Since I have started to write on this site, 13 months ago, I have realized that few of the contributors here discuss their private life and thoughts. But I was used to do it in my old site and so I still do it, because I conceive a blog as an online diary, and there are things I wish to write here just for the record, as a private memo, or to let you know what is in my mind, in case you wondered. Recently some anonymous troll complained in the comments thread that what I had written was irrelevant and self-contemplating -and I agreed, but asked him (her?) to please walk away rather than bothering me with similar lamentations. So please if you only care about Science, find something else to read today, since this post discusses personal matters. Or stay here, if the topic of language learning is of some interest to you.

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!