Learning a Language

Kinsey Drake
November 17, 2016

It’s a curious thing to learn a language. At the beginning, you start out almost trapped in the stages of infancy, struggling to announce even your existence (Sono una ragazza) and clinging desperately to the phrases you can easily wrap your clumsy American tongue around (Mi piace leggere). Then you slowly start to be able to express your emotions, doubts, and dreams (Non volevo che Trump vincesse le elezioni).

This process, of course, is not always linear. Some days Italian comes rushing out of my mouth with an urgency that surprises even myself. Those days are far and few between. More often than not, a failed rolled “r” creates a traffic jam on my tongue and the sentence piles up behind, thwarting my attempts at an Italian accent. It makes every learned vocabulary word and properly gendered sentence feel like a victory.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of my near-total Italian immersion experience is how it changed my approach to the English language. I spend my days navigating courses, books, newspapers, and daily life in Milan mostly in Italian. My papers and notes for classes are completed in slow, laborious steps and my thoughts feel trapped behind my mediocre usage of the subjunctive tense.

Then, when I get to write in English, I feel like that barrier lifts. The void of organic expression that I find while studying Italian makes writing in English feel like a gluttony of language. Complicated past tenses, phrasal verbs, and idiomatic phrases—things that I used to take for granted ever since I read my first book, now feel revelatory. I type without regard to accent marks or deciding to use cohesive devices and my fingers are mere extensions of my thoughts.

It is, in a way, like coming home. It makes me grateful for my ingrained intuition of English grammar and jealous of people who have been bilingual from birth. It makes me really how much I have to learn to really be proficient in Italian, as well as how far I have come, to some extent. Learning a language levels the playing field. It humbles you and inspires you, to say the least. Whether you want it or not, your worldview expands and you begin to understand the nuances that cultures amass over time as either causes or results of their language. The world is too great, too diverse, and too beautiful to remain monolingual.

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Kinsey Drake

<p>Kinsey is a Biochemistry major and Italian minor from Tufts University near Boston, MA studying in Milan for Fall 2016. Everything she does is to learn more about food; catch her studying cheese microbes by day and reading cookbooks by night. She caught the travel bug the minute she tasted her first crepe in Paris way back in 2006, and hasn&#39;t looked back since.</p>

2016 Fall
Home University:
Tufts University
Biological Chemistry
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