Being an immigrant that doesn’t speak the adoptive country’s tongue, it was very difficult for Italians to adjust to the new world. Although some English words were rooted in Latin, the mixture with Germanic rooted words made it hard to grip the guttural nuances of the English tongue.
Reading English was just as difficult as speaking or understanding the English language, and once again: the Italian immigrant was at a distinctive disadvantage. Today that seems to have changed for the better, as the influx of Spanish speaking immigrants are getting a leg up on English through their own language.
Mom told me a story a few times about the time my Grandmother, Mom’s mother-in-law can down with an illness, and was taken to the doctor for help by her two daughters. The doctor diagnosed the ailment and gave Grandma a prescription to take to the pharmacy.
Two weeks later Grandma was not feeling any better, and in fact was so sick of being sick, she decided to visit Mom with the prescription to see if things were the way they were supposed to be. She handed Mom the prescription bottle and asked her to read the bottle and to tell her what it said. Mom took the bottle and read it. “Take a teaspoon twice a day.”
Grandma got agitated and asked in Italian: “CHE COSA!?” So Mom read it again to her. Now Grandma is really agitated (agita) and tells my mother that her two daughters were giving her 2 tablespoons of the stuff, twice a day. It was a wonder she was still alive!
Of course Mom had to laugh at the whole thing, but the two daughters who were raised in American schools, never finished grade school, having to go off to work during the great depression.