Italian for beginners

PAUL Merton performed a sketch in his early 1990s show for Channel 4 (now available on YouTube – I’d recommend the cat’s dream sequence skit if I could remember which episode it was in) in which he attempts to learn French using an audio cassette.

Merton: I’ve heard they’re building a branch line of the Channel Tunnel through here, so I thought it was time I learned a European language.
French cassette voice: Je voudrais utiliser votre garage… Can I use your garage?
Merton: Can I use your garage? (pause) I reckon I’ll be fluent in a week.

I think Merton would have enjoyed the Spike Milligan-esque levels of spiralling surrealism in the press conference that followed Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Juventus in the Europa League last night.

It started straightforwardly enough. Juventus coach Luigi Del Neri emerged first, with a female English interpreter to translate his comments from Italian for the benefit of useless hacks like me who wouldn’t have a clue what he was saying otherwise.

Del Neri told us that he was happy with a draw, that Manchester City have some good players and that Roberto Mancini is the right man to lead them to success, while his interpreter faithfully took notes and then translated all of this into English.

Then the Juventus coach departed, and Roberto Mancini entered the room with his own interpreter, who will occasionally translate questions into Italian for him if he is struggling to understand them. But the first interpreter stuck around, and continued to translate Mancini’s answers for the benefit of the Italian reporters present.

Most of the questions put to the City manager were asked in English. Mancini is still picking up the language after nine months at Eastlands, but he can get by in a press conference.

And so we had a situation where a native Italian spoke in his best English, before a native Englishwoman translated his words into her best Italian. It was starting to feel like a particularly weird challenge from The Generation Game.

It got better as, inevitably, confusion set in – culminating in a wonderful exchange when BBC Radio Manchester’s Ian Cheeseman asked about Jerome Boateng’s fitness in English, Mancini answered in English and the interpreter then translated it . . . into English:

Cheeseman: How’s Jerome Boateng?
Mancini: He’s, er, he’s tired. It’s normal.
Cheeseman: Did he pick up a knock?
Mancini: No, no, no. He’s only tired. It’s important he finish a game without problem. Only tired.
Interpreter: He said he’s simply tired. He wasn’t injured. Simply tired. It’s important that he gets over the tiredness.

As Merton might have said, I reckon I’ll be fluent in a week.

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