To know the art of language is to know the art of civilization.
Conversational Italian at Gila Community College is part language, part culture. Mario Belvedere, a Sicilian, is the enthusiastic teacher.
"If we look at culture intelligently, it's about where you are from, the melting pot, the meeting point," Belvedere said.
The Northern Normans stopped in Polermo. They were tall, red-haired, perhaps viewed as barbarians. Still, they mixed with Sicilians, who had already mixed with other cultures, Belvedere said.
"If we don't love the multicultural, we are lost," he added.
Students' questions sparked Belvedere to intermingle brief history lessons with proper grammar.
For instance: The stress goes on the first syllable in Italian.
Thus, M o d e n a, is pronounced ‘Mo den a.' The e and a are the short vowels in the name of the land that produces balsamic vinegar. Bugatti, Ferrari and Maserati sports car factories are located in or near modern Modena. It was the birthplace of Luciano Pavarotti.
"Modena is a very small, rich, noble city. In the 1600s and 1700s, it was governed by powerful people connected to the Borgias," Belvedere said.
A discussion of the preposition "Da," which means "from" leads to a discussion of Vinci, a small town near Florence and its famous painter Leonardo.
"There are many Italians so famous they are known only by first names," Belvedere said.
Michelangelo's name sounds like ‘Meekalangelo' when Belvedere pronounces it.
"Michelangelo's last name was Buonarroti, meaning ‘good wheels'. His grandfather or father was possibly a wheel maker," Belvedere said.
"Any time we have a conversation, we have to ask a question," Belvedere said.
Indeed, wanting more questions answered is why LaVon and James Milano are taking the class.
"We fell in love with the language when were in Italy. We want to be able to write to relatives and speak the language when we visit them next spring," LaVon said.
"Latin is the mother tongue," Belvedere said. Five Romance languages stem from Latin -- Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, French and Italian.
Italian will be student Adriana Spurlock's third language. She speaks Spanish and English.
"I thought Italian would be easy, but although some words are the same, the verbs are totally different," she said.
"Grazie" is a word people may recognize as "gracias" in Spanish and "thank you" in English.
"We are lax in our English and don't realize it. In European countries, people are a little more formal and when you make an attempt to communicate in their language, they appreciate you trying," Carol Osman-Brown said. She and her husband Bing Brown took Italian I and II.
At the beginning of Italian I, Belvedere gave his students several paragraphs written in Italian and asked them to interpret what they thought the words were. He uses this
translation as a benchmark, so the students and he can assess how far they have come at the end of the course.
Travelers to the country that resembles a boot find their own benchmark.
When the Browns traveled around Italy this summer, they said when they were lost or had a problem, often a group of people, a shopkeeper and passersby, would gather and take their time to help or give directions.
Belvedere gives students the tools of looking at things in their context.
Bing said he is not fluent in Italian, but learning the words in their context made it easier for him to understand signs, newspapers and stores -- in not only Italy, but Spain, Portugal and France, as well.
"Payson is a small town, but there are people in an age bracket to have the time and funds to travel and I would like to see the college offer more language classes," Carol said.