Girl in Florence

A Tuscan Texan immersed in Florentine life

How I almost lost my native language



Who needs silly words when you have a plethora of gestures to choose from, Reason #24436726762 to love Italy!

He’s just being a ‘rompe palle’ (A pain in the ass). You might wonder why I am essentially calling someone a ‘not to so nice name’ but it’s not aimed at anyone in particular, just an example of how my language skills have evolved after living in Italy for eight years. “You know I can’t really explain how it works, e’ un po.. cosi” (it’s just.. like this).. yet another sentence that often pops up in my vocabulary, which has now become peppered in a sort of semi-ridiculous mix of Italoenglish that I don’t think I will ever shake. Especially if I remain in Italy for the rest of life.

Our blogger roundtable this week {which happens to have a pretty nifty new name & logo you can enjoy here} is about Italian language, something I have touched on before on the blog via uncomfortable Italian words you should avoid. This time I wanted to think about how learning a second language (and attempting a third) is starting to seriously mess with my native language, inglese americana ;-).

Exhibit A. : This past Christmas at a nice restaurant in France the waiters were positively bewildered when listening to the spectacle that is a normal conversation with my boyfriend (who is French but lives and works in Italy), his parents and myself, a mix of French, Italian and English that even took my brain for a spin at the end of the night.‘ I’m pretty sure they thought I was ‘special’ sitting at the table stuffing myself with cheese while they chatted happily in French while I patiently waited for Nico to translate, of course which we then merged into our special blend of Italoenglish to confuse people even more. I dream in both Italian and English and I can say an impressive amount of curse-words in all three languages which I am pretty proud of.

Exhibit B. I am only admitting this because I like to keep it 100% real on this blog, once in a while I will catch myself saying things like ‘I am going to go make a shower..’ Which makes sense if you’re Italian since the verb ‘fare’ {to make} is what you use when performing this action. The reason I know this is because when I was a young American student discovering the art of dating in Florence, one of my soon-to-be-nonexistent suitors sent me a cringe-worthy text message asking me if I wanted to ‘make the sex’ with him (probably in a single bed at his mom’s house).

Any sex-appeal for poor niccolo died right there at that very moment, though it wasn’t as bad as the guy who sent me a text using all of the symbols in his 20 euros nokia knockoff to create a virtual ‘titanic’ boat saying that while it was true that there was love between Leo & Kate upon the biggest naval disaster in world history, the true amore was between him and I. I wish I would have saved that text message.. but I can say there was no misuse of the word ‘to make’. 

Exhibit C. Take home life for example, When Nico and I have a conversation, we start a sentence in one language and finish in another without even blinking, it actually just feels natural to speak like this. Sometimes something honestly makes more sense in Italian but then laziness has me reverting back to English. It’s actually hard when I am back in America speaking only English, I find myself positively itching to sprinkly a little Italian which makes trips to starbucks a little more fun until I realize my caffe macchiato isn’t actually supposed to look like this..


Exhibit D: What is actually a Macchiato? 😉 

I actually looked up if you could possible lose your first lingua and I found this handy explanation from wikipedia

Language attrition is the loss of a first or second language or a portion of that language. Speakers who routinely speak more than one language may use their languages in ways slightly different from a single language speaker, or a monolingual. The knowledge of one language may interfere with the correct production or understanding of another.


When I started to notice this more and more, I told myself this is ridiculous, while learning three languages is great, I certainly don’t want to lose my English. The problem is that you kind of get used to speaking and writing in your language so that everyone understands, this means using simpler phrases and often leaving out those fun English idioms like ‘its a walk in the park’ or ‘like a bat out of hell’. I used to be so wonderful at speaking, writing, arguing – eating books like candy and debating like a champ, non va bene! 

While it’s true I write and work mostly in English, most daily interactions are in Italian and a little French, we even speak to the dog in three languages. My solution was to put the computer down more (or risk speaking in twitter talk, 140 characters max) and picking up more books instead. This ensured that not only was I returning to a hobby that I love, hopefully my English will soon again be better than a second grader in no time at all ;-). If you read this post looking for tips on how to learn Italian, well then I recommend checking out this funny video from the US consulate in Milan that basically says it all? (in jest)

So the end, fine, la fin, despite the provocative title, I really want to hear from you fellow expats. Have you ever felt like your native fluency was slipping a little bit? Share your own awkward ‘I no speak good’ moments with me here 🙂

To see more posts from other crazy stranieri in Italy (We started out own group and yes, we are kinda proud!) check out these posts:

 An American speaking Italian is like a dancer having two left feet – Married to Italy

‘Italian the Hard Way‘ – Surviving in Italy

‘Speaking Italian has ruined my English‘ – Rick’s Rome

‘Learning Italian in Florence, or that one time a can of Coca-Cola taught me a new language.‘ – The Florence Diaries

‘Tongue Tied in Italy‘ – Unwilling Expat
Englishman in Italy (link coming soon)


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0 Responses

  1. Fantastic… we speak Itanglish in our house too. “Honey, please stop romping my palles.” is a common one. I just got back from a trip to the US and I was SHOCKED at the number of words I just couldn’t remember! I had to really scour the back of my mind to come up with synonyms for simple words! It was horrible! ….(scour? is that the word I meant? beh, chi sa.)

    1. It’s a constant problem for me too, I always end up finding the word on Italian before English at times and now French is scrambling me even more, soon I’m going to be coherent on this blog 😉

    2. I blame my inability to learn the language on Mrs Sensible, her English is perfect so we use English at home (except when she is angry with me) I use English for work and unfortunately for the locals I attempt to use Italian with them.

