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In my first blog, I wrote about how I wanted to honor my grandma through her native language, Italian. She was getting older, and I tried to communicate authentically with her.

I should have started language lessons sooner.

Language Learning is Personal

My grandma Josephine has since passed away. Her last words to me were, “posso avere un bicchiere d'acqua?” which means, “May I have a glass of water?” I am so thankful that I understood and could help her in such a small way. I haven’t taken Italian lessons that long, but at least I knew that much.

If I could return in time, I’d tell myself to start sooner. Like most Americans, I took language classes in middle and high school, but it didn’t mean anything to me. I learned French. I have no connection to the language and no reason to apply it to my daily life. It was a box to check off, a test to pass. I forgot it all as soon as I was done. With no real-world application to the language, it seemed useless. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in France and still don’t feel like I need to hone my French language skills.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have prioritized language learning in my day-to-day life. I have two small kids, a career I love, a husband, friends, etc., and I thought adding one more thing to my daily routine seemed impossible. It didn’t occur to me until last week that I didn’t have all the time in the world to learn a language and apply it to my life. But, my “why” changed quickly. When I started Italian lessons a few months ago, I aimed to be conversational with my grandmother before she passed. I understood what she said when she spoke to me in Italian, but I had to respond in English. I wanted to be able to honor her through language. Now that she’s passed, my “why” is no longer learning to communicate with her, but it doesn’t make my language journey any less urgent.

Learning a second language takes courage

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: learning a language takes gumption. It’s more work than I thought it was going to be. I was arrogant and thought that since I’d heard the language my entire life, I’d be a great language learner and pick it up quickly. I was sorely mistaken. Even though I supplemented my language lessons with e-learning tools like Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, I’m learning that second language acquisition is much more intense than I thought. And that’s ok. Anything worth doing correctly is worth doing completely, whether or not I think it’s hard.

I should have started learning a language sooner, but I still have time. I will give myself grace as I jump back into language lessons. Even though I no longer need Italian lessons to connect with her, I still need them so I can stay connected to her. I want my children to experience her hometown in Sicily someday, and I want to be able to introduce them to their family and landmarks in her native tongue. Every conversation I have in Italian, every word I learn to speak, and every conversation with my Italian teacher keeps me connected to my grandma, and that’s the honor of a lifetime.

It's never too late to start learning.


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