Interview with Melissa la studentessa matta!

Ciao! Sono Melissa la studentessa matta – the crazy student of Italian! In college I studied painting and Art History in Florence. Regretting I didn’t learn the language well at the time, about fifteen years ago I began to self teach myself Italian. Now I celebrate the study of Italian language and culture through theStudentessa Matta Project. I write a blog in Italian called Diario di una Studentessa Matta( to exercise and flex linguistic skills and offer encouragement to other language learners. The blog explores all aspects of Italian culture and current events in a light and humorous way. Also featured on the blog are learning tips, websites, videos & articles that are helpful to obtaining fluency.

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I love learning Italian because not only do I find the process fun, but also because the people I meet during my language journey make it very rewarding. Now when I jump off a plane in Italy I have actual conversations with locals, and believe me, I am happy to talk to anyone who will give me the time and day! Take for instance, the cab driver who picked me up from the Rome airport last September. By initiating a conversation with him in Italian I discovered that he is a musician and plans on going to Sanremo – Italy’s big music festival. Suddenly he was telling me his hopes and ambitions and then paused and asked if he could play some of his music for me. Before I could blink an eye he was popping in a music CD and singing to me in Italian. By the way, being serenaded by a handsome Italian man is not a bad way to experience Rome!

I can’t seem to get enough of “il bel paese”. After my first taste of Italy during my college days, I simply had to go back and over the course of many years I have returned quite a few times! It is hard to say which is my favorite part of Italy, as each region offers something unique regarding food, customs and even dialects. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Florence, but I also love exploring new areas. One of my favorite places to start my visits is Rome. I feel quite at home in the piazza del Popolo and in Trastevere and can walk about the city for hours. Along the northern coast in Liguria I have hiked the paths of the cinque terreand spent time in la Spezia, Lerici and Portevenere. Traveling further south, I have driven the twisting highway along the Amalfi coast, discovering towns like Praiano, Amalfi, Positano and Ravello. Striking off into the heart of Tuscany I have motored all over Tuscany and Chianti stopping in the picturesque villages of Val d’Orcia, Arezzo, Cortana Bagno Vignoni and Pienza – where by the way the I had the best “ribollita” I have ever tasted! Working my way toward Lago di Garda, I have spent time in Verona, Mantova and Parma as well as in Bardolino and Venezia. In Umbria I have slept in a ducal palace in Gubbio and tasted Sagrantino wines in Montafalco. If Florence is my first home in Italy, then Locorotondo in Puglia is my second. After hosting an Italian student from the “heel of Italy’s boot” I have become quite familiar with the lovely little town sitting high on a hill over looking the Itria valley. In Puglia I have explored from Bari in the north all the way to Lecce in the Salento, where I have set up house in a Masseria AND a Trullo. In the Basilicata I have lunched in a monastery in Maratea, taken a zip line called the “flight of the Angeli” in Castelmezzano, and then slept as a rock in the “sassi” in Matera.

My language skills have greatly improved not only through my travel experiences, but through the enjoyment of great Italian food as well! You would be surprised how much you can learn during the preparation and the consuming of delicious meals in Italy. Conversations seem to flow more smoothly over tables ladened with bowls of pasta and grammar is much better understood with a glass of wine in your hand! I have made “sarde in saor” in Venezia and “taralli” & “orechiette” in Puglia, and have sampled delicious regional specialties from everywhere in between! Some of my favorite Italian words describe my favorite foods. Take for example the word “tiramisu”. Literally translated it means “pick me up”! The cake is made from coffee, chocolate and marscapone cheese and if that weren’t enough to get you going, it’s name commands you to get energized! Another food related work that I like is “sfogliatelle” which means “a flaky pastry”. Very similar to that is “sfogliare” which means “to turn pages”. Just saying this word makes me think of the rustling sound of pages rubbing together. The letter combinations “sf” and “gli” are delightful for this “straniera” to say. I also like the word “baci” which means “kiss” and which is also the name of my favorite Italian chocolate from Perugina. Other wonderful words that seem to trip of the tongue are  “crostata” a jam filled pastry, “bombolone” a cream filled doughnut and “bocconotti” a cream filled pastry. But I confess, my all time favorite Italian word is “arzigogolato” which has nothing to do with food, but rather refers to something that is elaborate and convoluted. It is a great adjective to describe Baroque art, and although it is not food related, the word “arzigogolato” is a delectable word to say because it fills your mouth completely with all it’s juicy consonants and vowels and doesn’t make you gain an ounce!

Because I love learning the language, traveling and eating in Italia, three years ago I began to organize Matta Language and Cultural trips to Italy. The trips are designed for those who want to dive beneath the surface and use their the language in a fun and meaningful way. With my Italian partners (language schools, private language instructors and event planners) we strive to create unique learning experiences that delight the senses, inspire adventure and which help accelerate Italian language skills. We create opportunities for participants to meet and talk with pastry makers, cooks, olive oil producers and wine makers, as well as visit with the locals as we explore Italy together. I invite you to come along to Lucca June 1-12 and in Arezzo August 23-30. Who knows you might even get the chance to meet Lucrezia too as she might be putting in a special appearance!



Join me also for a new monthly Podcast called “Italian Talk for Lovers of the Language” that I have begun recording with Cher Hale of the Iceberg Project. This month we talk about Valentine’s Day and Lucrezia is our special Italian guest! So, stop by the blog, say hi and listen to the podcast. You can also find me on twitter @italiamelissa. On Facebook at and on the Matta blog Please contact me if you are interested in coming on one of the next Matta Language trips!
As with any journey, how you travel and with whom you travel can be more important than the destination. Learning Italian is like that as well. Be creative in your “apprendimento della lingua” or the learning of the language, take your time, enjoy the journey…and I hope to meet you along the way!
Thank you Melissa for the lovely guest post!
Make sure you check out her blog if you do not know her already, she is amazing!


  1. It’s wonderful to learn more about Melissa! She has introduced me to many more ways to dive into Italian! (Duolingo especially!). Cher Hale, Melissa and you have become my favorite parts of the week…just to read up and learn more about Italian and italy. Grazie mille!

  2. Ciao Lucrezia! eccomi Melissa – The Studentessa Matta! I am so happy to contribute to your Italian language learning blog. I think what you are doing is amazing! I love your energy and passion for teaching and how you have found a fun and exciting way to share your love of the Italian language through your videos & blog. Grazie per l’opportunità di scrivere un guest post per te! Sono molto felice di averti incontrato su internet e spero di conoscerti in persona in Italia! Un abbraccio!

  3. Studying in Florence is a good start not only to experience the best of the artistic in Italy but also to learn fluent Italian. Florence as well as being one of the most important capitals of art in the world is also the birthplace of the true Italian language, thanks to people like the great poet Dante.

  4. Italian – beautiful language, but the best way to learn it – visit unforgettable Italy and be surprised to find that in a week you are starting to talk to this melodious language. Do not waste your time, plan your trip to Rome, Florence and Venice, and learn Italian at its own home.

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