A note from Greenheart Travel: Now several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, our high school abroad programs in most destinations are still able to run. However, like all aspects of life, Greenheart Travel’s programs are a bit different than in the pre-COVID-19 era. One of those things, our 2020 First-Time Traveler Scholarship Recipient Jessica Durnell tells us, is quarantining for two weeks with her host family upon arrival before starting school – and not understanding Italian! In this post, she gives tips and tricks to picking up the language when you can’t leave the house.
So, you’ve just gotten off the plane. You’re in a different country, everyone around you is speaking in their mother tongue and much faster than you expected, and you’re feeling everything at once. Maybe you’re tired and just want to pass out as soon as your host family picks you up, you’re nervous – but one thing’s for sure, and that is: you’re excited. You have so many new things to experience, but there’s one little hindrance… you can’t leave your house for the next two weeks.
That’s exactly how I felt when I got off of my plane and arrived in Italy. I felt everything at once, but most of all, I was excited. I was seeing so many new things, and I wanted to be able to experience them all. Sure, my ability to speak Italian was in shackles, rather surprised with how easy it was to fly, and I didn’t exactly know where my luggage was because I forgot to read a sign, but I was hyped. But first, I have to survive quarantine.
The first thing I had to conquer through quarantine was the irrefutable fact that I had no idea what anybody was saying to me. So, I started studying Italian on my own time. But the easiest way of knowing what you’re going to need to prioritize how to say is right in front of you: your host family. So, you listen to their conversations. There’s always common words and topics that people will focus on, or more so, these are the “basics.”
This way, I’ve learned what people commonly say, and common expressions that they use as well. Even if you don’t know the full extent of what someone is saying, you can use the words you do know and context to figure out what people are saying. It’s how I’ve been getting by until I myself can form coherent sentences… and it has worked, well, at least, it has worked well enough!
But even when you’re studying another language, there’s still a lot of spare time left over. And you have a full two weeks worth of it to go through. Even if you’re doing other things to take up your time – like watching movies, a TV show, or reading a book… do it in the language you’re studying. So, I started to re-watch an animated show in an Italian dub. Not only was it amusing, but I could pick up on what people were actually saying, and translate it in my head, since I was already familiar with the show.
If you’re going to watch something, I recommend a cartoon or an animated show, as they usually have simpler scripts for the younger audience they are directed towards, which can be easier for you to translate into your mother tongue!
Writing this now, I’ve completed quarantine. And boy… was it a long ride. Tomorrow, I go to my first day of school! Excitement, nerves, and the fear that I still have no idea what I’m doing is coursing through my veins. But in the words of one of my favorite YouTube channels: say yes to discomfort.