News News: Italian Studies

The Impact of a Language

By Erin Kitchens (Anthropology major and Italian minor ’19)

View from the tower of Lucca over the city

I found Italian mostly by happenstance. On a whim I signed up for Italian, remembering how much I had admired the landscape and the melody of the language when I had visited as a 13-year-old. This decision, which I decided in five minutes, would shape my entire undergraduate career.

I would be lying if I said my relationship with Italian has always been easy. Having never spoken, or thought in, a second language I was completely lost when having to form sentences for myself. After the first Italian exam (which I failed spectacularly) I was filled with determination. This language would not get the best of me! And so, I continued slowly, and with many errors, the process of allowing another language to integrate itself into my life and thoughts. I believe that the way that we view the world is fundamentally shaped by the language which we speak. Some phrases in English don’t even exist in Italian. To learn a new language is to learn a new way of seeing the world.

In total I spent eight months of last year studying and doing research in Siena, Italy. I had previously spent a summer in Florence but while there I was still shy about my language abilities. I knew that all those around me were native speakers and clearly knew their own language. Meanwhile I made simple conjugation and agreement errors.

Overlooking the city of Arezzo on a winter day

Coming back to Italy a second time I knew my outlook had to be different. These people knew I was not a native Italian speaker and they were here to help me learn. So, I enthusiastically threw myself into being able to communicate in Italian, not just focus on grammatical structure. With time my grammar improved, and words began to flow more easily. I stopped having to translate each word and let myself get caught inside of the language. Understanding Italian for what the Italian meant, not just the English translation.

Studying Italian has allowed me to broaden my intellectual and personal boundaries in ways I could not have imagined. Just because something is not easy doesn’t mean that it is not important. In fact, some of the hardest things are the most important.