De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat (Photo Credits: www.film.org).
If you are exclusively interested on “China,” you should skip this post. However, if you are in the mood for a funny story, keep reading!
Italian school hates foreign languages!
“I never let schooling interfere with my education,” by Mark Twain.
Back in the 80s Italian school didn’t pay too much attention to languages learning. The idea that kids should study English was not contemplated and media corporations used to translate every single movie and TV series (I guess they still do the same).
This not only had the funny drawback that Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone and Dustin Hoffman all talked with the same voice (the one of the mythic dubber Ferruccio Amendola) but, most important, made us poor Italian guys unaware that beyond the Alps there were people called French, German and English that were not speaking Italian all the time : – O
Learning French: a countryside’s approach
The first time I got in touch with a foreign language was when I was twelve. The language was French and all we did was to complete sentences in a book called L’approach, which I cannot link because I didn’t find it in Amazon. But no worries, you are not losing anything…
I was so frustrated during the French hours that I used to continuously disturb the lesson. The punishment was always the same: writing on my cahier the numbers from one to ninety nine, which in French by the way is called quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (I still have to figure out why). To complete the idyllic situation, our teacher had never been to France in his life and was much more interested on teaching us how to find mushrooms on the countryside than on how to speak French. We were also more interested on the champignons affaire. The result was that no one was learning any French (well, I was learning how to write numbers…).
I was twelve years old and I loved to listen to Axel Rose, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison but it was a sweet-and-sour experience ’cause I couldn’t get any of what they were talking about. It still happens to me to hear an hit of 20 years ago and think Ahhh, so it was “All that she wants is another baby she’s gone tomorrow boy” that Ace of Base used to sing, and not “Ol ba ci wan a isononobebi sisgonebooooo” as I was sure of…
Furio vs Adolfa
When I started the high school things didn’t get better. Sure, now I was studying two languages, but this was not like a huge progress. One of these languages was Latin, a dead language that only Umberto Eco understands; the other one was… French. Yeah, my school didn’t have enough English teachers so only the guys on “experimental” classes were allowed to study English as a second Language (third if you count Latin).
Why didn’t I sign up for an experimental class? The answer is that “experimental” students were supposed to stay in class six hours per day while the normal students only five. And I was too busy for English…
Now, I already disliked French, but I was not prepared for what was going to happen. Our teacher was the most (in)famous teacher of the school. And her fame was well deserved.
Her name was Adolfa Leone. She was an old maid that, as my mushroom-hunter previous teacher, had never been to France. She didn’t even has a degree on languages! She only got a position as a teacher because she passed an exam of French while she was studying law at the University back in the fifties. Yeah, she was that old.
To complete the picture, she used to wear every single day a leopardskin waterproof AND a leopardskin hat. If you consider she was 140 cm tall and had fake blond hair, the only thing you could think was… WTF?
A dangerous leopard!
The worst thing were not her clothes or the fact that she was convinced she needs military discipline to handle her classroom. Oh no, the worst was that she thought that conjugations of irregular verbs and vocabulary spelling of French words was the only thing that matters in life!
Now everybody that has some knowledge of French knows that this language has a strange property: every word has between seven and fifteen letters but you only have to pronounce three or four of them, usually with a nasal sounds impossible to reproduce unless you have a trunk or you are Gérard Depardieu. Also, the vowels you should pronounce are NEVER the same to the ones you should spell. So it’s easy to encounter words as “birds” that you spell “oiseaux” and pronounce “uasò“.
And she hated me. I mean, not Gérard Depardieu. Adolfa hated me! I never understood why, but for some obscure reason she hated me in a visceral way since the first day she saw me. She used to watch me right in the eyes and whisper:
“Furio, you think you are clever but you are not… I will get you one of these days.”
So it was Furio vs Adolfa, a cold war that lasted for five long years. And she had yet to learn how stubborn I was.
For five long years I always approached the blackboard knowing it was me or her and I always conjugate of any of the 43242 irregular French verbs and the spelling of any vocabulary without mistakes. I ended up last two years calling on her bullshit and offering myself as a volunteer to start the next round of “tests,” aka the torture of the students at the blackboard she enjoyed so much.
I did win my private war with Adolfa. However, the price to pay was that now I hated languages. Also, since I was not able to speak French after eight years of study, I was convinced I was not able to learn any foreign language.
It turns out I was wrong…
Read “How difficult is to learn Chinese?” to know how my battle with foreing languagese went on!