Friday, February 12, 2016

Hemingway on learning Italian

Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story (one of his best) called In Another country, based on his experiences in World War I in Northern Italy. A Farewell to arms recounts the same experiences, but as a (long) novel. The story is set in a hospital in Milan while he was recovering from injuries sustained as an American volunteer. At a certain point, the young protagonist is talking to an Italian major about his progress in learning the language.

"The major, who had been a great fencer, did not believe in bravery, and spent much time while we sat in the machines correcting my grammar. He had complimented me on how I spoke Italian, and we talked together very easily. One day I had said that Italian seemed such an easy language to me that I could not take a great interest in it; everything was so easy to say. "Ah, yes," the major said. "Why, then, do you not take up the use of grammar?" So we took up the use of grammar, and soon Italian was such a difficult language that I was afraid to talk to him until I had the grammar straight in my mind."