Until I began studying Italian, I never realized how lucky we are to have the word THE in English. So easy to use.... the [insert ANY noun in the english language here], done. People know exactly what you're talking about. French adds a layer of complexity because, of course, the nouns have gender so one can no longer use one all purpose definite article, enter le and la and, for use before vowels, l' (for both genders). Not bad, not bad. As a bonus in french, when a noun is plural, BOTH genders use the definite article les. Now we come to Italian:
lo: masculine, singular nouns starting with s+consonant OR z
l': masculine or feminine singular nouns starting with a vowel
il: masculine, singular nous starting with any other consonant
la: feminine, singular nouns starting with any consonant
gli: masculine, plural nouns starting with any vowel OR s+consonant OR Z
i: masculine, plural nouns starting with any other consonant
le: all feminine plural nouns
Phew. But the party is just getting started. These definite articles when used in conjunction with certain prepositions: con(with), su(on), in(thankfully, in), da(from, by), di(from, of) combine to make new words so for example if one wishes to state the baby is sleeping in the bed, one does not say: La bimba dorma in il letto, rather one says: La bimba dorma nel letto - because in + il combine to make a new word nel. So, a few more examples in case I haven't bored everybody away yet:
di + gli = degli
in + lo = nello
su + i = sui
etc. (or, as they say in Italian, e cose via).
These word combinations are, in part, what makes Italian such a beautiful, lyrical language to listen to (it also helps that so many words end in vowels which gives the language a sing song quality). It's impressively exacting to have a specific definite article for a multitude of vocabulistic scenarios. English is often limiting in that way, for example vocabulistic is not actually a word. Italians have the exact right article for every occassion, one would expect nothing less from a country that has the exact right form and stamp for every occassion. However from the standpoint of a foreigner trying to learn the language it's paralyzing. As I go about my day trying to express important sentiments like "the baby is in the bed" or "the cat is in the tree" or "the incessantly barking dog next door is getting on my nerves", I must first remember the gender of each word, then chose the correct definite article, then remember how it combines with the preposition (assuming of course I have remembered the correct preposition) and it becomes absolutely paralyzing. I actually know far more Italian than I speak because I keep getting tongue tied in the details.
So, I've come to the conclusion that the only way forward for me is to stop sweating the details. I am picking one indefinite article for each gender and using them because I have to get out of this linguistic hole I am trapped in so that I can work on wider issues like... my limited vocabulary, the fact that I only know six verb tenses, the fact that I am STILL referring to myself in the third person occasionally. I have to just start speaking the language without worrying too much about the details.
This kind of segues to a more general topic which has been on my mind lately which is the trade-off between perfectionism and, well, just getting stuff done. A continuum exists with a perfectionist who never finishes anything on one extreme and mistake-maker who gets a multitude of things "accomplished" on the other end. I probably am too far towards the latter end of this continuum. Whenever I interview people and ask them that tired, hackneyed question "What's your grestest weakness?" (note to self, STOP asking that question, it is irritating beyond belief and never yields anything enlightening.) I always cringe when the person inevitably tells me "Well, I'm a perfectionist and sometimes I get too caught up in the details." The cynic in me always thinks 'Hmmm, a perfectionist eh? Tell me what it is you SHOULD be getting done but aren't?' (or maybe it's the jealous person in my who wishes she was more detail oriented).
I guess there are times to be a detail-oriented perfectionist and times to just let things slide for the sake of getting things done.
Hmmm this has been a fairly lengthy post that is probably not of much interest to anyone but myself (why should this post be any different :) ). It is just me trying to learn Italian but also trying to figure out what kind of a person I am going to be when I return to my job (which will be a very different job than the one I left due to changes in my company), am a mommy and a runner... yup, I have to say it feels very intimidating to me (though I have been heartened by the people I have met online and IRL who seem to just be DOING it).
Anyway, there you have it.