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Postcard - Parliamo, Bolognalingua Language School

Ann Jacobs (Auntie Tutu)

Language classes in Bologna with Andrea Quarantotto of Bolognalingua

When we first decided to visit our son-in-law's third cousin in Italy, I knew I'd have to get some Italian under my belt, as no one in the cousin's family speaks English. Hand gestures would only get me so far. Not too much of a problem for me as I already had some French and Spanish, but my husband, Leonard, is a different story. He studied Latin in high school, for Pete's sake, and has no experience speaking another language. Actually, sometimes he has a hard time with English!

With this in mind, we decided our first week in Italy would involve a language school of some kind. Being of "a certain age," we didn't want classes full of youngsters who would be as interested in the social life as they were in speaking Italian. Nothing wrong with that, but not where we're at.

So after much research on the Slow Travel Message Board, we decided on Bolognalingua with Andrea Quarantotto. Email registration and correspondence with Andrea was easy and helpful; he suggested a small apartment in Bologna centro and actually visited the place to make sure it was OK.

After a couple of red-eyes, a 4 hour layover, another flight (flying from Hawaii to Italy), 2 trains and a taxi, we finally arrived in Bologna. The apartment was small but entirely adequate for the two of us. Getting in reminded me of Jack Benny visiting his vault; at least four gates or doors to go through before you enter the apartment. And we're smack in the center of town, right near the Neptune statue, yet the apartment faces a courtyard so it's very quiet. Andrea did a great job finding this for us.

On Sunday, the day before our lessons were to start, my stomach felt funny so we went to the farmacia. Took a number and waited our turn. I didn't know how to say diarrhea and my itty-bitty dictionary didn't have it, so when I stepped up to the counter, I said, "Ho male qui (pointing to my stomach) e troppo cacca." The pharmacist didn't even crack a smile but just went and got some Imodium and an anti-spasmodic for the colon. I definitely needed some lessons! When I related this story to Andrea later in the week, he cracked me up (in Italian, of course) with some of the funny stories his pharmacist friend tells him about tourist questions.

Monday morning, Andrea came to our apartment to show us where to catch the bus and how to get to his house. He has a nice home in the suburbs about 10 km from the center. Andrea and I worked on the front patio, Leonard worked with Elena upstairs in the den, and Susanne from Austria studied with another teacher on the back patio. So we each had a very personalized, intense experience. He first asked me what I wanted to achieve during this week. I do not want to speak Italian perfectly, but just be able to communicate about daily things. And, of course, using the telephone and the train station announcements are pretty scary. I did not anticipate how much I rely on the non-verbal part of communication to help me understand the words.

On Wednesday after the classes, the teachers left and Andrea fed us all lunch. Then he drove us to Dozza, a pretty little town southeast of Bologna where the three attractions are the castle, the enoteca in the castle's basement, and the modern art on the village walls. They have a competition every other year; I'm not sure what the winner gets, but there were some interesting paintings.

Group in Dozza

Group in Dozza

We visited the enoteca which appears to be a consortium of all the vineyards of the area. Shelf upon shelf of local wines, very reasonably priced. Also chocolate, balsamic vinegar, etc., all local products. The outside temperature was 35 degrees centigrade so it was EXTREMELY pleasant to be in the cellar. Andrea drove us to the bus stop and we just came home to shower and collapse. Neither of us felt like doing our homework. I was supposed to prepare a 10 minute talk - Hah!

On the last day of class, Susanne brought a sweet cookie that she had made Thursday during her cooking class. The cooking classes were also arranged by Andrea, as well as the B&B where Susanne stayed - he has a great network. The cookies were delicious, made with quince. We had to look that one up because I've never seen a quince. I thought it was something the Pilgrims ate.

Class photo

Class photo

Andrea spent the last hour going over phrases that I would find useful with the cousin's family. The biggie was, "Don't be offended, we usually don't eat very much." But I have to say, he speaks about "the South" the way I spoke about Mississippi to Susanne (her 16 year old daughter is going there on a high school semester exchange) - I'm afraid I wasn't very positive about the deep South.

All in all, a great week. I gained enough confidence to open my mouth, mistakes and all, which led to many interesting encounters with locals later during our trip. Every time I opened my mouth, the unfailingly polite Italians would compliment me on my (truly atrocious) Italian, but at least they understood what I was trying to say. Leonard also gained a lot of confidence. He was able to understand a lot of what was said, although he still relied heavily on hand gestures and a smile to communicate what he wanted.

I highly recommend Bologna Lingua and Andrea Quarantotto for one-on-one, highly personalized and effective language instruction.


www.bolognalingua.com: Bolognalingua, courses in Italian language and culture in Bologna

Slow Travel Classified Listing: Bolognalingua, Italian language lessons in Bologna

Ann Jacobs, 2006

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