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Personal Perspectives

Learning Italian Naked

Lying on the table naked, I learned Italian, stroke by stroke.

Laura Deutsch
Source: Laura Deutsch

I wanted to practice my Italian, but as soon as Italians heard my American accent, they answered me in English — the language they wanted to practice.

However, I found a few good places to practice my foreign language skills: (1) in shops where the salespeople didn't speak English and wanted to sell me something and (2) on the massage table with Angelo.

In shops, salespeople were patient, making every effort to understand me. How many syllables? Sounds like…? My pantomime skills served me well. When looking for a tablecloth in Montefalco, for example, I pointed to a large tablecloth on display and said, “Mia tavola e piu piccola,” indicating “smaller” by bringing my hands from shoulder-width apart in front of me to a narrower space, as if I were holding an egg. The saleswoman got the message. (I was wearing clothes.)

With Angelo, I was naked. My angelic masseur (aptly named) spoke a little English, but was patient, with an instructor’s ear for my mistakes. I wanted to be corrected. I wanted my vocabulary and grammar to expand.

"Mi fa male," I said when he pressed my leg. I called it "la pierna" — Spanish for leg; he corrected me: "la gamba".

He continued my education: "L’ho fatto male." I did a bad job.

I told him I spoke el spagnolo, that I had lived in Madrid "quarant'anni fa, doppo in Mejico." In Madrid, forty years ago, then in Mexico. He corrected me: "Messico".

An "x" or "j" may be replaced by "ss". I tucked that away.

I struggled to replace the Spanish "en" with the Italian 'in". I spoke half Spanish, half Italian, and I was frustrated when listeners didn’t understand me. At the Coop, where I shopped for groceries in Italy, I asked if they had ground turkey. "Pavo" in Spanish. The butcher rolled his eyes. "Come?" "What?" he asked before he stomped away. The word for turkey is "tacchino" in Italian. Not even close.

"How do you say: I'm relaxed?" I asked Angelo.

"Sono relassata," he replied.

"Come si dice?" I asked as I turned over, pointing to my face.


Of course.

A month later, still in Italy, I tried to speak Italian to another excellent masseur, Indian by birth and a bit light on Italian and English vocabulary. He didn’t teach me Italian as well as Angelo. In fact, whatever I said to him, he answered, “Maybe it’s the humidity.” As in “Mi fa male el collo.” (“My neck hurts.”) “Maybe it’s the humidity.”

I learned not to say too much. To work on the kinks in my body, instead of the ones in my head.

Writing prompt: What do you really want to say?

copyright © 2016 by Laura Deutsch