Dreaming in a language you don't speak?

A Google search using the key words „dreaming in a foreign language“ produces around 1 100 000 hits – a fact that leaves no doubt about it being an extremely fascinating topic.

In this article I already described the phenomenon of my brain making me dream in what it made me think was Spanish – even though I have no experience of actively learning of speaking Spanish – just a history of extensive binge-watching „Narcos“.

Recently my brain came up with an even more absurd idea and had me dream in its very own version of Czech. Thanks to some multilingual interpreting classes I have gained some familiarity with the sounds and overall acoustic patterns of this beautiful language. Using some concentration I can come up with an „aural picture“ of Czech in my head, also due to another TV-show featuring several lines spoken in Czech.

Even though my recent dream is slipping further and further away, out of reach like dreams tend to do after a while, I remember that I dreamt about one of the abovementioned multilingual interpreting classes. While I was arguing with one of my fellow student, two of our teachers were having a conversation in „Czech“ and continued their chat as we left the class to prepare for some kind of prom night.

My brain probably less than perfectly emulated the language, but still: in my head I was fully convinced I was listening to a lively Czech conversation and, in retrospective, I am quite impressed with my mind even offering the occasional intelligible word, thus reconstructing a realistic listening experience for me.

Sweet Italy

Yes, Christmas is over. Even the 6th of January already passed by and someone seems to have decided to gently remove the Christmas decoration from the city. (Yet I thought this photo was too nice not to post) 🙂

But maybe it is natural that ideas are born in the first weeks of the year: when suddenly everything is over and you are left with the same strange stale feeling you get when your friends leave your house after a party and you want to holler after them “don’t leave!!”.

Anyways! In a desperate attempt to be less oblivious to my surroundings I started researching what sfogliatelle and cannoli exactly where after I had seen them in a bakery shop. I always knew that Italy had an incredibly rich world of pastries and baked goods to offer.

Watching baking video after baking video, I came across verbs, collocations and precious proper names – all of them effortlessly rolled off the tongues of the protagonists.

Frullare” and “pastafrolla” seemed particularly delightful, while “crostata” reminded me too much of a “crust” to be appealing. “Carta da forno” was logical, as was “maizena”. “Farcitura” left me puzzled, just as “bagnomaria“. But the “ciliegina sulla torta” or rather, icing on the cake, was “mattarello”, meaning “rolling pin”. Who would have guessed?!

And, being over-enthusiastic as always, I am now picturing pleasant specialized conversations about “dolci italiani” and their preparation, excelling with my refined knowledge.

A different kind of winter

Spending the winter in Rome

For many years, I only knew Italy in the summertime: beaches, bike rides, the smell of damp napkins when walking by a gelateria in the evening, sun screen and the fresh pages of a magazine by the pool.

At a later point in time, I experienced this wonderful country during the golden period of autumn, when the leaves ever so reluctantly turn yellow and the air starts getting a bit cooler after the violent heat of August – and during springtime: opulent chocolate eggs, lavish landscapes and a flowery breeze.

But wintertime? No connection had ever been established between my  “Nordic” concept of winter and my concept of Italy – and it wasn’t until November 25th 2017 that it was created.

I had taken a bus to the city center on a Saturday afternoon and did what I do best: walk and occasionally trip over Roman cobblestones.

Just a few days before, Christmas decorations had been put up, and randomly, I ended up in a beautifully decorated quartiere near the Pantheon.

There was something deeply familiar, consoling and pleasing about the Christmas lights: snowflakes, fireballs and stars. Yet, as I stepped out of a supermarket after randomly grabbing overpriced instant coffee, it hit me that this was an entirely different kind of winter I was experiencing.

It was late November, yet I wore my jacket open and I could still feel my fingers. There was the unexpected smell of cotton candy and roasted almonds as people were eating ice cream around me. Festive wraths fastened on doors, but the buildings were sandy beige and somewhat delicate, not greyish and squat. No snow, just the occasional alluvione. Just cold enough to get you in a Christmassy mood. I watched a glorious sunset with a freezing face, but there was still a palm tree sneaking into my field of vision.

My obsession with the Italian winter developed alongside my obsession with Italian Christmas lights … and I dread the moment in which they will get taken down.

Let’s enjoy them while they’re there — the kitschier, the better, right?



Playing with the Italian language

Whenever I am travelling abroad, paying a visit to a local bookshop is obligatory.

As in many other cities, in Rome I had the opportunity of going to a bookstore while further nurturing my obsession for train stations. 

When I walked in, I had only planned on looking aorund for a while, of inhaling the relaxing atmosphere that becomes perceptible especially when peacefully observing stressed-out individuals.

