Posts Tagged With: TEFL

The horrors of learning a new language…

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone?! Today’s discussion will be dedicated to language learning, a subject close to my heart!

It’s been a while since I’ve moaned about how impossible learning Italian is. My lack of moaning is not because I’ve improved so much as because I’ve grown accustomed to my abilities (or lack thereof!). I will add a disclaimer here – to all those that don’t speak Italian, I will sound, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely fluent. And I will also add, that it’s not often that I can’t make myself understood or that I can’t understand what someone else is saying. If “ability to communicate” is the goal of language learning, then yes, I probably have that nailed. And that is a fine goal if you don’t live here. However, that is absolutely not my goal. I am not content to just communicate,  I want to do it well! I want to come across as the same person when I’m speaking in English as when I’m speaking in Italian. That’s what being fluent is to me.

Our opinions, thoughts and beliefs are what make us who we are. Yet when you’re learning a new language, you’re taught how to order food, book hotel rooms, provide some basic personal information. Quite rightly too. And of course for holidays etc., that’s more than ok. But imagine you’ve moved to your new country and you want to integrate with your new community: try making friends with that rather limited vocabularic repertoire! Expressing yourself well requires a reasonably good understanding of how to string sentences together.  You can get away with pigeon English in English speaking countries – people will know what you’re talking about but it’s not quite the same in the Italy.  In Italian there are 90+ different ways of saying “run” depending upon who by and when it is being done. It’s the same for every verb. You can’t just use one of them in a sentence and expect people to know what you’re talking about. With every single noun, not only do you have to learn how to say it in Italian, but also whether it’s female or masculine  (my little mental dictionary has images of chairs wearing skirts etc.) because that effects all the other words in the sentence. My point is, you may hear me ordering food and think I’m fluent, but I would find it a challenge to discuss the intricacies and potential impact of the upcoming Brexit referendum.  It requires a vocabulary that I still don’t have and a mastery of the congiuntivo verb tense that I don’t have. I could get by but until I can do that comfortably, I feel like the person that I am here is still just a shadow of who I actually am.

However, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I enjoy speaking Italian. Thinking in a new language is not only interesting, it gives a new perspective on everything. Nobody becomes fluent overnight and I give it a good go and, well, life continues.  Sometimes though, something will bring my inadequacy with the language to the forefront: a silly mistake or a comment from someone.And with any other subject matter, that would be like water off a duck’s back. I can take criticism or mickey-taking on every subject without taking great offence. But my Italian, that’s different. Language learning requires such a lot of time, dedication and in fact, courage that it can be a very touchy subject for a lot of people, an Achilles heel. I’ve known people that, despite understanding the language, refuse to speak it because people have been unknowingly insensitive in the past. To put yourself out there and speak to people when you know you’re going to make mistakes, particularly at the beginning, can be an incredibly daunting prospect. Yet, there is no other way of improving other than to speak the lingo and to have someone correct you. Making mistakes really is the only way you can get better.

I must be getting marginally better because comments are generally rare these days. But last week, I received my biggest insult yet! I was in a shop, asking if they had any digital pianos. Alas, that shop didn’t but the owner recommended a shop in the next town that did. Then he added “is there someone that could go with you that speaks Italian?”. I was mortified! It’s not that I was speaking in English to him! So, in need of reassurance, I spoke to a couple of Italian friends who confirmed that “technically” I can speak Italian but that my accent “fa fatica” (is a struggle) for anyone that hasn’t known me for ages. I am a struggle to listen to!!!!!  I mean, I was not expecting to be accent-free but I hadn’t ever imagined that people would find it tiring to listen to me!

After a few days of giving myself a hard time, on further discussion with others, I think in fact the shop owner might have had ulterior motives. I have thus reviewed my decision to no longer speak Italian lest I make people’s ears bleed as they struggle to understand me.

However, my ability to communicate as a result of that experience, has been stunted by the appearance of ‘Evil Sue’, my nasty, judgemental imaginary sidekick. ‘We’re our own worst enemy’ as the saying goes and`Evil Sue` only crops up when I’m feeling “Italianly vulnerable”. During conversations she gives the increasingly `Flustered Sue`, such helpful feedback such as: “why did you SAY that? You KNOW that chairs are girls, you KNOW that you go and FIND someone in Italy and not SEE them (it makes me think the entire country is playing an eternal game of hide and seek). What are you, an amateur?! You’ve been here 3 years!!!”. Meanwhile the conversation with the real person understandably gets increasingly nonsensical whilst I am being harshly remonstrated by ‘Evil Sue’. It’s a terrible vicious circle and ‘Evil Sue’ ends up with an exhaustive supply of ammunition.

