Reverse Language Issues

I’ve whined more than once…..OK – it was 4 times…..about my difficulty with the Italian language.  But that doesn’t mean that our language is a snap for them to learn.

The only thing they think is easier in English than Italian is that our verb tenses are pretty straight forward, while they have more verb tenses than Berlusconi has young “protégées”.  So from their standpoint, we get the nod on verbs.

However, pronunciation is where they shake their heads in disbelief.  And I must say that I can’t blame them.  While they pronounce each letter the exact same way, every time, we can make almost any letter sound like it’s trying to disguise itself.  For instance, “you” is spelled Y-O-U and pronounced “U”.  Yes — I’m sure there are many good reasons for this, but the fact is that those reasons would NOT fly in Italian.  Here are a few examples of their problems that I’ve recently been made aware of:

In Italian, “i” is always pronounced “ee” – ALWAYS.  So that’s why they would say “eet’s a beauteeful day”.  This also means that when they hear the word “sheet”, they think you’re saying “shit”, and they wonder why anyone would ever want to put that on a bed or cover themselves with it.

Two words that Italians always seem to get confused are “chicken” and “kitchen”.  This would not come as a surprise if you had been paying attention to me back on 9/7/11, when I wrote “Italian Language – Part I”.  My big lesson that day was that “ch” is ALWAYS a “k” sound and never a “ch-as-in-church” sound.  So you really can’t blame them for mistaking the 2 words.  And that’s why Italians will often say they’re going into the “chicken” to get a glass of wine.

And then there are the tricks your ears play on you.  Back in that same blog, I also mentioned that I can never hear, nor properly pronounce, their double letters, so that I think “anno” meaning “year” and “ano” meaning “anus” sound exactly the same.  This being the case from my side, it seems only fair that when we say “God bless us all” – they hear us saying “God bless asshole”.  I tried to say “us all” very slowly and precisely, and then tried to show how “asshole” sounded entirely different.  But to them, it didn’t — just as when they say “penne” for “pens” and “pene” for “male private part” — I hear the exact same word.

On a friend-to-friend basis, these things are amusing, and we all laugh about them. However, what about those “global economy”, G-Some-Number meetings, where everyone (except Berlusconi) seems so serious?  I’m sure in other languages the possibilities for misunderstandings are just as great as they are in Italian.  Let’s just hope we don’t say, “This will benefit us all”, and have some prickly country hear, “This will benefit, Asshole”.  The only way to defuse the potential international incident would be to have us put our arm around them and suggest we all go have a drink in the chicken.


6 thoughts on “Reverse Language Issues

    • Am thrilled to hear of a doctor wanting to learn English! As for these 3 words, you just know he/she will end up saying, “It’s height o’clock; I hate some pasta; and I ate getting up early.”

  1. I love this post! I lived in Japan for 3 years and experienced exactly what you are describing going in both directions. My favourite story was when I was at a party with my coworkers in a bar in downtown Tokyo. One of my newer coworkers was trying hard to master Japanese. Determined to use his Japanese with the waiter, he called him over and tried to ask for raw tuna with lots of wasabi (spicy green horseradish). Sadly he slightly mispronounced one syllable in one word and announced to the restaurant that he wanted the waiter to bring him some raw tuna tits. That was it. We were done. I don’t think any of us could talk for about 20 minutes we were laughing so hard.

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