Sunday, December 20, 2009


“You all weed pooty good!”  With a missing finger on his right hand, that’s what my Italian teacher, Mr. Paeri (pronounced pie air ee) would point and say after we would take turns reading from the text.  Truth was, we could read pretty good, but only understood about half of what we were reading.  At least that was true for me, one of the eager students in his Intermediate /Advanced conversation class. 

Mr. Paeri had been teaching for 50 years and by teaching standards, he was very old fashioned. Every class we’d begin reciting numbers, days, months, years, and seasons.  His reasoning? To warm up our lips to “pronounce” the words correctly. Every time he lumbered to the white board, he would use a faded red marker that strained the eyes of his more mature students, me included.  No technology in this class, just good old fashioned, teacher directed, auditory learnin’! I liked that.

Mr. Paeri was incredibly patient with us, gently correcting the improper word order or lack of noun verb agreement our brains just couldn’t seem to grasp.  Rarely would he cringe when la bella lingua was butchered by the most incredibly offensive mispronunciations!  Honestly, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he high tailed it out of the classroom to get his ears away from the cacophony of sounds that seemed offensive even to my untrained ears. Even though the class was from 7 to 10 pm on Thursday nights, I wanted to go just to hear Mr. Paeri speak and attempt to improve my rudimentary Italian.

One of our assignments was to put together a little presentation in Italian and speak in front of the entire class.  I chose to talk about a recent trip to New York complete with a slideshow of photos projected on a big screen. Teachers do not make great students and that includes me.  I signed up to present last, extending the time I needed to prepare.  And I cheated!  I just couldn’t bear not having a wonderful presentation, so I used Google translator.  Truth is I probably spent more time correcting the translator than it would have taken to write the darned thing myself.  Judging by his smile and slight nods of the head, it went ok

I enjoyed the teacher, students and class so much that I signed up for the next semester’s class with Mr. Paeri.  Much to my dismay, however, it was canceled and to this day and I do not know why.  But a visit from Italian friends and a return to the country where my husband spent half of three years, motivated me to continue.

I now have a private tutor, my husband, Gary!  There are advantages to having a mate who gives you a break on tutoring fees.  We ordered a very expensive set of cd’s to listen to on the way to work each morning.  Starting with the intermediate series, I felt “pooty good”.  Gary pleased with my progress, then ordered the advanced set of cds.  Here is where I hit a bit of a roadblock that could test the most solid of marriages.  But I continue to muddle through. Gary, in his ever-patient style has endured listening to me trying to translate in English, respond in Italian, and predict what’s coming up next, all while he must concentrate on his driving during the early morning commute.  

More than once I’ve been known to throw up a hand shushing and scolding him to silence so I can concentrate. He’s not complained once when I’ve asked him to pause the cd, rewind the cd, repeat the command or grill him on phrases that made absolutely no sense to me.  Phrases like “would you like to TAKE a cup of coffee with me?” Yet there are expressions that make me feel so genteel, like “how kind on your part!” I’ve spent many a minute mouthing those beautiful words, E gentile di parte tua, fantasizing when I may actually get to use them. 

At this age, I am no longer an ideal student. But, it’s fun and challenging to learn new things, especially when there is no concern about the grade.  And beyond the learning I have the utmost respect for teachers who have their own set of challenges to endure, trying to teach well meaning, linguistically challenged students like me.    

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