Note: This is part 3 of a summer series with notes on learning and interacting in another language. The series is inspired by my Italian interactions, but can apply to any language! See part 1 for two stories illustrating the goodness that comes from interacting with people in their own language and part 2 for tips on strategic eavesdropping.
It’s been a month since I last posted, partly because I’ve been busy having the same conversation over and over again. I’ve been doing this on purpose.
Across the street from the campus where I’m teaching here in Rome is a lunch counter called Mondo Arancina whose Eggplant Parmesan surpasses all expectations. At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t know what the dish was called and wasn’t prepared for all the standard questions about what else I wanted, did I want to dine in or take out, and didn’t I have a combination of coins and bills that would allow the cashier to return as little change as possible. (Romans seem to hate it when you try to pay with a unit of money other than the next one up from the cost of your purchase, like if you want to pay for something that costs 8 Euros with a 20 instead of a 10. The upside of this is that you get a little extra Italian input when they express mild disgust at the fact that the combination of money in your pocket isn’t carefully customized for the purchase you happen to be making at their store.)
I’ve had the Eggplant Parm about every other day for five weeks now. Each time, I’ve gotten to hear many of the same phrases and variations and been able to answer in greater detail, and indeed to anticipate the questions and initiate those parts of the routine myself. My confidence, my fluency, my sense membership in the “in” crowd, and my enjoyment of both the lunch and the language have grown a bunch as a result.
If you find yourself spending a few days or more in a community that speaks your target language, see if you can establish a routine like this. Low-key cafes and places with takeaway food are perfect!