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EDINBURGH (LifeSiteNews) –– “I’m going to Rome for work,” I told my new Italian teacher in her native language. We examined her schedule, and she said she’d keep me abreast of what the class does while I am away. The class is C1, the second-highest level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and I was nervous when I signed up, thinking that all the other students would leave me in the linguistic polvere.  

Fortunately, this turned out not to be true, thanks to many years of work with a tutor and my current discipline of listening to Italian every day. And thanks to the internet, there has never been a better opportunity for learners to access a variety of amusing and engaging materials in our target languages. It is a far cry from my schooldays, when teachers taught as if children could achieve fluency simply by taking classes, doing homework, and writing tests.  

When I utterly failed the conversation section of a high school Italian competition, I felt utterly humiliated. I did not know that to be good at Italian conversation you have to have conversations with Italian-speakers, or at very least to listen to Italian conversations all the time. It was the same deal with French, I now realize: the time allotted to the study of French in non-immersion school programs was simply not enough to produce French-speakers.  

Happily, I didn’t give up forever. After university, I remastered my high school textbook and—crucially—found an excellent set of Italian language cassettes. There was no English on them. Instead, they presented several hours of conversations involving an engineer, Giorgio Ferrante, his secretary, his boss Sandra, Swiss hotel personnel, and a craft business rival. I also found myself speaking Italian at work in an office in Hamilton, Ontario, which is a very long story possibly covered by the Official Secrets Act. And finally, as I wrote some weeks ago, I went to Italy for the first time, a nice reward for all this labor.   

RELATED: The unexpected way I found God during a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica 

Twenty-five years later, I am reasonably fluent in Italian, which is not something one could have predicted the very first time I turned up in a language class. I was six and, inspired by the beautiful photo of the Duomo in Florence on the cover of one of my parents’ books, asked if I could join the Italian “heritage language” class. When I turned up, I discovered that all the other children already spoke Italian (or some dialect thereof) and that the teacher didn’t know what to do with monolingual me. Her method, alas, was to ignore me until I stopped attending.   

It was an inauspicious start, but decades of never quite quitting have paid off. A half-formed child’s dream became a reality in the end. It speaks to the power of persistence over entrenched mistakes, neglect, and even discouragement. Great oaks from little acorns grow, as they say. And this brings me back to the fact that I am going to Rome for work, which is to say, to be at the Rome Life Forum.  

The Rome Life Forum will be a place where I very much hope the little acorns of attendees’ ideas will be sown, so that they may grow into mighty oaks that will shelter generations of Christians as times grow very bad. As we read in the daily news, there are entrenched mistakes in the Church and society that need to be confronted and countered. There are virtues that have been neglected, and good people who are being ignored. And, finally, there is a terrible temptation towards discouragement. Many people would like nothing better than for pro-life, pro-family, pro-faith people to be discouraged. I would not be surprised if they’re creating a dicastery for it. 

RELATED: Come for the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage, stay for the Rome Life Forum 

Fortunately, we’re too tough to give in to despair, and I’m looking forward to meeting many of us stubborn souls at the Rome Life Forum. If you would like to go yourselves, please have a look at the pages. Ci vediamo a Roma! 

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.