Language, art and culture. Saloni Gandhi explains us the passion for Italian.

Saloni Gandhi

The first thing I thought when I first met Saloni was: she's so young! And I wondered how much experience she had as a language learner. I was a little skeptical but I was wrong. She is a very special young woman. Not only she speaks Italian very well but sha has also a lot to say. This is the reason why this interview is so long.  Enjoy it and if you want to know more about Saloni visit her blog.   

I know you are graduated in French and Italian language.  Why did you choose these languages?

It’s an interesting story! After my board examination, I didn’t know what to do. As I was great in academics, most people assumed that I would choose Science stream and become an engineer or doctor. Well, that’s the last thing you’d see me doing now!

I just thought of trying out a different career path and I chose Arts. So, during junior college, I had French as a second language apart from theoretical subjects like Economics, Psychology, etc. Unfortunately, I would just score passing marks in French in all semesters until I met this person who used to teach French in my area. I went to her and she taught me French for around 4-5 months. I didn’t realize how and when I started loving the language. In these 5 months, my score went from 40s to 90s. (No kidding!) That’s when I decided to pursue my graduation in French Studies.

When I went to the University of Mumbai for admissions, I had to opt for one more foreign language. I wanted to take Spanish because it has great career prospects but for some reason, I couldn’t. I was then suggested by a few seniors to take Italian and they told me that the University has a native professor and that I would enjoy learning it.

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They also told me that the second language shouldn’t matter much as the major subject was French. But honestly, the second language, Italian, made all the difference. I just loved the way it was taught by the Italian professor at University of Mumbai. He would always show us videos related to food, touristic places, gestures, etc. related to Italian culture. Eventually, I started enjoying Italian lectures more than the French. So yeah, I didn’t choose these languages, I think these languages chose me! Haha!

Reading the about page of your blog, one sentence caught my attention: “My studies were not only focused on the language reading, listening and communication skills; but also the countries’ history starting from Antiquity to Contemporary period and the various literary and art movements”. How important is it to learn the culture that goes with the language you're studying?

Is it possible to imagine the Italian language without Dante’s “La Commedia”, a chef d’oeuvre that summarizes all the ideologies and knowledge of Medieval period, expressed in a mixture of dialects and ‘high’ register language?

Although the Renaissance movement began in Italy, it influenced all the European countries.

The Northern Italy use “Lei” as a polite form in formal situations but the Southern Italy often use “Vous” for the same context, due to the French influence, although it’s a custom which is fading away.

So, you see... Culture, history, art, literature and language are inter-connected. They go hand in hand. Some language learners resist embracing the culture behind the language they’re learning and consequently, they have to put deliberate efforts to understand the language. And in the end, they would just rote learn the words and grammar.

Learning the culture along with the language is almost inescapable. For example, the culture shines through a language’s proverbs. In English, “touch wood” is said in order to avoid bad luck when you speak of your good fortune whereas the Italians say “Tocca ferro” (literally, touch iron).

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Also, there are a number of many dialects spoken in Italy like Tuscan, Venetian, Sicilian, Neapolitan, Calabrian, etc. as per the geographical zone. I was surprised to hear a Florentine pronounce Coca Cola as hoha hola, with the h-sound instead of “c”.

Thus, to appreciate the language, it is important to dive into the culture behind the language. It simply opens our mind to new ways of experiencing life. It makes us realize that the way see things is not the only way to perceive it.

What do you like best about Italian culture?

I have always been creatively inclined and embraced Italy’s art and architecture. It is one of the finest in the world. As I’ve studied and also had an opportunity to appreciate first-hand the artworks from various art movements, Baroque and Renaissance are my all-time favourites and I’ve been following the artworks of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Leonardo Da Vinci since my school days. In fact, before actually studying the Italian language and getting to know about Italy, I only knew these two artists. (and pizza!) I have read “Caravaggio Segreto” and “Leonardo Segreto”, written by Costantino D’Orazio. During my graduation, I had watched a movie based on real life events of Caravaggio directed by Angelo Longoni, which left me stunned. I used to follow a historical fantasy drama series too, directed by David Goyer that presented the early life of Leonardo da Vinci. It never ceases to amaze me!

You have been in Italy like a student. I know you have attended courses in two of the most important Italian Universities for Foreigners: Siena and Perugia. Tell us your experience.

Yes, they are the most prestigious universities in Italy. I was in Siena for almost a month in August 2013, when I had won a scholarship to pursue level B2 at the University for Foreigners of Siena. However, I spent around 4 months in Perugia while studying the level C2 at the University for Foreigners of Perugia. I feel privileged to be a part such significant universities where people from all around the world go to study Italian.

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At a very young age, it gave me the opportunity to not only understand the Italian lifestyle and culture but to acknowledge the culture of other countries and further, to express the cultural richness of the country where I come from. Apart from improving my communication skills when writing to and speaking to a person from a different country, I got an insider’s view of Italy. Studying a new language first-hand, connecting with people and hearing their stories have been a source of immense pleasure. It has contributed in expanding my horizons and making me see the world in a new way.

If I have to talk about the cities, Siena is more of a touristic city whereas Perugia is quite student-friendly. Both cities are unique in their own way. The most remarkable memories that I have are witnessing the Palio in Siena and attending the grand concert of Radio Subasio in Perugia.

What’s your favourite Italian word and why?

Arrangiarsi. To get by or manage! According to me, life’s not about running behind what we don’t have, it is about what we make of what we got! It’s very important to be resourceful first and work with what we already have in difficult situations.

During the last period I’ve realized that so many Indians love Italy. Just out of curiosity: can you explain why?

Italians and Indians are like two peas in the same pod. We have a lot in common when it comes to history, art, food, religion and family values.

Also, these two countries complement each other pretty well. Italian government has initiated programs to get Indian IT professionals to contribute to the Italian IT sector. I have noticed that many North Indians work in the retail and restaurant fields in Italy.

People are now beginning to integrate into each other’s lifestyle by appreciating their similarities and respecting the differences.

Is there anything you wish to add?

Thank you for this opportunity! I’m honoured and grateful to be interviewed by The Italian Midday. You’re doing a great job! I wish you all the best for your future endeavours and I hope to see you soon in Italy.