Book Club Reading: Un ragazzo normale

Book Club Selected Reading

Title: Un ragazzo Normale
Author: Lorenzo Marone
Published: 2018


The author and the book
Lorenzo Marone was born in Naples in 1974. He worked as a lawyer for ten years, he then left this profession to become a writer. He published his first book, La tentazione di essere felici, in 2015. This has been translated into 15 languages and it was made into a film (La tenerezza) directed by Gianni Amelio. He has written 8 books and won numerous prizes such as Premio Stresa and Premio Selezione Bancarella. He published Un ragazzo normale in 2018 and won the Premio Giancarlo Siani.

He has also published:
La tristezza ha il sonno leggero
Magari domani resto
Cara Napoli
Tutto sarà perfetto
Inventario di un cuore in allarme
La donna degli alberi

Here are some sources where you can find more information about Lorenzo Marone and his books:
http://www.lorenzomarone.net/
https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/lorenzomarone/
https://www.facebook.com/lorenzomaroneofficial

The story
Mimì is the protagonist of Un ragazzo normale. He’s twelve, wears glasses, loves reading and he is super smart. This boy is also obsessed with astronauts, comic books and the film Karate Kid. He lives in a building block in Naples in the area of Vomero where his father is the doorman. Il Vomero is the area populated by the middle and upper classes.

The boy spends all his spare time outside with his friend Sasà or in the two-room apartment that he shares with his parents, his teenage sister and his grandparents.

This child is fixated with getting a spiderman costume that his parents cannot afford, he is in love with Viola, a girl who lives in one of the upstairs apartments and daughter of more affluent parents. He is also into telepathy and tries various experiments with whoever he finds that is agreeable to them.

The book is set in the year 1985, which was a strange year for Naples. For example, it was the year that it snowed. This is an event in Naples, considering that prior to that, it only snowed in the years 1929, 1956 and 1971. During 1985, he also meets Giancarlo who becomes his superhero. Giancarlo is a 25 years old journalist who drives a green Citroen Méhari and writes dangerously about the Camorra. The boy is instantly inspired by the journalist and becomes his friend.

To understand the story completely, it is important to mention that Giancarlo was a real person: Giancarli Siani. He was murdered by the Camorra in 1985 because of his work. At the time he was reporting about the links between politicians, constructions contracts and organised crime.

Why read this book?
This book has been chosen for various reasons. It is beautifully written and it is amusing and moving at the same time. It gives a good view of a very recent past and consequently, offers a more current view of Italy, its values and culture. The author is an award-winning writer, who has enjoyed critic and public success.

Quotes from the book:
“Le cose straordinarie, quelle che resteranno per sempre nella tua vita, arrivano spesso in punta di piedi e all’improvviso, senza tuoni e particolari avvisaglie. Proprio come quella nevicata dell’85.”

“Perché alla fine di quella terribile e magnifica estate capii che gli unici superpoteri a disposizione di noi poveri umani sono i rapporti che riusciamo a costruirci, gli amori, le amicizie, gli affetti. Sono la qualità di queste relazioni a fare la differenza fra chi è super e chi, forse, lo è un po’ meno. Perché quella maledetta sera capii di essere solo un adolescente che si era trovato, per una serie di circostanze, ad avere a chef fare con qualcosa di più grande di lui. Capii di essere un ragazzo normale. Come lo era Giancarlo, un ragazzo normale.”

Join our book club
We read one selected chapter of a given book and develop speaking in sessions moderated by native teachers.
Click here if you wish to know how our book club works. You can book your session here.

The Italian Book Club


Now that you have achieved a higher level of Italian you might want to read authentic material. Reading Italian literature and specifically novels is one of the best ways to improve your Italian language, expand your vocabulary and increase your knowledge of the Italian culture.

Parla Italiano School is launching a new pay-as-you-go reading club which will meet online using Zoom every other week from 7th June. Each session can be taken as one off or as part of a package. Readers wishing to participate will need to have achieved an intermediate or more advanced level of Italian.

