to express hypothetical situations or wishes (often regrets) that something could have turned out differently. Our teacher explained to us that this is integral to the Italian spirit and mentality. I find this personally ironic, because my path in life has been teaching me about coming back to the present and not looking over my shoulder, wishing the past was different. Go figure. This is still important for me to understand as part of the Italian psyche. For me, I’ll use more present and future tense verbs to appreciate what is happening now and to appreciate what can be in the future.

Last Friday, I was asked to take a test, along with many other students, to help determine what I have retained from level five and prior levels. I’ve yet to review the results, but I’m anxious to know where I need to hunker down and concentrate. With the massive concentration on constructing new verb tenses, I fear I’ve lost my knowledge of some basic grammar rules regarding prepositions and pronouns.

Today I completed day one of level six. We’re learning about complex combinations of pronouns for certain type of verb tenses. I won’t try to explain, because I’m not sure I understand quite yet. Maybe by the end of the week I’ll be more knowledgeable. Stay tuned….

 

 

By |2015-11-09T22:04:43+02:00March 3rd, 2015|Speaking Italian|0 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

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