Little did I know that an Italian friend would start texting me – and that in the matter of a few seconds we would invent a little game more than adequate for our age group 😉

She asked me some questions and told me how her day was going while I tried to find books whose titles could serve as answers.

I think you can immagine how much fun it was – and how psychotic I seemed frantically running from one end of the bookstore to the other with the sole ambition of taking the next photo.

I whole-heartedly recommend you try out this game when you are in a country  where a language you know is spoken. I think it is an extraordinary way of playing around a bit with the language, of getting creative and maybe even of finding a book you might be interested in!!

Unexpectedly Italian

I am not exactly sure what made me think I could go running for more than 20 minutes before spraining my ancle.

But as I was hobbling home from the park through the almost palpable tranquillity of an Italian Saturday, clenching my teeth and swearing under my breath, I had the idea to create a little collage of random bits and pieces of Italian I gathered in unexpected moments.

Frankly, this is the essence of what I imagined living abroad to be like!

I was blasting anglophone music on my I-pod, merely to distract myself from the sharp pain in my foot, and grabbed a lamp post for balance.

In this moment these little notes caught my eye and the Italian reality crept back into my brain as I studied them with great interest. 

I recalled several words I had studied at some point in the past.

Another day, I caught sight of this little shop called “Animal Zone”.

I snapped a photo of the  shutter and learned the word “cavalluccio marino” (which is adorable). 

I only made sense of the complex joke when I asked an Italian friend to explain it to me!! 🙂

This photographic masterpiece is another example of little Italian advertisments and notes I encountered in the city.

Passing by, I read the word “posatura”.

I instantly remembered an almost forgotten, very demanding interpreting class about parquet floors during which I had learned the word.

Another way of tethering myself to the Italian environment is listening to the radio advertisments or watching the infomercials in the subway stations.

Even on early mornings when I’d rather be undisturbed and stumbling through my own headspace, I sometimes make myself watch, telling myself I will not only establish another contact with the Italian language, but also learn a thing or two about Italian culture :

How are advertisments designed, what are the characteristics of the advertising language and which products are advertised?

It took me some time to accept that biscuits with marmelade are being advertised as a breakfast ma è così che si impara, I guess 🙂


How dare you be more motivated than I am?

On the road to self-improvement

As a notorious nerd, I was astonished when a fellow interpreting student told me he set some time aside on the weekend to do some reading on Austrian politics in order to fill any gaps in his knowledge and to translate all relevant tecnical terms into Italian.

Say what?!

“Wow”, I replied, as it hit me like a baseball in the stomach that my repertoire of productive activities this past weekend has been limited to taking out the trash bags.

Also, I could hardly deny the fact that in my case, speaking of “knowledge gaps” in the ambit of Austrian politics would have been the understatement of the year.

But never underestimate the motivational power of pain.

I figured, the panicky feeling of falling behind and the reawakening quarter-life-crisis after this rude awakening might serve as a driving force for becoming a more well-rounded person.

Seize the opportunity

In my previous post, I explained how a semester abroad can help you to form new, productive habits. Also, in this particular case, I noticed how the new routine opened windows of opportunity for me: an hour of free time here, an unexpectedly well-rested brain cell ready to soak up some facts there. I would find myself sitting down at my desk at times I would never even consider doing research on anything at home, as I’d be too busy doing what I always do.

Already the first round of research on rather basic terminology gave me some peace of mind; and even though I am still light years away from the orderly bilingual glossaries, the neat notes and the artsy mind maps I am envisioning, I am happy to take on this new challenge.

In the end, the activities that cost the most effort are usually the ones of which you will reap the most benefit. No effort is made in vain … at least this is what I tell myself to keep going 🙂




Studiare abroad: Habits

My first bilingual post! (I’m sorry in advance)

“Habits” non è solamente la mia canzone preferita by Tove Lo, ma è anche un concetto sul quale I have been reflecting quite a bit since I started my semestre abroad a Roma.

Why is it that a periodo, which causes you to interrupt your usual routine and slip on another life like a glove, is so adattissimo per adottare nuovi habits?

It is a chance to start over, to meet people senza idea of your emotional baggage, your story, your reputation. Magari è anche la possibility per fare tutto quello che non farai mai più, oppure quello che non hai mai dared to do.

But, as a language enthusiast, I knew che c’era quasi l’obbligo di embrace some habits that were beneficial to my field of study. All’inizio del periodo all’estero you establish a new routine, a new everyday life – and it has never been so easy to trick yourself into doing something giovevole.

