Friday, 8 April 2016
English as a Second Language
I used to write a lot when I was younger, rivers of words would flow on the white lined paper. When I met Pierpaolo writing was an essential part of our relationship, with no internet, emails, Skype or WhatsApp all we could do was to write to one another, to put our feelings and experiences on a piece of paper on hold till it reached either London or Italy. We wrote in Italian.
Than we got married and writing was no longer necessary nor possible due to the blessing of a growing family.
The desire to write never abandoned me but the handicap of a new language to learn was for many years a great suffering.
When I arrived in London at the age of 19 my English was very poor, I could more or less communicate and my sign language developed quicker than the spoken one.
I was very patient at first as I couldn't really expect to speak fluently a language that 1. didn't belong to me (yet) and 2. I didn't particularly like and never had the desire to learn.
My first year in England was the hardest: a new life, marriage was exciting and great fun (tricky at times), no friends, no family and the lack of vocabulary that didn't allow me to come out of myself.
Frustration came soon after. My spoken Italian was very colourful and I really liked to use big words just for fun... as for my English after one whole year it hadn't gone anywhere. Every time the home phone rang I trembled with fear as I knew I would not understand a word of what the person on the other end was saying. If I wanted to say something specific, due to the lack of vocabulary, I found myself going round and round in circles using the few words that I knew to describe a concept I had clear in my mind. Pierpaolo's family could speak Italian plus one or two other languages so there was not much chance for me to learn around them as they related to me in my mother tongue.
Stage two followed quickly which I would term: Pride. Italian was the language spoken in the house and we wanted our children to learn it fluently and effortlessly. Pierpaolo's Italian, which during our courtship was not perfect and full of very cute mispronunciations and funny verbs, was becoming incredibly good. I could not possibly speak my imperfect English in front of him, the humiliation was too hard to bear... so I refused to communicate with him in this alien language for a long time.
Anger was the next stage. I was never going to learn it properly... EVER... let alone write in it! I was blaming God a lot... and wished every country could speak Italian... I liked London, but I was angry and afraid that I would never belong!
I found myself at a crossroad: I could either hold on to my pride and anger, speak as little English as possible or surround myself with some sort of Italian community. There I could perhaps survive even in the midst of, what seemed to the eyes of a 20 year old young girl coming from a relatively small city in Italy, a hostile environment. The other option was to humbly lower my standards, accepted that in order to learn English, speaking was the only way and it didn't matter if my accent was a bit funny, my pronunciation was not perfect and try to fully embrace, explore and appreciate the fascinating English culture that surrounded me.
I asked God to help me in this as my perfectionism has always been my greatest enemy.
The journey has been long and painful at times and still now occasionally the frustration comes back, I don't own the language fully yet but I am working on it!
As for whether I feel I belong to England or not, well! Once you leave the place of your birth you soon find yourself in a kind of 'limbo'. I live happily in England, love the land, the great culture, the lovely people but I am not in any doubt sometimes that I'm not English. I travel to Italy almost every year and each time I feel more distant from my origins, I don't recognise the Italy I once left... and I'm not in any doubt that I'm no longer Italian.
At first this feeling was very disturbing, I hated this sense of not belonging, but soon it was revealed to me as a grace! Perhaps every Christian should feel unsettled in this world, after all, though we live on this beautiful Earth, we are not of this world, we are citizens of heaven. Whatever country I go to, I walk into a Church and there I feel at home.