The main aim of the club is to discuss the excerpts, to develop speaking and to work on lexis. Please note that we do not read the entire book but only a selected chapter, which can be easily read within the timeframe.  The session will have some structure but also enough flexibility so that the participants can truly express themselves fully. Zoom allows for smaller groups to be formed within the class, so that participants can have plenty of talking time during the session. Students will have the opportunity to meet different, likeminded people who enjoy discussing and exchanging ideas. The teacher will supervise and guide the discussion, she will be available to help and to clarify any items of language if required.

The programme will be carefully selected, it will include contemporary authors such as Dacia Maraini, Claudio Magris, Elsa Morante, Alessandro Baricco and so on. The programme for the first five sessions will be announced soon, and the course will start with the ‘La lunga vita di Marianna Ucria’ by Maraini.

This class is on every other Monday at 9.30am UK time (GMT +1), the session lasts for 1.5 hours. You can book each session separately or you can book a bundle of 5 lessons and get a discount. The maximum number of students per session is 10 and we will operate a waiting list if necessary. Students wishing to participate will need to have read the pages of the book chosen for that session, beforehand. After booking their session, students will receive a Zoom link to access their room.

To book follow the link and choose your session/s here:
Book Club on Zoom

For further information and any question you might have, please email: laura@parlaitaliano.co.uk or phone: +44 7941 092593 (UK number).

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Learning a language successfully: you only need one rule

After many years of teaching Italian to adults I have come to the conclusion that for learning successfully there is only one rule: don’t give up!

Recently, a person that I don’t know sent me a message telling me that she had been studying Italian for some times, but she had now given it up. She was contacting me for other reasons than studying Italian but my first emotion upon receiving such email was one of sadness. The way she phrased her message made me think that she had been learning for a while and that she had lost hope.

In my years of teaching I have come across many different students, some natural linguists, some average learners and some very slow learners. No matter the student talent we worked together to achieve language learning and mostly succeeded. Whenever it happened that a person did not succeed it was because they had given up.

Of course, I do understand, that sometime students only want to try something new. After a term of classes, some decide that this is enough and that they wish to try something else. Trying something new is a healthy and it is not giving up. Giving up is due to the belief that we are not achieving, we are not good enough and we might as well stop trying.

I still remember a student I taught about twelve years ago, he was clearly a very intelligent man, with a great career, economic success and very satisfied with his life. He had a reason for learning, however teaching him was difficult, extracting one word from him excruciating. He was not a natural language learner to say the least. However, he had something even more powerful, he had grit, he would not give up, year after year he stuck with it and he achieved his goal. He started to be more and more fluent and became satisfied with his language skills.

What is the secret of his success? His determination of course. But also, even if he had accepted that learning was difficult, he never compared himself to others. He acknowledged and celebrated every little success. And such a great teacher he was to me!

Parla Italiano new Italian classes for adults open every term, please get in touch if you are interested by email: laura@parlaitaliano.co.uk or phone laura on 07941 092593

Seven habits of highly effective language learners

In language learning, no matter where you start from, you can achieve your goal if you believe you can. Looking at what the most successful learners do can be inspirational.

Learning a language is complex and the time that it will take you to achieve a level that you are happy with varies greatly from one person to the next. It depends on a variety of elements and in order to speed up the process it is useful to look at the best language learners to understand and try to replicate what they do differently. I have observed students for more than a decade and these are seven elements that effective learners have in common:

  1. They are proactive.
    This is very much true for anything one wishes to achieve. To be proactive means to take ownership of ones’ own learning. The best language students are all independent students. They don’t expect to simply follow the teacher’s direction but have their own strategy for learning. They pick up tips for learning, look for ideas everywhere and develop their own strategy alongside the work they do in class.
  2. They seek exposure.
    Highly effective students understand that exposure to the language is one of the most important elements. So they read and listen a great deal more than the average student.
  3. They use a variety of tools.
    The very best students work online, interact in groups, on pages, use website, apps etc. to help them develop their vocabulary and language skills.
  4. They are not afraid to speak.
    Speaking a language can only be learnt by speaking it. They find opportunities and make the most of them.
  5. They are not perfectionists.
    Abandon perfectionism, the best learners are not afraid of making mistakes. They know it is part of the process of learning.
  6. They are patient.
    Highly effective learners know that learning is not a linear process. The secret is to keep going and practise, practise, practise.
  7. They don’t give up.
    Last but not least, when the game gets tough they don’t abandon it but they keep going, knowing that it will get easier. They trust themselves and the process.