Improving requires correction and so I like to be corrected. I have a friend who tries to help with my accent. Apparently I mispronounce my ‘t’s in some words. She’ll say a word with ‘t’  in it, I’ll copy it exactly, she’ll tell me it’s nothing like what she just said and repeat it, I again copy it exactly and so it goes on. On one occasion another English speaker was listening in and he found the whole conversation amusing as he couldn’t tell the difference either. It would make for a good comedy sketch show I think. By the end of these sessions, myself and my friend are both about ready to kill each other. I’m comforted by the fact that my English learning Italian friends also struggle with the English accent. They find it difficult to differentiate between the sound of “bed” and “bad” and “growing” and “groaning”. On moaning to my mother about it, she found this interesting article about how adult brains just don’t differentiate certain sounds.  I’m marginally more comforted that it’s not me being inadequate so much as it being difficult for everyone when they’re older!

So the point of this blog? Firstly to try and explain to people that think I’m fluent, why  I don’t feel remotely fluent and why it’s important to me to be a lot better at Italian than I am! Secondly, to explain to my Italian friends why during some conversations it must seem like I’m having a stroke (please don’t frown and look bemused, try not to let on that you’ve noticed and then it might improve!). Thirdly, to provide a bit of solidarity to the other language learners out there that are struggling with the same internal ‘Evil’ sidekick. I shall certainly be trying to speak to myself in a more constructive, less scathing tone in future! Fourthly, to warn people of the dangers innocent comments can have. It’s a very fine line indeed and I have absolutely no doubt I must be guilty of hurting people’s feelings too (apologies to those if I have)! I mean, some of the mistakes people make are so hilarious one can’t  help but laugh and in general that’s ok. Everyone has war stories of the time when they asked someone if there were “preservativi” in the jam for instance (“preservativi” does not mean preservatives in Italian, it means condoms)!!! If you’d learnt a new language without embarrassing yourself on at least several occasions I don’t think you’d be human. In summary, it’s a minefield but what I think I’ll do personally is to be more flowing with the positive feedback with my language learning buddies in the hope it tames their ‘Evil’ sidekicks and I think that really is half the battle!

LagodiFiastra (3 of 6)

Italian learning might be a challenge but when you wake up to such beautiful scenery every day, it’s all worth it





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Exploring Venice, Drawing Nudes and My Terrible Affliction…

Buonasera a tutti,

How is everyone? I’ve had a successful week here, slightly more productive than recent weeks at least! Here’s an update going from the least to the most exciting.


I have a terrible affliction. I am unable to say ‘no’ to people that want lessons. If you’re new to this blog, just to fill you in, I do not like teaching, particularly children. I don’t wish to sound ungrateful by any means, I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position where work finds me rather than vice versa. But it’s a lot of effort, not so much the class itself but all the preparation that goes into it for so little reward. The pay is awful (and the children are mean to me and they don’t listen. It’s literally just like being back at school again!!!!) Interviews are non existent – the only qualification required is that I’m English. My interviews in the UK used to be “can you explain to me what the critical path of a project is and how you’d highlight what that is using x software?”. Now my interviews consist of only “when can you start?”. Last week the local school phoned me up to see if I could do some teaching and we organised a catch up. It went thusly:

School: Great. So what hours can you do?

Me: Meh. You know, I really don’t like teaching. Let’s say, the minimum number of hours possible and even then I’m not sure I want to do it. Maximum of maybe 3 hours a week.

School: Ok. What about 8 hours a week?

Me: Ugh. I really don’t like teaching. Did I mention that?

School: Huh. Well what do you want to do?

Me: I want to be a rich and successful artist.

School: <laughing/odd looks> Ok. How about we say, like 6 hours a week?

Me: <sigh> I guess.

School: How much is your usual hourly rate?

Me: Hmmm 25 Euros…

School: Great.

Me: But no, hang on. If I’m teaching a bunch of people and they’re all paying you x, I want at least half of everything you get to take the edge off.

So that’s that. In January, I shall be teaching a mix of children (ugh) and adults (not at the same time unfortunately).