      1. @PecoraNera – I completely understand. My husband and I speak English at home and work too, and the first years especially were difficult. All his friends were like, “why don’t you speak Italian at home to teach her?” And we were like… um… because we met in English. Our relationship is in English! Curious – how long have you been in bella Italia?

      2. I am starting to feel that same way about French, Italian was more straightforward but now I am starting to get the ‘how long have you guys been together’ and sort of silent judgement that I am not yet fluent in French despite the fact that we both live in Italy. On the other hand, it’s a motivator for sure, I would have never thought I could possibly be tr-lingual and Spanish not being one of the languages.

        1. I have enough problems with the English language, let alone trying to learn a third. Plus as a man I need to understand the ‘silent’ language that is used when I am in trouble 😉

          1. hahahah yes Pete, you are 100% right about the ‘silent language’ that’s probably the one you need to be the most fluent in!

  2. I have only been here 10 months and will be returning home in 2. I am an intern and was told before my arrival that everyone was looking forward to speaking english in the lab and I should not worry about learning italian before I came (I attempted a class but it was focused for short term tourists). Well I showed up and no one spoke english! When I began really learning the language, studying every single day, there were weeks where I couldn’t speak – in english or in italian! I literally did not have any words, my vocabulary was a foggy memory, like something on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite remember. Learning a second language has been, hands down, the trippy-est most mind twisting experience and I can certainly attest to the fact that my english vocabulary has diminished significantly. This should bode well for me as I begin my applications for grad school… It is always a joy to read your insights, they are helpful, comforting, honest and keep things in a lighthearted perspective.

    1. I used to just keep this to myself because I thought it was just me but the more people I meet in similar boats, the more I realize how common this is. It’s funny cause I don’t even know I’m speaking strangely when I merge the two languages, it just sort of happens!!! Thank you so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment

  3. Ciao, I will be traveling through Florence in a few days heading to my cooking internship. Is there a shop where I can purchase cooking clothes? I need a few shirts and I pair of shoes.



    Sent from my iPhone


  4. This is so interesting, Georgette, thanks. When Vicki and I arrive in Florence (we leave SFO in exactly two months), we will begin learning Italian in earnest. I’m sure once the immersion takes hold we will start to experience the kind of attrition you are writing about. In some ways I find it exciting to think that at some point I may know Italian well enough to begin forgetting a little English. Any thoughts about a good language school in Florence?

    Happy Fourth of July, Texas girl!

  5. Oh, I remember exhibit B all too well! Lol!! Especially since his best friend sent the exact same “titanic” text to me hoping to win me over even though we BOTH made it clear it was not going to happen. They probably thought it was the most brilliant pick up line ever, when in fact it was the most ridiculous.

  6. I love your blog Georgette and I think the new blogger roundtable is a great concept (and the name and logo are “nifty”). I’m curious…how long did it take you to dream in Italian?

  7. Fantastica post!! Im glad that I’m not the only one, I thought I was going crazy! Being back in Canada and working now 100% in English I find that I’ve forgotten many words in English and am often left speechless at my tables while explaining the nightly features. My husband and I often being sentences in our native language, then finish that sentence in our second language. I wonder what we look like to those around us!

  8. Loved you post! Isn’t funny how the brain weaves language together in its own unique way. I was so impressed that you threw a little French in the mix. I would have loved to eavesdrop into that english/italian/french conversation!

    1. I would love to see the brain scan of someone who constantly has to speak, think and feel in three different languages. My boyfriend often says he is a different person depending on what language he speaks where as I more or less feel very ‘American’ no matter come parlo!

  9. I really liked this. I identify with it so much! I am always saying someone “has reason” (they are right), and I told my friend the bed was bland (blando/a meaning soft in Spanish). My Spanish husband just said “farma” for farm the other day, which made me laugh so much.

    1. Ciao Kaley, thank you! I think we say these things without even thinking, though I am sure in the states people think I am trying to show off. I need a third party to remind me just how ridiculous I sound on a daily basis 😉

  10. I’m a Texan who has lived in England for 20 years and I find my vocabulary and accent wanders all over the place. An example: Would ya’ll like a cuppa? My husband is English and my children are school age so British English is most spoken at home. When I’m in the US I often have a slight pause when speaking as I try to remember the American word for something.

    1. I love that you use the word ‘ya’ll’ still, it creeps up in my vocabulary every so often and I just can’t seem to (want) to let it go ;-). I also find myself at times mixing British words like ‘bin’ instead of trashcan or something similar because I know that likely Europeans will understand what I am talking about. Thanks for sharing again Katherine!

  11. I can relate to this so much. This is a HUGE problem I’m still having. I’ve “dumbed” down my English so much that I no longer sound like an educated American AND I sound like a five year old in Italian. Reading definitely helps! Great post!

    1. We’ve all done it seems, I have been blasting BBC every morning while I work and that has resulted in mixing my American English with British English to ya, know confused people even more. I’ve even started writing ‘traveller’ with two ll’s. Mamma mia..

Georgette Jupe

Welcome to my personal blog by a curious American girl living and working between Zug, Switzerland and Florence, Italy with my husband Nico, our newborn Annabelle and Ginger the beagle. This space is primarily to share about my love for Italy (currently on a 13 year romance) with a fair amount of real talk, practical advice, travel suggestions and adjusting to a new culture (Switzerland). Find me on IG @girlinflorence @girlinzug

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