Children learning: hidden benefits of a second language

Learning a second language might be good to enhance a person’s career prospect and often comes in handy when you go on holiday. However, there are deeper reasons and benefits for offering your child the chance to learn a second language.

Interestingly enough, a second language will actually boost their abilities in their native language and will generally boost their school performance. In fact, studies suggest that children with a second language are more creative, develop more critical thinking, flexibility of the mind and have better memory.

But there is more: learning a second language gives people the ability to access and understand another culture. They acquire respect for other cultures, for people and their ways of thinking. This develops their empathy for others, their curiosity and interest for the different and as a consequence they are more open to new ideas as well.

The benefits are great, however, any learning that children undertake is also an effort for the child and a commitment from the parents.

You will often hear people saying that children are like sponges. In a way this is true. It has been proven that children’s brains are designed to absorb information and particularly languages. Also, unlike teenagers and adults, they have a natural ability to recognise and reproduce new sounds, which is why small children can speak without a first language accent. However, we need to recognise that learning is an effort for the children and that they need to be well supported in their endeavour. To learn a language takes time and it is a commitment for both children and parents.

Having said that, the benefits are far reaching and will enhance a child’s ability in many different ways. A second or more languages will give children even better chances of developing into well-rounded individuals and the earlier they start the better it is.
At Parla Italiano we offer Italian courses for children, please check our children’s classes schedule.

Laura Scaramella, Tel: 07941 092593

Written for Edmonton Green Magazine, November, 2017

Italy and its food etiquette: when in Rome do as the Romans do.

Find out how to eat and drink in Italy, what are the authentic customs and rituals, and what is the Italian food etiquette. If you want to make the most of your holiday to Italy please read on. In addition, you can also find here some essential Italian food and drink vocabulary.

In Italy, eating is not a trivial matter, Italians don’t consider food as a means for survival, but as one of the pleasures of life. Food is related to joy and it is to be enjoyed with friends and family. Eating is a part of the Italian culture as much as the art of Michelangelo and the science of Galileo. We have many beautiful words which are typical of the art of enjoying food and drinks by the Italians, such as degustare and assaporare which both mean to enjoy/taste. We’ll discuss here the very essential vocabulary that you need for your trip to Italy. But for now, let’s see a few things that you can expect when you’re in Italy:

About meals (i pasti):
Italians eat quite late compared to the British or the Americans, so expect an Italian restaurant to start getting busy at around 8.30. When eating out in Italy always reserve your table. Especially if you wish to eat in the outside area, it is better to book as restaurants get full quickly. Italians are relaxed about time but if you are over 20 minutes late it is better to let the restaurant know. Regarding the menu always ask for the specials: these will be the freshest items on the menu, and it is what most Italian will order. To dine in style in Italy be adventurous and from time to time swap your lasagne and pizza for the local cuisine.

Il ristorante = the restaurant
L’antipasto = the starter (for example prosciutto e melone or bruschetta)
Il primo = the first course, usually pasta, rice, or soup
Il secondo = the main course, usually meat, fish, or a vegetarian option
Il contorno = the side dish (for instance salad or any other vegetable)
Il dolce/ il dessert = the dessert

So as dinner is somewhat late, if you are hungry early, you can always enjoy a lovely ‘aperitivo’ before your meal.

