Language Travel

Learning Italian on the Albanian Riviera

You don’t have to be in the country where a language is spoken to practice and learn, especially when there are sizeable minority populations spread around the world.

Did you know St. Louis, Missouri has 15,000-30,000 Italian speakers? Almost any city, from the Midwest of the United States to Western Europe, has enclaves of Russian speakers, Spanish, Bengali, the list goes on and on.

I’ve been in Albania for about a month now and I’m finding so many opportunities to practice my Italian.

The bakery near my friend’s apartment is owned by Italians.

10% of Albanian youth are learning Italian in school.

And the older generation often speaks Italian rather than English due to Albania and Italy’s long, complicated relationship.

Many times I find myself in a little shop or restaurant and unable to communicate in English.

So I try Italian.

It’s surprising how often it works.

When I moved into the guesthouse where I’m currently living the owner was away and his friend Roland was watching the place. Of course, he spoke Italian and we became friends over coffee.

It’s nice, especially because I haven’t spent much time in Italy since last year (just a week in September) and things are getting a bit rusty.

But Albania offers plenty of opportunity to clean the cobwebs.

If you’re trying to learn a language, think about ways you can practice even when you’re not traveling or using the language every day.

When my friend Daisy was learning Romanian she volunteered her time with an older woman from Romania. She’d go to the senior care center and spend long hours talking over card games and tea, or listening to the woman tell stories.

Last time I heard from Daisy she was hitchhiking from Budapest to Transylvania.

I love people like Daisy.

I admit I’m still more fearful. I struggle sometimes to push myself into those situations and opportunities.

I hate making mistakes (maybe there’s something to this Virgo thing).

And Italians can be a bit… brutal about correcting errors.

Practicing with Albanians is actually much easier. Italian isn’t their first language either.

Perfection be damned—we just talk.

Isn’t that really what language is about?