Infinity TV

My Italian speaking went considerably downhill when I stopped watching CSI New York (an american police drama series for the uninitiated) which was for an hour and a half or so each weekday. Watching TV may SOUND lazy but when you’re learning a new language it’s really quite helpful, particularly when it’s dubbed and subtitled in Italian. I stopped watching it when they moved to CSI Miami as I can’t stand David Caruso (I’m sorry if you’re reading this David. It’s nothing personal but for goodness me, you don’t have to spend the entire programme talking to people but looking meaningfully elsewhere). Anyway, since then I’ve not found any other decent TV programmes. To the discerning English eye (mine at least), Italian TV can be summarised largely by back-to-back sexist drivel. However, I have discovered “Infinity TV”! I can’t tell you how chuffed I am! You pay just under 5 euros a month and you can watch an unlimited amount of different series and films, many with subtitles both in English and Italian and have the audio in their original language if you want. So in summary, my Italian language comprehension and vocabulary practice has just got a lot less boring.

Drawing Course

My nudey drawing class has started! It’s for one day a week. So far so good. I think I naturally err to the more traditional sort of art techniques and this course is more about exploring different mediums so it’ll be interesting learning new techniques!

Chioggia and Venezia

My favourite part of last week by far though was a quick trip to Venice and a town called Chioggia nearby to it. I drove up with my friend Pablo (I allowed him to select his own blog nickname and he’s chosen “Pablo” after Pablo Escobar, the Mexican Drug Kingpin. I don’t, however, believe he has any drug cartel connections to speak of). Saturday night we explored Chioggia, a little village on the seafront, 40 minutes drive to the south of Venice. It was nice but probably needs a bit more time to explore to get the best out of it.

This is Chioggia at night...

This is Chioggia at night…

Then we headed to Venice. Venice is one of my favourite places and its nice in the autumn as it’s slightly less busy than usual. Here are some photos…

Venezia (10 of 137) Venezia (118 of 137) Venezia (120 of 137) Venezia (132 of 137) Venezia (134 of 137) Venezia (18 of 137) Venezia (19 of 137) Venezia (55 of 137)And then we went to a cute little island called Burano that you have to get a ferry to. It specialises in lace making and has some really lovely unique clothes etc. The thing of note when you go there though are the houses – all different colours. It’s a very pretty place!
Venezia (79 of 137) Venezia (86 of 137) Venezia (92 of 137) Venezia (95 of 137)

I think that about sums up my week. I hope you’re all well 🙂

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Easter Anomolies, Moving House and the Rip-off Notaio…


Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter!). Good news this week – I’ve found an apartment to rent! It’s in Falconara – which is a bit further north than I am now, just past Ancona. It’s closer to the airport but also unfortunately closer to a massive oil refinery. It’s been such a challenge finding anything suitable. This place has two bedrooms, is ok decorated, has three balconies and is a couple of minutes walk from the beach. It seems like a lively enough area which might make a nice change. However, I’m so sad to be leaving Camerano. It’ll have been my home for almost a year and there’s so much about it that I love. In summer it’s fantastic with things to do and weird traditions (see The Big Tray Race post), the view is fantastic and it’s close to all the places I like. Alas, there are new students coming into the language school here so it’s time to make space for them.

The Big Move Date is 2nd May. So now I’ve found somewhere the stress is off a little but a new string of bureaucracy will start! Every time you move, you need to tell the Comune where you’re moving to (I’m going to place a bet that it will take at least 2 months and 7 visits to fill out the necessary paperwork)!

The other exciting news of course is that it’s Easter! So I’ve discovered some things about Easter over in here in Italy:

  • The kids have a disappointing number of days off. They don’t have 2 weeks off like in the UK. They have 4 school days off. RUBBISH! And they don’t have half terms. They do, however, have a seemingly endless summer holiday (from the end of May to something like mid September). I’m not sure whose approach I like best. It’s nice to have a proper break in the summer but it does seem a bit relentless during term time.
  • The Easter eggs are not wrapped for efficient packing. They’re all in these big wrappers – they look quite glamorous but they’re expensive! Seem to start from around 6 Euros.

There were aisles and aisles of these… Very impressive display but see what I mean about the packaging?


This is the one I wanted…

  •  On the Thursday before Good Friday, and I’m not sure if this is just Ancona or whether it spreads further afield, but there seems to be a tradition to visit an odd number of churches (not just one – I checked!). Having said that, I couldn’t find any information about it and I was teaching my adult group unfortunately so didn’t get a chance to experience this one.
  • On Good Friday, something odd happened! Everyone put candles on their balconies and then just after 10pm, there was a procession of people singing a very mournful song along the streets. Quite moving really. I saw on the news that they’d done a similar thing in Rome led by the Pope so I assume that might be a “thing” across Italy.
  • They call Easter Monday “La Pasquetta” – means “little Easter”. Cute!


