The mistake of learning a language on the fly - Curt Yeomans

Salve! That's about as much Italian as I can speak right now, and it means "hello," in case you were wondering.

Whenever you are going to a new country, where English is not going to be the primary language, the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself is to learn the language of the land.

As I've said in the past, the natives will be much more receptive to you if you, at least, attempt to speak their language. You may butcher their language, but they usually will act as if they appreciate the attempt to try things their way, before doing it your way.

So, here I am trying to learn Italian before my big trip to Rome, Florence, Naples and Pompeii. I've got books, CDs and a fold-up cheat sheet to help me out. So far, I'm still working on greetings.

I'll be doing well, if I can remember "buonasera" means "good evening," and "grazie" means "thank you." I'll also need to remember "prego" is not a spaghetti sauce, but rather, it is Italian for "you're welcome."

In fact, the next time you're in a grocery store, and you are walking by the pasta sauce section, just remember there are jars of "You're Welcome" pasta sauce sitting on the shelves.

I have to admit, I'm actually behind on learning Italian. When I was going to France last summer, I spent weeks before my trip listening to a French language CD in my car before I crossed the Atlantic. This time, I've only just started a week ago, and I'm not doing such a great job, so far.

At least with the French language, though, I had studied it in middle school, high school and college, so I had a background in it. But, I'm going into this trip blind.

It's sad, really, because I've had an interest in learning Italian since 2003. There was never a specific reason why I wanted to learn Italian, I just wanted to be able to speak it. I know, I'm weird like that. Can you imagine how proficient I'd be in Italian, if I'd really worked on learning it all of those years ago.

I could have been fluent! If not for my obvious Irish physical features, I could have possibly fooled the Romans into thinking I was one of them.

All I'm saying is do not follow my lead when it comes to learning a new language before a foreign trip. I do not recommend doing the crash course in linguistic studies. It's not easy, and you're not guaranteed to remember all the important words and phrases that you will need to know.

It is like I have been saying for months, if you are going overseas, do your planning over several months. Part of that means you need to start studying your new language several months in advance of your trip.

That way, you will not be in the shoes I expect to be in, where I'll spend a week in Italy, having to repeatedly say, "mi scusi," or "excuse me," because I don't understand everything I'm being told. Even with my background in studying French, and my brief refresher course last summer, I still struggled to speak French when I was in Paris.

With that said, though, there is only one thing left to say -- ciao!

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.