About the aperitivo:
The ‘aperitivo’ in Italy is also a ritual. To put it simply, this is a drink – for example a glass of chilled prosecco, a martini, an Aperol Spritz or a classic Negroni – accompanied by nibbles. So, expect your drink to be served with one or more of these: crisps, bruschetta, focaccia, olives, cheese, a selection of cured meats, etc. The food is fresh and delicious and in spring and summer is enjoyed outside. One essential ingredient of the aperitivo is the relaxed and leisurely attitude of the regulars. Hence aperitivo is to be consumed in an oasis of peace, where what counts is the full enjoyment of the taste, the flavour, the colour, the texture of what you are eating or drinking. And all this, of course, in the company of good friends or family.

Le patatine = crisps
Le olive = the olives
Il formaggio = the cheese
Gli affettati = cured sliced meats (salame, bresaola, prosciutto, etc)
L’analcolico = non alcoholic drink

About wine (il vino):
Wine is savoured with the meal; it complements and completes it. The Italians say: ‘a meal without the wine is like a day without the sun’ (un pranzo senza vino e come una giornata senza sole). Indeed, wine represents enjoyment and joy, it is essential to the full experience of eating like an Italian. In fact, food does not taste the same without it. Italy produces high quality, world renown wines and every region will be famous for their own. I personally come from Valtellina, in the very North of Italy near Lake Como, and our beautiful red wines are Sassella, Inferno, Grumello, Sforzato, and more. Despite this, in Italy, wine does not have to be expensive to be good, even the house wine might surprise you.

Il vino rosso = red wine
Il vino bianco = white wine
Il vino rosé = rosé
Il vino frizzante = sparkling wine
Il vino corposo = full-bodied
Il vino dolce = sweet wine
Il vino secco = dry wine

About beer (la birra) and soft drinks (le bevande)
Beer and soft drinks are the usual accompaniment to pizza and barbeques. However, a very cold beer can also be an alternative to wine in the summer, when it is scorching hot, to accompany light simple meals. In the past the only beer you could find were pale lagers, but today, you can see a good variety on offer, including German, Belgian and Irish imports as well as local craft beers.

La birra alla spina = draft beer
La birra scura = brown ale
La grigliata = the barbeque

About coffee (il caffè):
Coffee is something that Italians are very fond of. Most importantly, coffee for them means an espresso, so when ordering be clear about what you want. If you try to order an item from the Starbucks menu, for example Frappuccino, you will probably be met with a question mark on the Barista’s face. Italian terms for a coffee are: espresso, caffé corretto, cappuccino, caffè ristretto and macchiato. If you order a ‘caffé corretto’ you’ll get an espresso with a drop of liqueur, a ‘caffé ristretto’ is a short shot of espresso, a ‘macchiato’ is an espresso with a drop of milk, or milk foam. According to the Italian dining etiquette cappuccino is drank only for breakfast or in the morning and never after meals.

Il caffé = the espresso
Il caffè americano = the black coffee
Il latte = the milk
Lo zucchero = the sugar
La panna = the cream
Il cornetto = the croissant

About parmesan (parmigiano):
This is the king of the Italian cheeses. The parmesan cheese is originally from the city of Parma. This cheese has been produced for centuries and recently it has been given the DOP label (Denominazione di Origine Protetta = Protected Designation of Origin). The original Parmigiano Reggiano must mature for at least 12 months, while other similar cheeses such as Grana Pandano can be sold after 8 months. This type of cheese is eaten on its own as part of the aperitive as well as being used as an ingredient in many Italian dishes. Usually, cheese is not mixed with fish and seafood dishes. Italians use parmesan abundantly for example on most pasta dishes, however they don’t sprinkle it on pizza, which is made with mozzarella cheese. It is considered so nutritious that even babies are introduced to parmesan as soon as they start eating solid food.

Il formaggio = the cheese
Il parmigiano = the parmesan cheese
Il parmigiano grattugiato = grated parmesan cheese

About ice-cream (il gelato):
As with many Italian foods, ice cream has a long history. What we call gelato originally came from Naples (although not everybody agrees on this!) and since then it has been exported everywhere in the world. When looking for ice-cream in Italy, look for ‘produzione propria’ or ‘artigianale’ which means that it is made on site with natural ingredients.

