Elias Abboud · CBC News

Living in Little Italy and with a love for the country, the pandemic gives me time to learn the language

Every November, the pastry shop down the road in my Little Italy neighbourhood offers cannoli at half price. So one day, I went in and figured I’d try my newly acquired Italian linguistic skills.

“Due cannoli grande, per favore,” I said in my best accent, feeling pretty pleased. The woman behind the counter answered me in Italian and I was elated. “She fell for it,” I thought. “I’m pretty good at this.”

But my elation quickly deflated, when I realized I didn’t understand. She asked if I wanted them in a bag or a box.

In the fall, I signed up for Italian lessons, Beginner I, after seeing an ad from Montreal’s Italian Cultural Institute. I’m working part time, the hours for the course fit nicely and with the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the extra time to study a language I’ve always wanted to learn.

My barber, Bruno, is Italian. My favourite cuisine is Italian. And after a week of camping in Sardinia one year, I wanted to know more. I wanted to be ready for when the pandemic is over and we are free again to travel.

Twice a week, I’d log on to my Zoom call, with Carmen, my instructor, and my 15 new pals who were signing in from as far away as Gatineau and the Laurentians. I was the only one of the group who wasn’t retired.

We started slowly — introducing ourselves (mi chiamo Elias), the numbers (uno, due, tre) and our occupations (sono giornalista), and progressed from there.

I thought it would be a piece of cake. I already knew all the words for food, and with my background in French and Spanish, I figured Italian couldn’t be much more difficult.

I was in for a surprise. I found the verbs more complicated, (we still haven’t made it out of the present tense), and nouns and expressions just didn’t seem to stick in my head the way they used to when I learned French and Spanish.

Undeterred, I’ve signed up for Beginner II. It starts today. Next November, I’ll be ready for “bag or box.”