Monthly Archives: September 2015

Why you cannot forget ‘che’


Lately I’ve been reflecting on the effectiveness of how I teach myself Italian. I’m now into my tenth year of learning – there have been gaps along the way mind you, weeks, months where I haven’t studied. The longest gap was probably  a whole year following a holiday in Italy . During the trip I’d managed a few conversations in Italian and was thinking to myself I was making a bit of progress. We got back to the airport and I ordered a slice of pizza for lunch. The lady asked me if I wanted it heating up ( I think) and I completely failed to understand her. I was a bit frustrated, thinking the only way to get any better would be to stay there and practice….. The year later I got over myself and carried on!!!

So my approach is entirely scattered, and is not exactly following a syllabus (!!) – time is short and I’m not that disciplined. Some days I only learn (or only retain!) one word- for example the other day I learned lo scivolo ( pron. SHE-vo-lo) meaning ‘slide’ whilst I was playing in the park with the kids. Words for everyday things that I repeat often tend to stick better. Sometimes I label things round the house. That really works. Sometimes I give the kids instructions in Italian – lets go downstairs. Scendiamo per le scale! Let’s go- Andiamo!
As often as I can I listen to the language being spoken , I watch lucrezia’s videos on YouTube (learn Italian with lucrezia) – she is awesome, very clever at explaining things. And when I’m in the mood I read Italian novels very slowly : which brings me to the point at which I left off my last blog post “an astonishing lack of adjectives“…..
I am a few chapters into my book ‘Il Suggeritore’ translated in English as The whisperer, when I come across the following sentence :

“sono una che apprende in fretta.” (I’m a fast learner)

And because I am being perfectionist about understanding everything properly and not skimming along as I often do, I realise I don’t know why ‘che’ is being used here, in fact I’m puzzled why ‘chi’ is not in its place.
Which exposes a glaring hole in my grammar learning. Out come the grammar books.
I think this is the explanation: che is being used as a relative pronoun in this situation – it can be used to mean ‘who’ or ‘whom’ (in a statement); it can also mean ‘which’ or ‘that’ . And whilst it might be omitted from the equivalent English sentence, in Italian it cannot be forgotten.

another example : la prima volta che sono andata in Italia era nel 1996.  In English you can choose whether to leave out the equivalent of che or include it in the sentence – the first time (that) I went to Italy was in 1996. In Italian che cannot be left out. Shall I say that one more time?? Che has to stay.

I remember reading this same chapter about uses of ‘Che’ in my grammar book a few months ago and the ironic thing is that I clearly am not a fast learner because the subject was still a total blank.

Non sono una che apprende in fretta

Chi should not be confused with che. Chi is a question word, used to ask about people.
For example “Chi ha mangiato il gelato?” – Who has eaten the icecream?
In proverbs and generalisations it can be used to mean ‘he who, those who’, etc – for example “Chi va piano va sano e lontano “.

My favourite mix up of the past few weeks was regarding the word for chimney- camino– ten years of learning and I somehow hadn’t registered that one and had been translating it to myself as something to do with walking.
Cammino, I walk. Or, the path.
Il camino, the chimney.
Not the same, enough said.

An astonishing lack of Adjectives

imageFinally I am getting around to reading “Il suggeritore”  (translated in English as “the whisperer “) one of the books my friend brought back from Italy for me nearly a year ago. The pile of unread books by my bed is ridiculously high and there has been a lot of queue jumping in the meantime . This book should be labelled Rather too scary to read at bedtime – a team of police detectives is on the trail of a serial killer who has murdered 6 little girls and cut off their arms. Drafted in to help the team are the two main protagonists Dr Gavila , a criminologist with unusual methods, and Mila Vasquez, a specialist in the recovery of abducted children.

Progress has been slow even with the English translation alongside. When I say slow we are talking one sentence every 5 minutes whilst I stop to wonder about grammatical puzzles such as the following. Mila has just met 2 of the detectives from the team, one of whom is being distinctly unwelcoming to her. Mila tells her “sono  una che apprende in fretta ” (I’m a fast learner).and I need a grammar book to figure out why it isn’t “CHI apprende in fretta” ??? More about this in a future post.

The other thing which has become apparent to me is a total void in my knowledge of adjectives. From only  ONE page I learned two new words for “startled” – spiazzata and  Stordita.

Also ammirato (impressed) and indurita (describing the unfriendly look that the lady detective gives mila). I might stand a chance of remembering this as it contains Duro in the middle, the word for ‘hard’…

on the subject of adjectives I looked up the word for Sharp as in the context of Sharp teeth, and came up with  “affilato ” – but then whilst I was learning that I got 5 adjectives  for the price of one.

a sharp pointy nose or muzzle could be ‘aguzzo’ or ‘appuntito’.

a sharp cutting remark to somebody would be ‘tagliente’.

a sharp pain is un dolore acuto.

A sharp bend ” una curva brusca”

and sharp teeth are ” denti affilati ” or a sharp knife “un coltello  affilato “.

A sharp as a noun is un ago ( a needle)  plural Gli aghi

meanwhile back to my book one sentence at a time, estimated finishing time Natale !!!