Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Italian language immersion weekend… in London!

Ironically, it took going to London to experience a full weekend of Italian-language immersion. How did I manage that? By traveling with two friends from Italy, of course!

Both countries are getting psyched up for the World Cup!

Like any major city, London is incredibly diverse, multicultural and multilingual. We enjoyed soba noodles for lunch, bought green tea at a huge Japanese food emporium, had a delicious Afghani-Persian dinner, and ate at a Thai restaurant located inside a pub - the whole time, speaking Italian amongst ourselves.  

Yummy boba: lychee, passion fruit, and my matcha green tea. :)

Even in our attempts to focus on "exotic" (i.e., non-Italian) cuisines, we were unable to escape Italian language and culture. For example, in the Chinatown area, I insisted we have some boba (bubble) tea, one of my favorite treats and something I have never had in Italy. After interpreting the menu and helping my friends make decisions on their first-ever boba, I ordered for everyone (in English). After the drinks came out, we realized the employee was Italian! The same evening, we came across a gelateria I couldn't resist. I walked in, and everyone was speaking Italian, so I ordered my gelato in its native language.

No thanks, I'll have some English breakfast tea, please! 

It wasn't nearly as odd as I thought it would be to speak mostly Italian in England. I mostly felt like we were still in Europe and, therefore, everyone should naturally be speaking multiple languages (which was the case). The hardest part was trying to translate from written English to Italian for my friends, for example, in museums. I just don't have the specialized language. It wound up being much more effective for an Italian friend to translate, with me filling in missing details and/or explaining unknown terms (usually I didn't know the Italian word anyway, so I had to circumlocute).

My favorite London experience was the Matisse Cut Outs exhibit at the Tate Modern. The exhibit was so complete and really spectacular. For example, there was an entire room filled with pages from the book, Jazz, which contains pages and pages of Matisse's hand-written notes, in French. We didn't attempt to read everything, but when we did, it was quite chaotic. My Italian friend translated some text aloud into Italian, which was helpful for our other friend but not for me. In my case, it was better to ignore the Italian voice and instead try to understand the French directly from the text. At any rate, the combination of written English (the exhibit guide), written French (by Matisse), and spoken Italian was a totally new and challenging language context for me.

Overall, this rather spontaneous weekend trip to London, in Italian, was great fun and exceptionally multicultural-multilingual. Next time I will try to pick up some English-English!

London, London, London… not so far from Italy (see the Vespa wallet?)

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