RIP Off Merchant / Notaio

I have other good news this week. I had an offer accepted on a house in Portsmouth so that seems to be going ahead, albeit at a snail’s pace.  I had to get my identity confirmed by a solicitor or a notary (notaio). For that, they needed to fill in a one page form and sign a photocopy of my passport. A whopping 5 minutes work. So I eventually found a notaio that could speak English (my local one refused on the basis that she couldn’t sign off an English document if she didn’t understand it), in Osimo. I asked how much this would cost and she said “just come along and we’ll discuss it”. So they led me into a room and then the Notaio came in, signed off the bits of paper and then said “that’ll be 120 Euros please”. 120 Euros. I could fly back to the UK and get the thing signed off by my own solicitor for less!!! I haven’t paid them yet. On moaning about the extortionate price, he did drop it down to 100 Euros. That’s 20 Euros a minute. I should totally become a Notaio.


Well, I’ve been taught a lesson in responsibility this week. My actions have come back to haunt me. I had no idea that by calling in sick or going on holiday, that it meant I didn’t actually get out of going to work and that I had to make up the time! It’s not like calling in sick at my old work – they never made me go in on a Saturday or at Christmas to make up for it!!! This depressing turn of events unfortunately means I have to make up 2 hours with the Class of Evilness. Ugh. UGH.


Not ALL the kids at school are evil though… 🙂

What’s a bit odd?

Last week I mentioned about some of the challenges of finding a house to rent/buy, in particular, locating decent pictures of the houses. I retract it all…


This picture of a jug was complimented by two pictures of doors and a further two pictures of ceiling lights, thereby covering all of the essential features that I look for in buying a house.

Ok, over and out! Buona Pasqua tutti 🙂


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The Week of Terror, Teaching and Truffles…

Ciao a tutti!,

I need to vent!!!! This week has been traumatic.


I think this will be a regular feature. So – there I am, going at the speed limit which is already too fast for the little winding hilly road with poor visibility that I’m on and I start going up a bit of a hill. The cars behind are attached to my bumper so when my little Granmobile starts inevitably slowing down a bit because it’s a hill, I can’t even change gear because in the time that my foot needs to come off the accelerator to change gear, I will have created a pile-up behind me. As a result, I end up going up even slower up this hill than if they’d have just given me a modicum of space in the first place. There are hills EVERYWHERE so I suppose a way around it is to spend the entire time in 3rd gear but poor little Granmobile, it just wants an easy life.

The thing is – these crazies mean that I end up having to drive like a crazy myself. If I don’t, they’ll crash into me. I used to think “well, it’s their lookout if they’re driving too close to me” but I really don’t want someone to crash into me!!! I still have things I want to do in life! I’m not ready to die!!!!!!!!!!! So I end up going faster than I would like to be going just to try and escape the crazies. BUT THEY RACE AFTER ME. It’s harassment!!! Whatever dad says, I’m not Niki Lauda.

And the other day, I was going along a road, at the speed limit (it’s not like going through a town in the UK at 30mph which feels positively walking speed, the speed limits here are genuinely fast), and I was driving a reasonable distance from the car in front but keeping the same speed as them and some fruitcake behind me decided to overtake on a road where you’re not allowed to overtake, WITH CARS COMING THE OTHER WAY and AROUND A CORNER. Risking HIS life, MY life, and the people on the other side. CRAZIES!!!

AND AND AND, to get to Auchan, my favourite shop that is tantalisingly close but scary as hell to get to, requires joining a road at speed that has no more than a 3 meter slip way and you can’t see the cars coming because there’s a grassy verge. It’s like Russian Roulette but with a much higher chance of dying. I’ve found an alternative route – nobody else takes it. It’s pretty. I can switch the engine off and coast all the way down for 10 minutes to get down from Camerano. Anyway, face your fears and all – I will overcome this. I’m forcing myself to drive every day. If you don’t hear from me again, well, it’s been great. And just in case, I would like my body to be stuffed with potpourri and left sitting on my balcony looking out at the view (if it’s not completely mangled with my steering wheel that is).

I’ve bought my tea set back from the UK. I have a soothing cup of tea afterward my driving experiences and it makes it takes some of the nightmares away.



The next source of terror is that I have to teach a 4yr old. It didn’t happen Friday thank goodness. It’s happening Tuesday. The woman who’d organised it had told me that I should look up how to teach toddlers. So I did, and I have printed a WEALTH of material – flashcards, lesson plans, activities, games etc.