Il gelato = the ice cream
Il cono gelato = the ice cream cone
La coppetta = the ice cream cup
I gusti = the flavours
Cioccolato = chocolate
Panna = cream
Fragola = strawberry
Limone = lemon

Other essential items of the Italian food etiquette:

Tap water:
better to order a bottle of mineral water rather than ask for tap water.

Oil and vinegar:
Salad dressing such as salad cream are not used by the Italians, who prefer to dress their salad with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Consequently, expect oil and vinegar to be brought to the table even if you have not asked for them.

Some other essential vocabulary related to eating is:

Mangiare = to eat
Il conto = the bill
Grazie = thank you
Acqua minerale naturale = still mineral water
Acqua frizzante = fizzy mineral water
Mi porta il conto = can I have the bill please?

When in Italy relax, take your time to enjoy, blend in and try to use the beautiful language (la bella lingua). If you can, keep in mind the Italian food etiquette, however, Italians are generally very forgiving. During your trip to Italy try a few words in Italian, they will appreciate the effort. Other than that, look around, adjust to the atmosphere of the place and do as the Romans do

Italian is the language of music

This beautiful language is the language chosen by Mozart for many of his most famous operas. Indeed, it is considered the language that sings, and it has been associated with music for more than a thousand years. In addition, a great deal of musical terminology is in Italian. So why is Italian the language of music?

Find out here:
1. Why the Italian language sounds musical
2. How the Italian language dominated the musical scene in the past
3. Why the terminology of music is largely in Italian
4. What were the Italian inventions in music

Why do people love the Italian Language?
Many people fall in love with the Italian language by going on holiday in Italy. They fall head over hills with the language while enjoying the beautiful country, the warm weather, the sea, the cities of art and perhaps by listening to Italians. I have heard of an English speaker who believes that everything ordinary becomes rather special if said in Italian: the modest kitchen towel is asciughino, to rock or swing is dondolare, to whistle is fischiettare and even the garbage has an enjoyable and mischievous sound: spazzatura.

Why does the Italian language sound musical?
I suppose that when you experience mostly blue skies and warm weather you might be inclined to feel positive and happy. You might be on holiday and then most things might feel and sound better.

However, the musical element of the Italian language can be explained technically. Indeed, it is achieved by the fact that most words end with a vowel giving a singing quality to the language. The use of double consonants as well as the length of the words made up a several syllables also helps in giving Italian the distinctive musical sound. To help pronunciation we also use elision, where we drop a vowel to make pronunciation smoother.

Why is the primary language of music Italian?
Having said that, Italian is also the language of music in the sense that Italians have greatly influenced classical music and its language. Therefore, many musical terms, instruments and much of the musical notation are in Italian.

It started in the Medieval times…
We need to go back to the Medieval era, around 1200, when an Italian monk, Guido D’Arezzo, invented the modern musical notation. Prior to his notation, music was not written down consistently or clearly nor in an accessible way. Guido’s book on music notation revolutionised the musical world, opening it to a greater number of people. This was one of the most read treatises on music of the Medieval time.

The Italian authority in the musical world
Later on, the Italians continued to dominate the musical scene, so much so that their innovations enabled the creation of the opera in the 16th century. The Italians had a great influence on much of classical music. They established Italian as the language of music in the same way as, for example, English is used today in most countries for IT and new technology terms because the Americans have mostly dominated this field.

This explains why, if you read music, you will come across Italian words such as allegro, andante, con brio, vivace, moderato and so on. The Italian composers also gave names to the musical compositions they created, such as: concerto, sonata, sinfonia, opera and so on and so forth.

The creation of the opera
Opera was born in Florence around 1550. From then, this new genre took the rest of Europe by storm. However, the Italians and the Italian language dominated the scene for a long time and operas were considered serious and influential if they were written in Italian. Equally important, Italian was considered a more poetic and musical language. Indeed, even Mozart collaborated with the Italian poet and opera librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. He authored the text (il libretto) of the three famous operas by Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.

