Judy is learning Italian. She is 61 and lives in Cardiff.

How did you first begin learning Italian?

My husband is half Italian but doesn’t speak any Italian. His father came over after the war to work. He ended up as a coal miner in Abercynon and married a Welsh woman. He was from a tiny little village in the Italian region of Abruzzo, and his wife didn’t want their children to learn his dialect so he never spoke any Italian. When his father died about ten years ago my husband wanted to see where his father had been born. So we did a lot of research to find this tiny village and then we went on holiday to the nearest place we could find, which was Pescara by the sea.

I found out from the hotel receptionist where this village was. There was only one bus a day to get there. So up we went and had a look around this village – there was a bar, a shop, a couple of churches and vineyards. His great-aunt lives there, so we thought we’d call on her although he’d never met her. I had the hotel receptionist write a letter to say who we were and when we arrived we met his cousin, and his wife and son and daughter-in-law. None of the family could speak any English except for the daughter-in-law. She spoke a little bit of English so she could translate bits.

We were there for hours and hours and had a meal. By the end of it I was picking up a few words because I’d learnt French and a bit of Latin in school. So when we got home I thought all right, I’m going to learn Italian now. My husband won’t; he won’t go to a class, he’s tried listening to tapes in his sleep, and that doesn’t work. So I’m the one who just kept on learning it.

So how did you get going?

I went to evening classes for a few years in Cardiff, but once you get to a certain level there aren’t any more classes available. After the last one I continued privately with about six or eight others up until last year. I heard about the Italian group so I’ve been going there. And then about five years ago I had just had enough in work and decided I would have a gap year. So I went to Italy for about three and a half or four months on my own, just to try my Italian. That was really hard because I was living alone. It would have been better to live with a family.

When I was there I answered an advert in a tourist magazine to exchange English and Italian for free. So I met up with this guy twice a week and he helped me with my Italian and I helped him with his English and we became good buddies. He’s been over and stayed with me, and me and my husband have gone over to Rome and seen him, and we still Skype occasionally. I also used a language exchange website to make a profile and met this chap, and we were chatting once a week usually for about two years. We went on holiday to Lake Garda and he was in the area, so we met up for a coffee. And when I stayed in Italy I went to Lido di Jesolo and did the Venice midnight half marathon, and Donato came with his wife and we spent the weekend there. I also know a woman who’s an Italian teacher in Brescia and now I speak to her once a week on Skype. So I’m still trying to learn.

It seems like a lot of your experience has been based on speaking to native speakers. How has that been?

Speaking is the hardest thing, I’ve found. I’m not too bad at reading or writing, especially with predictive text. But the best thing for speaking is the Italian conversation group in Cardiff. When I first went I didn’t speak for about two years, I just listened and tried to listen without translating. And gradually I was understanding more and more and then I got a bit more confident, and then I was able to speak a bit.

What has learning Italian has given you?

It’s added colour to my life if you like. It’s an interest, it’s a focus. I also read recently that if you learn a language it helps with avoiding dementia, which is good at my age. And when you look back over the years I’ve been learning, I’ve been to Italy many times, I’ve made friends there, so it’s really opened up my world more. I think it’s a really good thing to learn a language.

What are your favourite words or phrases in Italian?

I like ‘zucchero’ (sugar). My favourite phrase is ‘chi se ne frega?’ which is ‘who cares?’. Another is ‘chiacchierare’, ‘to chat’. And ‘cucchiaio’ is ‘spoon’. But what I like about Italian is that if you hear it you can spell it, which makes things easier, also when you’re reading!


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