Bilingualism: The Best Gift of All

Guest post by by Martha Miller

This week the wonderful author Martha Miller has shared her Italian story with us. Martha and her Husband, John sold everything and moved to Italy! How many of us would be that brave?

They were searching for adventure, but also the desire to feel settled in their community. To have a truly authentic experience not touristic one. So off they went!

I love this story and am slightly jealous we haven’t done this yet!

Credit: Rochelle Del Borrello

Over to Martha,

My husband and I had our mid-life crisis early. We quit our jobs, gave away our stuff and moved to Italy when we were 38 and 43 years old. We didn’t speak Italian, didn’t have any close friends or family, and didn’t have new jobs to show up for. We did have one thing though, we called it the 21-Month Plan.  

John had decided to go back to school, and to study International Affairs. That decision was the catalyst that made us realize we could, actually should move abroad. It would take 21-months for John to graduate and it was a goal that would give us some stability and a home base. 

I planned to go to school too — intensive Italian classes. I wanted to learn to speak Italian well and saw it as my new full-time job. I thought if I learned the language quickly, I could get a job to supplement our now non-existent income. Also I wanted to begin conversing right away with our neighbors, shopkeepers and anyone else I might meet.

Well, if there was ever a time I overestimated my ability, this was it. Before moving to Rome, John and I took six weeks of night classes in Beginning Italian. I was absolutely giddy about moving to Italy and just knew with this start I’d pick up the language easily by living and studying in the country. Wrong!

On the first day of intensive Italian, we covered everything from the six weeks of Beginning Italian in the first hour! By the end of class, it was apparent that the other students, a mix from a half dozen countries, were all bilingual which gave them a huge advantage. They spoke their native language: Spanish, German, Polish, Swedish or another language along with English. Yes, they ALL spoke English fluently. That impressed the heck out of me. And then there was Steven, who was learning Italian as his 8th language! What had I been doing all my life? 

The first week wasn’t too bad, the teacher was very patient, but I could see a divide forming. The other students seemed to be having fun in class, laughing and understanding the instructor. I didn’t understand anything the instructor said, and pretended to know what was funny. I was actually petrified of being called on which didn’t help matters. Every day I’d leave class determined to study harder. 

John and me Venice Piazza San Marco.jpeg

I did my homework and practiced conversational sentences to use when shopping, which worked pretty well. But in the classroom, it was a different story. I tried everything to boost my confidence and comprehension. I bought a used television to watch talk shows, news, and U.S. tv shows dubbed in Italian. I read “stupid magazines,” in Italian as one storeowner suggested. John and I attended Italian Mass and Italian movies, and even eavesdropped on conversations to try to pick up pieces of the language here and there.

As days and weeks passed, my fellow students sailed past me because they all knew at least one other language well. The two semesters of French I struggled through in college didn’t help much.

I stayed in the intensive language school for too long because I had prepaid for sixteen weeks. Finally, I dropped out and switched to a less-intensive language school that met only once a week. Whewwww! That was a relief but I didn’t improve much. 

Fortunately, over the 21-months I gained a certain grasp of the language. With what I call Shopping Italian, I could buy anything anywhere and make my needs or wants understood. I eventually became friends with the vendors so I didn’t get as nervous talking with them as I did in class.

John and I have repatriated and now live in San Antonio, Texas. We have a son in middle school who is in his second year of Spanish. It is widely believed, and we know from our experience, that it is much easier to learn a second language as a child than later in life. We're encouraging Nate to become bilingual so he won't have as much difficulty as we did.

Millers Rome View.jpeg

I would love for Nate to learn Italian, but he’s starting with Spanish because it is offered in school and spoken throughout our city, which will give him more chances to use it. Also, there are 20 countries in the world where Spanish is the official language. How empowering to hop on a plane to a foreign country and be able to converse when he lands. I’ve heard that once one Romance language is learned the others come easily.  

As all parents do, we want to see our child succeed in life and more importantly to be happy. I feel a responsibility to ensure Nate is bilingual before he gets to adulthood. If we can do this one thing for him, it will be a gift that will bring him connections with others and opportunities he would never have. It will broaden his life like nothing else we could ever give him. 

Nate may not have to wait too long to see the perks of being bilingual. We’re getting the itch for another adventure, 


Martha Miller is the author or Times New Roman: How We Quit Our Jobs, Gave Away Our Stuff & Moved to Italy. It is available on Amazon and from your favorite bookseller. 

Find Martha here:

Martha Miller

C: 210.667.8900

Author of Times New Roman: How We Quit Our Jobs, Gave Away Our Stuff & Moved to Italy

Available on Amazon B&N  Book People The Twig Fountain Bookstore Elliott Bay Book Co.


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