Not going to lie: it is equally tempting and easy to adopt bizarre abitudini come eating three jars of marmelade per week (don’t ask, please).

Comunque però, sono arrivata al punto in cui ogni mattina scarico il mio preferito podcast italiano, e lo ascolto mentre mi sto preparando per leaving the house. When I come home, I pass some time scrolling through the news in either of my working languages and I each day I religiously type out the new vocabulary I acquired during my day at university and all over the city.

But, infatti, every day is good enough to adottare nuovi habits – you might have to work a little bit harder on integrating them into your daily life when you’re at home, but it’s worthwhile!! Ve lo prometto 🙂




Are interpreters real people?

While researching literature on Interpreting Didactics, I read Eva Paneth’s Master’s thesis from 1956, the very first academic paper on Interpreting and Interpreter Training.

I love stumbling upon quotes that make me think or that bring up a point I have never considered before. Eva Paneth’s “investigation into conference interpreting” did not disappoint in this respect.

In the section that caught my eye she revisits the discussion about whether interpreting and translation skills should be a part of undergraduate studies; a question still pertinent for today’s curricular design.

This problem is linked to the question of whether “very young people” should jump headfirst into an interpreting program without having acquired another field-specific education, e.g. as lawyers, doctors or journalists.

Paneth summarizes the dilemma as follows:

“The danger for very young people [is that they] will remain mouthpieces from whom pours vocabulary; and secondly that being mouthpieces so young and so continuously they will not have the chance to develop into real people. “(Paneth, 1957: 137)

“Wait, could that be the problem with me?!” – was my immediate reaction.

Did I just encounter a convenient explanation for any interpreting student’s quarter-life-crisis?

Ultimately, I concluded that Paneth’s notion derived from entirely different premises. In the 1950-s, the professionalization of the interpreter’s profession was still under way.

Nowadays, an interpreting student, no matter how young, having paid attention during theoretical lectures on interpreting studies and communicational theory MUST develop a healthier and more concrete sense of self.

I should hope that interpreting students would identify not only as (future) experts on their working languages, but also on culture, inter-and transcultural communication, mediation and, most importantly, on the complex and demanding interpreting techniques.

In my opinion, it would be nothing but ridiculous and short-sighted to consider a “very young” interpreter exhibiting all these skills merely a “mouthpiece”.

Of course, whether the academic path chosen at a young age corresponds best to one’s talents and visions is another question; but assuming it was an appropriate choice, young interpreters in today’s world surely do not only have the chance to develop into real people, but into nothing short of a multi-faceted superheroes! 😉

Are you listening correctly?

“There are many ways of listening to a speech. We may listen to a voice, to its music, its color, consider its beauty or harshness, or else we may single out an accent and try to guess at the origin or cultural background of a speaker”

For interpreting, the type of listening we employ has to be an entirely different one, since it is crucial to extract meaning from the uttered words.

While it sounds perfectly logical, this passage in Danica Seleskovitch’s “Teaching Conference Interpreting”* oddly resonated with me – maybe because it explains a problem I have encountered various times without being able to pinpoint it!

Language-enthusiastic interpreting students might focus too much on HOW something is being said, instead of paying attention to WHAT is being said:

“Students of interpretation have often been trained previously in translating languages; they frequently have a way of listening that is therefore difficult to get rid of: they listen to language, to words, instead of trying to understand what a speaker has in mind when uttering a word sequence.”

Having read this sentence, I wanted to burst into affirmations!

How often have I admired the steady rumble of a broad American accent, traced the delicate, metaphoric loops produced by an Italian native speaker, or listened to Russian proverbs being artistically incorporated into an otherwise mundane discourse: all without paying too much attention to what was being said.

Ideally, the interpreter would wait, pen poised, for the first meaningful unit to be uttered like a predator lurking for prey!


*Seleskovich Danica (1999) The Teaching of Conference Interpretation in the Course of the Last 50 Years. Interpreting 4 (1), 55-66.


What is "active reading"?

Active reading takes an important place in language learning and in maintaining your language skills, as this strategy helps us read more effectively!

We do not only skim through a text, instead we actively integrate new espressions into our vocabulary and try to understand the text completely, so that we will be able to memorize its content.

The more we practice active reading, the better! But what does it include at all? I came up with the following four steps and  used this Russian text for this specific exercise.

1. Read a text passage and underline all the new words and expressions you’d like to memorize. 2. Make a list of your new words and find definitions for them. 3. Re-read the text, highlighting the key phrases.  4. Note down the key words and concepts that would help you summarize each paragraph orally.