The Reality of Moving to a Country Where You Don't Speak the Language

Oct 19, 2018 9:44:00 AM / by Payton Meyer

In this week's post, Payton shares her initial concerns about not knowing any Italian when she moved to Florence and talks about the different ways she's begun to work on her Italian, leveraging her Ganzo! family, friendly locals, and even her past knowledge of Spanish. 

Ciao! I’m currently taking a break from studying for my Italian midterm tomorrow-- my last test before fall break!-- and I figured I’d write a bit about what my experience living in a country where English isn’t the dominant language has been like so far.

Italian is a very beautiful and interesting language, but since it’s only spoken in Italy, it’s rare to find Italian classes in American high schools. I took Spanish as my required language class, which I loved, but figured wouldn’t really do me any good when I decided to come here. When I arrived, I felt a bit rude coming into a foreign country without the ability to even say “please” or “thank you” to the locals in their own language. However, I learned very quickly that, not only is Italian relatively easy to pick up on, but that the locals are very kind and keen on helping you learn.

As it turns out, Italian is very similar to Spanish, as they are both Romance languages that are derived from Latin, so coming into this experience with Spanish under my belt has been extremely helpful. Although the pronunciation is a bit different and has therefore taken some getting used to, Italian uses a lot of the same grammatical concepts as Spanish, such as masculine and feminine endings and verb conjugations, which I have thankfully already learned how to do. Because of this, learning Italian in the beginners course that CAPA offers has gone pretty quickly and smoothly, and my ability is ions above what it was when I first arrived. That being said, I’m not quite comfortable enough to try to have a real conversation with someone in Italian yet, but I do just fine ordering a gelato or making small talk. At my favorite sandwich shop, I’ve started to order in Italian rather than in English, and the owner who is always behind the counter has noticed and been very encouraging, which makes the whole thing pretty fun. I’m learning more and more everyday!

Students Studying for a Midterm in CAPA FlorenceMy classmate, Ian, and I studying for out Italian midterm.

If I’m ever not sure how to say something, Italians are always willing to help, or just speak with me in English, as most that I’ve met are fluent or close to it. This has been very relieving, as trying to convey something in a language that is completely new to you can be a bit nerve-wracking and even frustrating at times. I’ve run into some of this language-barrier frustration occasionally at restaurants, as the really good, authentic places often don’t translate their menus. Although the food vocabulary can be pretty intuitive, especially because we use a lot of Italian words to describe Italian foods in english (i.e. spaghetti, pizza, cappuccino, bologna, etc.), Italian menus can be quite confusing to navigate. I’ve had food come out that’s not at all what I thought I ordered on more than one occasion, but it’s just a part of the experience, and of course still tastes fantastic!

Italian Labels in Student ApartmentItalian labels that my landlord has put in our apartment to help us learn.

I’ve also learned quite a bit from being around people that are speaking Italian from one another. My Ganzo! family, for instance, sometimes speak to each other in Italian while I am with them, and I find that I can pick up on the subject of discussion more and more every time I’m over there. They’ve also said that they’re perfectly willing to practice with me if/when I feel comfortable doing so, but have just as much fun practicing their English with me, as well.

Italian GroceriesGrocery store items with Italian labels

Overall, it’s been much easier to live in Florence without speaking the language than I originally expected, but I’m so glad that I’m learning. Having even just beginners Italian language skills is enriching my experience and my ability to feel more immersed in the culture, and not just like a removed American student. Hopefully, by the end of the semester I’ll be a natural!

View of Florence and the DuomoItaly!

Thanks, Payton!

Payton Meyer

Payton Meyer is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A Strategic Communication major at  University of Colorado Boulder, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.

Payton's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.


Learn More about the CAPA Florence Program

Topics: Florence, Italy, Language