Farm Animal Italian Lessons

Years ago, when I was first taking Italian lessons, I would rent Italian films for practice. One of my favorites was Johnny Stecchino, starring Roberto Benigni. It was fun and silly — though not without some social commentary — although with the speed and accents, it wasn’t always the easiest to follow. Still, that’s what the subtitles were for!

In one of the scenes toward the end, he’s seen leading a group of mafia thugs on a song about the sounds animals make.

There’s a street just off the Piazza Maggiore in the Quadrilatero that has some wonderful animal paintings on the protective grills when the shops are closed. That inspired me to add updating the animals sounds to my current Italian lessons. After all, animals in different countries speak different languages, too! Charlie, my Dutch dog, may not know “drop it” in English, but he does seem to know the equivalent in Dutch. (He wasn’t happy when I finally found the right Dutch term recently.)

So, I present to you the Italian names and sounds of a few animals.

Horses are i cavalli and when they neigh, they say “hiiiiii”
Italian lessons animal sounds

The cow — la mucca — goes “muuuuuu”
Italian lessons animal sounds cow painting

The rooster — il gallo — says “chicchirichí [keekeereekee]”
Italian lessons animal sounds street art

Pop Quiz! What sounds do these animals make?
Italian lessons animal sounds street art

If you’re thinking that I didn’t tell you what sound the bull (il toro) makes, well, it turns out they make the same sounds as cows. #muuuuuuuu

I hope you enjoyed this illustrated Italian lesson. If you want to learn more, you can find more sounds here. So from me, it’s “ciao” and from Charlie, it’s “bau bau”!

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Where the malcontent and the hyperpolyglot meet

italian language via malcontenti bologna

I recently watched a whole night of Italian language TV and felt pretty good that I’d followed more than enough of it to know what was going on. While I might not have understood word for word, I wasn’t struggling and really having to listen intently to it all.

My Dutch never got to that level, though I can read Dutch better than I can understand it being spoken. And I can’t speak either language all that easily at the moment. I get tongue tied and stumble and come out with endings and conjugations that I know are wrong as soon as they come out of my mouth. I also find myself speaking a hybrid of Dutch and Italian sometimes, especially when chatting to my dog, Charlie. He’s Dutch, after all, and knows his commands in Dutch, so I’m obliged to still speak some Dutch.

All of this is my way of saying that while I’m making some headway again with the Italian language, I will never be a strong polyglot. I definitely won’t be a hyperpolyglot like Giuseppe Mezzofanti.

A Way With Words

Mezzofanti (1774 – 1849) was born here in Bologna to a family of humble origins. He became a cardinal, but was perhaps best known for being a hyperpolyglot, in that he was said to have spoken around 38 languages fluently and had a basic knowledge of dozens more.

In 1797, he became a professor of Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Asian languages at the University of Bologna, and in 1803 he was appointed assistant librarian of the Institute of Bologna. Not bad for a carpenter’s son.

Misfits and Malcontents

It does seem that there is some disagreement nowadays that Mezzofanti would have truly been fluent in so many languages. There is talk that the requirements were primarily in reading and writing, and that his ability and need to speak was typically limited to basic chit chat. No matter what the actual story may be, he seems to have been truly gifted when it came to languages. I remember only a little from the five and a half years of French I studied at school — though it has helped me some with Italian — and my attempts at learning Russian were a complete disaster. Even if Mezzofanti could only hold the most basic of conversations in 38 languages, I’m still impressed!

So how did I learn about this linguistic dynamo? I was wandering around town and found myself on Via Malcontenti. I’m easily amused and I couldn’t help but wonder about the malcontents that gave the street its name. In pausing to photograph the street name I happened to spot a memorial plaque, though I couldn’t really read it clearly at the time. Thank goodness for zoom lenses!

italian language via malcontenti bologna

With a bit of zooming and Googling, I learned about Giuseppe Mezzofanti and the fact that he was born and raised there on Via Malcontenti. There’s more to his story, including becoming the Custodian-in-Chief at the Vatican Library. You should check out this site if you’d like to learn more.

