Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Itanglish? Englitalian?

I had a strange experience tonight in my social research methods class. We were discussing our thesis paper topics/hypotheses and one girl was having trouble articulating what she wanted to argue. Our professor then sat down in front of her and said "parli italiano"--and they proceeded to hash out her topic in a blend of English and Italian.

True, it was easier for her that way. She is Italian so she could find the words better. But I have never been in a class (besides a language class--Spanish, Italian) where multiple languages are spoken like that. It's actually happened twice this week--tonight and last night in stats. A student asked the professor a question in Italian and he answered in Italian.

Tonight was neat though because as my classmate and professor switched back and forth between English and Italian I caught most of what they were discussing. Out of the four areas of language (writing, speaking, reading, listening) I have found that reading comes easiest for me, followed by listening then writing. Speaking is the hardest.

Anyways, this made me wonder, what language do bilingual (and tri-, quadra-, etc...) people think in? Their native tongue or the one being used? Or both/all of them at the same time?

Another thing I've noticed about language--though maybe this is just something my stats professor does. After explaining something, he will ask if we appreciate it or will say something like, "That should be easy enough to appreciate." He substitutes appreciate for understand. So maybe there is only one word for these in Italian and they essentially mean the same thing? Except they are quite different in America. We can appreciate something without understanding it (case in point, Italian culture). But if my stats professor is typical of Italians, they apparently have to understand something to appreciate it (hence their annoyance with American tourists?).

I'm pondering all these questions as I write this blog and listen to Laura Pausini, my new favorite singer. Ro and Marina went to her concert in Rome last weekend and now she's all we listen to here in the apartment. Our favorite song is her duet with James Blunt: Primavera in Anticipo. It's a love song and it's great to just sing loud and Marina and I did the other night, to the amusement of Ro, who actually understands Italian and knew we were doing a horrible rendition of it.

Either way, listening to Laura has helped us learn new words and makes it easier for us to pick up more Italian on the street. Maybe someday our favorite phrase won't have to be "non lo so" (I don't know) by default.

1 comment:

  1. My quadri-lingual high school French teacher would always tell us that you are officially fluent in a language when you can think in it-- particularly if you dream in it.

    So I would imagine that multi-lingual people think in whatever language they are speaking at the time, but when not speaking, probably think in their first/whichever they use with the greatest frequency.

    I can't tell you officially, because when I asked my teacher what language she thinks in when she's not speaking/reading/writing, she was agitated by my barrage of questions and answered "Swahili," which she does not know. It's so interesting to think about, though.