Jo Linsdell’s written a terrific book called ITALIAN FOR TOURISTS, which takes a far more common-sense approach to the language than most of the books on the market. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel confident when travelling to a country without knowing the language.
It’s written in a warm, personal style, which reflects Jo’s personality — always around to give someone a helping hand.
I was curious about her journey to a life in Italy, which led her to the journey of this book. So, of course, I asked her about it.
DE: You mention in the book that you came to Italy for 3 days and decided to stay. How did you navigate that transition? Did you stay longer than 3 days initially and return home to wind things up? So many people imagine falling in love with a place and staying, but I don’t think too many people actually know how it’s done. Would you share some of that process with us?
JL: Crazy but true. I’d originally planned to travel around Europe for a couple of months, giving myself 3 days in Rome before moving on to Greece. That all changed when I had my money stolen in Paris. On my 3rd day in Rome, I got a job working at reception in a hostel near the main station. They gave me little pay but I also got a bed too, which was the most important thing at the time. I figured I’d work there for a few weeks to get together enough money to take me to Greece.
Weeks turned into months and finally after 6 months here I decided it was time to go back to England and get more of my stuff.
I’d quite my job as a credit controller in the UK before leaving and left my rented accommodation. My belongings were all in storage in my parents garage so I had no need to hurry back.
Technically if you plan to stay for over 14 days in Italy, you should apply for a ‘Permesso di Soggiorno’ (permission to stay) at the local police station. For members of the European Union, it’s a simple process that takes just a few days. For non-Europeans this usually takes a little longer.
If you plan to work legally in Italy you need to have a ‘codice fiscale’ (tax code). Again, this is a simple process.
In general, documents in Italy require filling out several forms, photocopies of your passport and a few passport style photos attached. You will have to go back to collect the documents yourself.
Although sorting out all the documents can be frustrating and time consuming, the hardest part of moving here is finding an apartment. If you have enough money it’s best to use an agency. If not, you need to check ‘Porta Portese’, a weekly announcement newspaper, for listings and basically ask everyone you know if they know of anywhere available.
DE: How long did it take you to feel comfortable speaking Italian?
JL: I didn’t have ‘Italian for Tourists’ and so looked up each word in the English-Italian dictionary at the hostel. I was comfortable doing food shopping after a few weeks. For months when people asked my how I was, I was either ok, good or tired.
I started learning more when I met my husband. He couldn’t speak English and so I’d look up phrases and words so I could talk to him. Love is a great motivator!
I starting working in an office writing a multi-lingual book for the dental industry around the same time, and so learnt lots of new words there too.
The first time I realized I was comfortable with the language was after I’d been here about 8 months. I was crossing the road at a zebra crossing and a woman on a ‘motorino’ sped towards me and nearly ran me over. We ended up yelling at each other, and I won the argument. Being able to stand up for myself and tell her she was the one in the wrong made me realize I had control over the language and built my confidence, which in turn made it easier to learn more words.
The thing that holds people back when speaking a different language isn’t the language itself but the lack of confidence in using it.
DE: Did you find it easier to speak Italian, initially, or read it?
JL: Speaking was easier, as I learnt mainly by ear in the beginning. The great thing about Italian, though, is that it’s said as it’s written, so once you’ve mastered how to pronounce the alphabet it’s quite straight forward.
DE: Do you find now, that you’ve lived in Italy for 7 years, that you think in both languages? Or primarily in Italian? Do you switch back and forth constantly? Do you still think in one language and then translate to yourself? Are you living bi-lingually, or primarily in Italian now?
JL: I think and speak mainly in Italian although I’ve started to speak English at home so my son learns it as a mother tongue language along with Italian. I think in the language I’m speaking in and don’t tend to translate anymore.
When my English-speaking friends come to visit, I switch between the two languages.
DE: How do you feel being multi-lingual helps in your work as a writer? Do you find more shades of meaning in languages other than English, and how do you find it affects your writing?
JL: It makes me think more about the words I use. I’m more aware of grammar now, too.
In English, the same word can have different meanings depending on the context in which it’s used. This is rare in Italian.
Italian is a very poetic and romantic language where even a simple sentence seems elegant.
DE: You’ve mentioned that you wrote the type of book you needed when you first tried to learn the language (and you did a great job, by the way). How did you develop the structure of this book? Did you write it linearly? In sections and then re-arrange them?
JL: First I wrote a list of words and phrases to include and then broke them down into sections. I then re-arranged them into order putting the most important (emergency) and basics first.
DE: What are your tips for people who want to learn enough of a new language to get around a foreign country, but don’t have the chance to formally study enough to speak fluently before they travel?
JL: Buy my book! Ha-ha!
Learning the 7 question words, yes, no, please and thank you will help you lots. You can always point on a map and ask ‘Dove?’ to get directions. Good manners will always be welcome and appreciated.
DE: What other projects do you have on the horizon?
JL: I’m working on my first novel and also on a series of e-books called The Italian Home Study Series. I also plan to write a guide to Rome.
I always tend to have several projects on the go at once. This way if I get writers block on one I work on another for a while.
Born in Gillingham, Kent (UK) in September 1980. Married name Joanne Denise Feliciani. Having passed 10 GCSE’s, went on to study Business Studies, History and Art A-Levels at Yateley 6th Form. Jo Linsdell left England and moved to Rome, Italy in June 2001, where she now lives with her Italian husband and their son.
She has had various jobs including working in hostels, being a tour guide and teaching English as a foreign language. She now works full-time as a freelance writer. She writes regularly for various websites, newspapers and magazines. She writes in both English and Italian.
She is also the creator and manager of the multi award winning site Writers and Authors and founder and organiser of PROMO DAY, an international online event for people in the writing industry.
Visit her at http://jolinsdell.tripod.com