It’s amazing the bits of history you can stumble across, just by taking a few extra photos while wandering around a city. Even if you don’t understand the Italian language — or the language of whatever country you’re in — take a few extra zoom shots of these kinds of markers and then go back and get what you can from Google and Google Translate (or your search/translator of preference). Sometimes they’re older plaques like this and sometimes they’re modern ones with more information. Either way, it’s a fun way to expand your knowledge. I’m sure Mezzofanti would approve of that.

italian language via malcontenti bologna

italian language via malcontenti bologna

Learning Italian: The Nightly News Edition

First off, languages are not my strong point. At least not foreign languages. I mean, I’ve made a career out of English, but perhaps all of my language proficiency went into that one language. I studied French for four years in high school and then thought I’d try something more exotic when I went to university. Bad idea. After failingbumbling my way through Russian and Latin (Latin didn’t have a spoken requirement), I eventually went back to French in order to fulfill my language requirements. Learning Italian was not really an option while I finished my undergrad degree, even though it would have come in handy with my Italian Renaissance art history studies.

Traumatized or just burnt out from my language learning issues — along with a lack of a clear idea what I wanted to do — I didn’t go on for a master’s degree and instead joined the work force. Teaching art history at a community college was a decent job, but it didn’t really pay the bills, so I ended up becoming an obituary writer for the local newspaper. That meant my mornings were free. I ended up using that convenient schedule to begin taking Italian 101 at one of the local universities.

After struggling with various languages, it may seem weird to want to start learning Italian. However, I knew that if I were ever to return to academia, at least in the art history field, I was going to need to know the language. Might as well give it a try when it didn’t really matter in terms of grades and scholarships. Perhaps that lack of pressure helped. Perhaps all those years of French helped. Perhaps I just had a good teacher and a textbook and lesson design that worked for me. The point is that I ended up doing quite well in that class and picked up a decent foundation in the language and actually enjoyed it.

Scheduling issues prevented me from taking Italian 102, but regular emails with an Italian pen pal helped me keep up with what I had learned. I also started listening to some Italian music, reading Italian newspapers, and sometimes watching TG1, one of the Italian nightly news programs, which occasionally showed up on one of the random cable channels late at night.

Oddly enough, it was when G and I got together that I stopped using Italian as often. Go figure. I heard it often enough from him, and we’d use it occasionally, but there was no concerted effort on my part to continue learning. Moving to the Netherlands didn’t help. I had a new language to bumble through.

learning italian in italiano bookSo, here I am. Now living in Italy and really wishing I’d kept up with my Italian studies. Still, I do understand more than I ever understood of Dutch, despite my best efforts. Right now I’m using my old textbook and Babbel to review and brush off the rust. In terms of the European language levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), I’m somewhere in the Bs, I think. I’m reviewing A2 level stuff right now and it’s pretty basic. I know I went much further than this in my studies. Still, the review does come in handy, because it’s easy to make mistakes, even when you know better. All that gender agreement! It feels more like a war of the sexes!

[I didn’t originally plan on that whole language backstory. This next bit is all I really was going to blog about. Obviously, I have language issues that need to be worked out.]

We don’t watch a lot of TV, but we watch L’eredità (a quiz show) sometimes, followed by a bit of TG1, the evening news that I used to watch many years ago. The news is hard to follow, particularly because of the speed of it all. There’s a lot to cover in 30 minutes, so catching much of it can be challenging. However, it wasn’t the speed that confused me recently.

In between each main news story, the anchor will introduce the next topic, as is typical. One thing I kept noticing each night — sometimes once, sometimes twice — was that the anchor would seem to say, “Grazie, grazie a Lei” right before the start of some of the segments. You see, it sounded like they were saying thank you in an odd, formal, but wrong way. It was particularly odd that it was only before some stories and not others. Why?! I kept meaning to ask about it, but didn’t want to interrupt and then would forget about it. Finally, though, I had a chance to ask.

G was confused at first and rightly so. Then it dawned on him what I was talking about. It turns out the anchor was introducing the name of the reporter covering the story: Grazia Graziadei. Because of course that’s her name. I think I can be excused for making such a mistake. It’s right up there with the footballer whose last name is Immobile. Ah, the joys and confusion of life in another language.

Well, that’s enough of my language travails for now. Time to get back to learning Italian. Grazie. Grazie a Lei for reading. 😉

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