The invention of musical instruments
The Italian had a great influence upon the invention of musical instruments, for example the piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori. Even the violin (or violino) as it is known today in its complexity was created by two Italians Amati and Di Bertolotti. It is, therefore, of no surprise that many instruments have Italian names: viola, violoncello, mandolino and even their entire group: orchestra.

Italian music words used in everyday language
Afterwards many Italian words used in music have entered other languages and are still used today in everyday exchanges. These are a few interesting ones used by English speakers:
Prima donna
Bravo
Presto
Forte
Concerto
Opera
Tempo

To summarise: why is Italian the language of music?
In short, this is because Italian not just sounds beautifully melodic but most importantly because Italian had a huge influence in the history of music. Starting from the Medieval time, Italians created an entire music language, new genres, new musical instruments and more. Hence, if you play an instrument or are an opera singer, Italian will be an interesting language to discover.

Join one of our classes to take a dip into this beautiful language, you’ll re-discover words you already know. In addition, you will have the chance to hear the real language, practise speaking from day one and learn or improve your Italian. And even if singing is not required, we might listen to Italian music from time to time. Ciao!

Enigma and the game of learning a language

Learning a language is like a game, not necessarily because it is easy, but because that should be the spirit when you attempt it.

Have you seen the film The Imitation Game? This is about Alan Turing, an English mathematician and computer scientist who worked for the Government at Bletchley Park. With his work, he helped cracking intercepted coded messages, which helped defeating the Nazis. Interestingly, what Turing says in the film is that cracking the code is just a game, a puzzle game.

But a language is also a code and my advice to you is to treat the learning like a game that you enjoy, be it a Sudoku, crosswords, or any other puzzle.

One of the common problems of second language students is listening comprehension. The spoken language is very different from the written one. Utterance of words is affected by speed, volume, accent, and so on. However, if you are listening in my class you will be advised to play like Alan Turing. The listening is not simple, it has to have a natural flow so that students practise hearing the ‘real’ spoken language. At first nothing makes sense, same as your jigsaw puzzle when you first start. However, the idea is not to understand it all, in fact any single word that you will understand is a bonus. After the first listening students start working on breaking the code. In the film, Turing realises that all message have some words in common, so this is his starting point. So if your audio track has prosecco in it, you might start to piece together that people are at a party or at the bar. During the second listening, you might capture other individual words and when added together it starts to make more sense. The more you listen and the more pieces you can put together to get the full picture. Before you know it all of the pieces start to fall into place.

This is of course true for a single listening but also for the all process of learning a language.

Do not forget that it is just a game and enjoy it the challenge of it while doing it.

New classes starting soon, beginners class available, limited places, contact Laura if interested laura@parlaitaliano.co.uk

Enigma and the game of learning a language

Learning a language is like a game, not necessarily because it is easy, but because that should be the spirit when you attempt it.

Have you seen the film The Imitation Game? This is about Alan Turing, an English mathematician and computer scientist who worked for the Government at Bletchley Park and helped cracking intercepted coded messages, which helped defeating the Nazis. Interestingly, what Turing says in the film is that cracking the code is just a game, a puzzle game.

But a language is also a code and my advice to you is to treat the learning like a game that you enjoy, be it a Sudoku, crosswords, or any other puzzle.

One of the common problems of second language students is listening comprehension. The spoken language is very different from the written one, utterance of words is affected by speed, volume, accent, and so on. However, if you are listening in my class you will be advised to play like Alan Turing. The listening is not simple, it has to have a natural flow so that students practise hearing the ‘real’ spoken language. At first nothing makes sense, same as your jigsaw puzzle when you first start. However, the idea is not to understand it all, in fact any single word that you will understand is a bonus. After the first listening students start working on breaking the code. In the film, Turing realises that all message have some words in common, so this is his starting point, so if your audio track has prosecco in it, you might start to piece together that people are at a party or at the bar. During the second listening you might capture other individual words and when added together it starts to make more sense; the more you listen and the more pieces you can put together to get the full picture. Before you know it all of the pieces start to fall into place. This is of course true for a single listening but also for the all process of learning a language.

Do not forget that it is just a game and enjoy it the challenge of it while doing it.