Forearmed is forewarned (“Uomo avvisato mezzo salvato” – a man who is warned is half saved). I felt better after that. I’ve bought plastic wallets and folder dividers and everything. I look like a professional. And then when I told the woman I’d got some ideas, she said that the child’s mother wants her kid to learn English “naturally” and that I shouldn’t use any of them.  I have to just play with this child. FOR AN HOUR! A TODDLER! I can barely keep myself entertained, let alone another person. I’d have been alright with a lesson plan. I can’t ad-lib for an entire hour.  If I could swap back to an hour of my old job presenting NHS projects to 100’s of people, I would.

And continuing on the scary theme – I had to phone the toddler’s mother to organise the lesson. She speaks a bit of English but the conversation was in Italian. I wish phones could have subtitles. Someone should invent that. I think I only caught half of the conversation. Still, hopefully it’s the half that’s important. It would be a shame if it was “don’t feed the toddler nuts because he has a terrible life threatening nut allergy” and I come bearing nutty treats. I’d have to find another job.

Wine & Truffles

I went to the Lacrime and Tartufo festival a Morro D’alba on Saturday with Il Polemico.


Lacrime is a type of grape used for wine – they use it a lot around that area. And Tartufo is truffles, not the nice chocolate ones, but the lumpy, nasty looking and overpowering smelling funghi. We saw truffles that were 400 Euros each. 400 EUROS!!! I’m going to be a truffle hunter when I grown up. Anyway, that was a good festival and I met some nice new people and there was a cool sort of open air club at the end of the evening.


Morro D’alba is a cute little village with a walled walk that goes around it that has a sort of craft type market.


It’s nice to wander around and we went into a museum as well – showed how things were done in the old days from an agricultural point of view and also from a weaving point of view. Interesting!


Connecting to the world at large

I’ve still not had any luck with wifi. I’ve caned my mobile data on my phone. I have to loiter around the school (the school has wifi). Good job the students are all mature otherwise I’d feel like a paedophile.


So I know you’re all waiting with baited breath as to my residency. My codice fiscale is wrong. Let me tell you why – it’s because it’s just my first and last name and not my NEVER USED second name. The conversation went like this (imagine one half of the conversation being in pigeon Italian):

  • Comune Lady: “You have to change your codice fiscale – the code is not the same as the one that it should be because you should be Sue Maverick Windsor (name changed)” (The code is created by using some algorithm that involves my name and some other stuff).
  • Sue: “Nobody calls me Sue Maverick Windsor. Why don’t you just put Sue Windsor into your whatsitmijig and then the code will be the same” (whatsitmijig doesn’t translate well in Italian).
  • Comune Lady: “But it says here on this form that your name is Sue Maverick Windsor”
  • Sue: “But, you know, we wrote the form together remember? Let’s just cross it out eh?”.
  • Comune Lady: “But it says in your passport that you’re Sue Maverick Windsor”.
  • Sue: “But NOBODY USES IT. I’m still the same person. Don’t YOU have a middle name that you don’t use?”
  • Comune Lady: <empty stare>
  • Sue: “Do you have a middle name?”
  • Comune Lady: “Yes, but nobody uses it”
  • Comune Lady: “But it’s on your passport”.
  • Sue: <Knocks head against plastic barrier. Understands completely why they feel they need to have a barrier> “Ok. Fine. If I change my codice fiscal, you know it will take another year?”
  • Comune Lady: “That’s fine. Whenever”.
  • Sue: “Fine. FINE.”

Tomorrow, I intend to go to the Agenzia Entrata to correct this codice fiscal issue. I imagine it will be closed.

What’s a bit odd?

This week – dialects and accents. I’ve learnt a bit of dialect J Instead of “Andiamo a mangiare qualcosa” (let’s go and eat something) in Jesi (local town), you say something that sounds like “Anamo a manya qualco”. And I learnt some interesting gestures that did not appear in the gestures section of my “learn Italian” book (because they are a bit rude). It’s really a sign language in its own right! Napolitans (people from Naples) apparently have a dialect that even regular Italians can’t understand. And people don’t seem to like their accent. I haven’t been able to distinguish that they sound even remotely different from anyone else which goes to show how terrible my Italian still is! But what it is, is that I CAN tell that there’s a difference – I just thought the people I’d heard happened to have a weird lisp but that’s their accent apparently e.g. rather than saying ospedale (for hospital), they say oschpedale. So perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

Right, I’ve written too much but I feel better now. It’s very therapeutic this blog writing malarkey!

Hope you’re all well.







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