As my friends on Facebook and Twitter know only too well--because I won't shut up about it--Cosimo and I will be spending a little over a month in Rome this summer. There's no particular reason, or rather there are lots of reasons: we didn't take a proper honeymoon, both of us regret not doing study-abroad in college, we like cities, we're both half-Italian, and we both know the language a little. Five weeks isn't enough time really to count as "living abroad," but it's enough time to get to know a place and to develop some of the habits of locals. We found a lovely apartment with a huge terrace and a view of St. Peter's, in a modest middle-class neighborhood, and our plan is just to live there, as little like tourists as possible.
But this means we need to get our Italian in at least passable shape. I took an Italian-for-reading course in grad school and a basic conversational Italian class a few years ago, before my first trip to Italy; I also have years and years of French. Cosimo took one year of college-level Italian while doing his first grad degree, some fifteen years ago. In other words, we can read a newspaper and pronounce stuff, but our speaking, writing, and oral comprehension are pretty primitive.
Thus: a grammar book, homemade flashcards, audio software, and lots of Fellini films close-captioned in Italian. I've taken to going around the house pointing to things ("lo zucchero!" "le finestre!") and making pointless declarations ("i gatti guardano gli uccelli nel giardino").
My Italian will likely never be very good. But I'm reminded of how fun it was learning a foreign language in high school and college--all those games and skits and a general embracing of a more child-like relationship to language. I'm sure I'll feel differently once I'm actually in Rome and struggling to make myself understood, but there's also something freeing about being so limited in the things one can say. Not speaking a language well means you have a license, at least for a little while, to make shit up, cobbling together crazy circumlocutions and experiencing the kind of manic, creative freedom that otherwise only comes from speaking a language very well indeed.