Within the past four days, I have been in three different countries: Italy, Spain, and France.
Prior to studying abroad in Italy, I had very minimal Italian skills. I tried to use Duolingo, but wasn’t diligent. Had I been consistent, it would have taught me so much. That being said, I’ve been trying to speak Italian when I can in Florence. I know much more now than I did in January.
When we were planning our days in Barcelona, I realized that I probably wasn’t going to be able to speak Spanish (which I had taken for 5.5 years) since Catalan is the primary language. When I arrived, I quickly learned that I could kinda get away with speaking Spanish. Enough of the words were similar that I felt better trying to speak limited Spanish than resorting to English.
I always try to make an effort to say “hi” and “thank you” in the local language. Equal parts sleep deprivation, a long day of touring, and living in Italy for 8 weeks made me do something that surprised me: I started accidentally speaking Italian.
Now I’m in Paris, surrounded by a language with which I have very limited experience. Some of my only memories from the half-year of mandatory French in eight grade are from a cartoon version of Les Miserables; Jean Val Jean gets white stripes in his hair as he ages and he looks like a skunk. So now what do I say? Gracias instead of merci; sí instead of oui.
Nearly everywhere I’ve visited outside of the country has been on a tour, meaning that there are a lot less interactions that force you to speak the language. For now, I might be pointing at the macaron I want and hoping that I remember to say “thank you” in the right language. Visiting Spain (and then France) gave me a taste of how different travel can be when you speak the language of the place you are visiting. I’m excited to be back in Italy and start pushing myself to learn more Italian.