My Story

I remember the shock of landing in London.

It was a week after my 20th birthday. I’d visited before, but this time it was different. A one-way ticket.

It was supposed to be an adventure – a new life in a different country, but suddenly it seemed like a huge mistake.

What have I done?

When it got beyond the basic phrases – I didn’t understand what anyone was saying.

They were speaking English, but it sounded nothing like the language I had studied in school.

Neither could they understand me and my Italian accent.

It carried on for weeks. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, at times.

It was bad enough trying to communicate, but the cultural difference made it even worse.

I felt lost, more times than not, and homesick for my family in Sardinia. But I kept pushing, kept talking – and I learned a valuable lesson.

Language is not just about teaching and tests … it’s about engaging with the culture.

The weeks turned into months, then years. I bounced back to Italy for a while, but I’d fallen in love with the English language and the people who spoke it.

I was drawn back to the UK, and a few years later,  married Philip, an Englishman.

Overnight, the challenge was reversed. He wanted a closer connection with my roots and my language.

We tried speaking Italian at home, but it wasn’t working.

Philip enrolled in courses and even hired private tutors. They were good, but I knew how hard it was to learn a new language.

I had done it as a student, and that was bad enough. He was doing it in his spare time – after work and taking care of our family.

I loved his dedication, when I looked at the exercise books he was using, and I could see the problem.

They were tedious.

It came to a head one evening. I was making dinner. Philip and our daughter Chiara were at the kitchen table. He was trying to complete his Italian homework in time for his next lesson.

He was yawning.

Chiara was sitting opposite him, playing with a word search.

And then it hit me: Philip was bored… Chiara was having fun…

Could there be a way to turn his learning Italian into something playful?

What if I created a puzzle book for people who were learning Italian? Students would not only have fun, but they would also learn as they played.

And then the doubts hit me:

Italian learners won’t be interested in a puzzle book. If they’re serious about it, they will want something more formal, like a grammar or exercise book.

Serious. That was a word that didn’t match fun.

But a little voice inside me was saying: go on, try it.

The first thing I did was to learn how to create a word search.

It took a bit of experimenting, but I did it!

I printed it and I even searched for the words myself inside the grid. 

That was fun, and scary.

And then I created my first crossword.

It was exciting – a way for me to share my love of my country and culture, but that didn’t stop the doubts.

Am I doing anything useful? Can I say that I’m helping people learn Italian, when I have no teaching qualifications? Am I good enough?

There was only one way to find out: I decided to share my first puzzles with five people who were learning Italian.

I waited in trepidation…

They loved them.

They said they were different, original and fun.

And they wanted more…

And then I got it.

It didn’t matter that I had no qualifications. I wasn’t really trying to teach Italian in a way that takes you from a to b.

There were other people who could do that.

All I wanted was to inject a droplet of fun into the Italian learning experience.

The idea was to learn as you played.

And as you played, you forgot that you were learning.

So I went ahead and published my first Italian puzzle book.

And then the second.

And the books started to sell. Slowly, but steadily.

I recently reached my first baby milestone: 2,000 copies sold!

The feedback has been wonderful. People tell me how much fun they’re having and how much they are learning.

How they play with my puzzles as an alternative to watching TV, or do them as a family activity.

How they impress their friends by using uncommon Italian words they picked up from the puzzles.

How some of the words they learnt bring memories of their Italian Nonna.

And so on…

I’ve come a long way from the arrivals lounge at Heathrow airport, and it’s a joy to help others on their own journey.

Thanks for reading,

Martina

Thank You.

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