When You Read, You Begin with Ah, Bee, Cee~

Learning a Language

With the beginning of a new school year fast approaching, I have a bit of the learning bug on my brain. And “learning” shouldn’t be reserved for those under 22, who are mostly forced to become educated before reaching 18! “Learning” is a life long adventure ~ or so it seems to me.

For as much as my book and this website are about food, they are also about language. Sometimes I forget that or, maybe it is more accurate to say, that I don’t talk about language as often as I talk about food. [Click HERE to read previous “Word of the Day” language-themed blog posts.] A beautiful dish makes a great photo, but how do you visually make language become the “eye candy” that food naturally is? Food is easier to write about.

I get so wrapped up in bringing you one of Nonna’s recipe or sharing an adventure we had together, that I forget to tell you about the other half of my Italian love story … Alessandra and the Italian language!

My trip to Viterbo, Italy, which started all of this ~the book, the website and the app on iTunes~ was as much about learning the language as it was about learning the food. Actually, now that I think about it, the trip for me at that time was really MORE about learning the language than it was about the cuisine. I already knew how to cook, but I didn’t know how to speak anything but English.

Obviously, learning to cook a cuisine is a fantastic gateway into a culture. But unless you plan to spend your entire vacation with your mouth so full that you can’t converse with anyone, at some point, you will feel the innate desire to want to speak, to express yourself, to no longer be the foreigner who has to smile, nod and gesticulate at everything to be understood.

Language is key. There is power in the spoken word!

Fluency is not an easy task and it takes years, but that shouldn’t hinder you from being adventuresome in trying to learn what you can. Be a baby once again. A little bit here, a little bit there. It’s fun!

  • Start small. Pick up a phrase book. Listen to a tape. Download lessons on your media devices. Check out the “Una Parola del Giorno”– posted in the right hand column of this blog. Visit every day to see and hear a new word. Bravissimo!
  • Feeling braver? More curious? Take a class at a local college or language school.
  • Really want to jump in? Trial by fire? Do what I did and travel to the country to learn from a native speaker. Surround yourself with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a new culture. You’ll be surprised how much more you’ll learn beyond the written and spoken word.

Here is a piece of footage I shot this past January when I visited Nonna, Alessandra and the rest of the Stefani family, except this time, there is no Nonna in this video. This is all Alessandra ~ a wonderful woman, mother, Italian teacher and ~ my dear friend!

[E-mail subscribers, please click HERE to view the video from your e-mail.]

In this video, I had to remind myself to speak English simply to Alessandra, which is why I end up rephrasing my questions to her. It helps to think of the simplest way to phrase a question. Alessandra speaks English VERY well, but she is not 100% fluent in English. She makes mistakes, too. Her most common mistake is confusing “he” and “she.” Often Alessandra will be telling me a story about “she did this” or “she did that” and it is only at the end when I realize that, all along, the story was about her husband Lillo.

Also, Alessandra was a bit nervous being interviewed. You can see it by the fact that her hands are under the table. Using your hands to speak Italian is a must and I wish I had thought to remind her to keep her hands above the table so you could see her “speak” as she answered my questions. Hands ~ Molto importante!! Watch her shoulders and arms … you will see that her hands were “talking” as much under the table as her mouth was above it.

I hope you are eating well and cooking up a storm this summer, but I also hope that you’ll push yourself, just a little, to learn a new word or two in another language. Why not give your brain a little something to chew on, too?!

Cari Saluti~


*Interested in studying with Alessandra and Nonna? Here are the links to the Dante Alighieri Society in Siena. Classes with the Stefanis in Viterbo may be booked through the Dante Society.

For the school: http://www.dantealighieri.com/

For the course: http://www.dantealighieri.com/italian_language_courses_viterbo.html

Live Italy Studying Italian info: http://www.inviterbo.com/dblog/default.asp

Might I recommend:

For Children: Gemelli Press offers this fun and entertaining children’s Italian language book: Impariamo l’Italiano con l’aiuto della Mano

For Adults: A wonderful book about Italy and its language by author Dianne Hales: La Bella Lingua

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.