In other words

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In other words

Posted by: Federica Deriu
Category: Italian online
In other words

In other words


I needed a different language a language that was a place of affection and reflection. Antonio Tabucchi


In other wordsIn other words is the love story of a writer for another language.

The language in question is the Italian language which first captivated the American writer Jhumpa Lahiri during a trip to Florence, after college.
In other words is an autobiographical work written in Italian by an American writer and translated in English by Ann Goldstein an editor of  the New Yorker

The book is very interesting for anyone is learning Italian as it investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.

I am sure that Jumpa Lahiri’s words will give to all my students the confidence of starting to speak in Italian helping them to accept the fact that it is impossible to know a foreign language perfectly.

In particular it is very interesting reading the chapter in which the writer describes her difficulties in mastering the two main pasts in Italian ( passato prossimo/ imperfetto).

Jumpa Lhairi says:

[…] what confuses me most in Italian is when to use the imperfect and when the simple past. It should be fairly straightforward, but somehow, fo me, it isn’t.

Having been teaching Italian for years, I can assure everyone that it is not Jumpa Lhairi’s problem only, but it is common to all English speakers who are learning Italian.
In fact in the two languages the way of considering and speaking about the past is different.

And she continues:

When I have to choose between them, I don’t know which is right. I see the fork in the road and I slow down, feeling that I am about to come to a halt. […] I don’t understand the difference instinctively. It is if I had a kind of temporal myopia. […] The confusion makes me think of a certain geometric motif, a kind of optical illusion, that is found in the floors of churches, or old palazzi. […] The effect of the illusion is astounding, disconcerting – the perspective shifts, so that you see two version of the same thing, two possibilities, at the same time. […]

At the end of the process what all students accept is that it depends on the context and on the speakers’ intention. The boundary is less strict than one thinks at the start of the learning process.

By now the difference between the  imperfetto and the  simple past  troubles me a little less.

This is a beautiful reading for everyone who has started the journey to find their voice in another language and if you are studying Italian I would recommend to read the dual-language format as this is a valuable tool of improving your vocabulary.


Author: Federica Deriu

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