At the mature age of 44 years, I think it is quite unsatisfactory to be fluent in only two languages: besides Italian (my native language), I speak flawlessly, albeit with some accent, only English. And this is simply shameful for a man of culture.
Of course, I could add to the list the Venetian dialect, which is indeed quite different from Italian. But I am not going to cheat: I do not count that as a real language, and knowing it or not makes no difference in the frontiers of my communication: so I am stuck at two. I do speak some French and some Spanish, but I am more ashamed than proud of the result in most occasions. However, I think that for a middle-aged man a reasonable goal would be to fluently speak, understand, and write at least five languages: definitely not just two plus broken bits. I do not qualify!
So last year I started a project: to get to be fluent in five languages by the time I turn 50. The code of the project was dubbed "5@50". That gave me over six years to improve significantly my French and my Spanish, and to learn from scratch a fifth language. And how did I spend the first year of my project ?
I studied modern Greek. From scratch. Modern Greek is a very interesting language: for one thing, it has its own alphabet, which constitutes an added difficulty to the task; and it is a quite fluid language, hard to frame and rich with complex characteristics. But Greek has also some advantages for an Italian: Italian and Greek share a ton of words, and not just medical terms! Plus, they also share some of the cadence with which they are spoken, so that an Italian who speaks a correct Greek gets a free bonus of an almost perfect pronunciation, after mastering three or four difficult sounds that do not exist in Italian.
I started by listening to some very good 15' lessons online. They are free, and are a bit dated -they were originally meant to be listened on the radio. There is a total of 120 such lessons, divided in 15-unit courses, and they are pretty good. Over the course of the spring of last year I went over the first 50 lessons, before realizing that my improvements were not as good as I wanted. Then, in July I spent three weeks of vacation in a wonderful island in Greece, where I was both satisfied by being able to order a decent meal without looking stupid, and unsatisfied by observing I understood maybe 30% of what people said -when the subject was known- or 0% -when the subject was unknown to me.
So as I came back from Greece I turned to some books. I found one which seemed okay, and got halfways, then got bored again. I was ready for the next step: a private teacher.
So last February I started to take private lessons from a Greek teacher, which I was very lucky to find with an internet search in Padova, where I work. She is excellent and patient, and from a pitiful level she has brought me to the point that in our lessons we only speak Greek, and not even too clumsily. To give you an idea, I could translate the above text by myself in half an hour or so, if I really wanted to, and let the meaning through, even if with maybe a few grammar blunders.
In summary, I can now speak a decent Greek, but I still make plenty of mistakes. However, there are still eight weeks to go before I leave to Greece again, this time with the ambition to be a fluent speaker. And if I fail, there is plenty of time to try harder, in the course of the next 5.5 years... The 5@50 challenge is on, and after getting proficient with modern Greek I feel confident I will eventually make it!
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