learning to speak with my hands

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Gli Italiani parlono con le mani. Italians speak with their hands. When I was looking for Italian language resources, I kept coming across the book Speak Italian by Italian artist, Bruno Munari. It’s a compilation of a series photographs depicting Italian gestures along with the explanation of what they mean.

I also came across an English-speaking Italian newspaper article talking about Italian gestures: “In this country, speaking without gestures is like writing without punctuation. Hands are commas, exclamation points, and question marks. Words are stale without them.”

The author goes on to capture an exchange with a native speaker: “Are you capable of talking without your hands?” I teased. She put her floury palms on her hips, and answered me, peppery as usual. “Why would I want to? To be like English speakers and lack conviction? They speak from their mouths only. Italians don’t just talk with our hands, we talk with our whole bodies. We step into speech.”

It’s hard to have a lot of conviction when you’re first learning how to speak a language. You say a lot of really bizarre, idiotic things. I remember in Argentina I was asking someone in a store to show me a pair of sandals and used the word for watermelon instead since they sound similar. You just have to laugh at yourself when you’re learning a language.

I suppose in Italian it doesn’t matter so much what you’re saying but how you’re saying it. If you’re going to bother to say something then say it with conviction!

And your hands.

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