Learning Italian. Where do you begin?

Learn Some Nouns

You want to learn how to speak Italian but not sure where to begin? Well, a good start would be to learn as many nouns (names of things) as you can. In my Absolute Beginner Classes I also like to expose students to some Italian grammar. Learning grammar gives you a much better understanding of the language and gets you speaking a lot quicker than learning phrases. Exposing students to grammar doesn’t mean they should be memorising and mastering what you teach them in an instance. It just means they have seen the word or the rules and from that point on, each time they are re-exposed to it they may learn and remember a little more. Remembering what is learnt comes with practice by doing exercises, and it takes time.

Essere and Avere Verbs

There are two ‘verbs’ (doing words) in Italian that are taught in the Absolute Beginner course and I am going to write a little explanation on how to learn and use them. While rote learning may be a little old school, it may be a good way to memorise them, but if you have a method that suits you more then you should stick to it.

In Italian, we have verbs just like in English. Only in English, we don’t change the verbs 6 times to suit the person or object doing the action, or the person we are speaking about who is doing the action, like we do in Italian.

To construct a sentence we use lots of words and grammar. A sentence like :

‘The boy is beautiful’. 

‘Il ragazzo e` bello’.

This simple sentence is made by adding a noun + verb + adjective …..or in simple terms subject + doing word + describing word)


So firstly you should learn your ‘subject pronouns’  (the subject of your sentence – who you are speaking about):

Here are the subject pronouns (meaning the person or thing doing the action).

I - io

You - tu

He/She/It - Lui, Lei, esso/a

We - noi

You all - voi

They - loro


Essere (to be) and Avere (to have) are the first two verbs we learn as Absolute Beginners

So the verbs Essere and Avere in English are used like this



io sono -I am

tu sei - you are

tui/lei/it e` - he/she is   (notice the verb has changed 3 times already   am, are, is)

noi siamo - we are

voi siete - you all are

loro sono - they are

example sentences:

I am Italian - Io sono italiano

you are French - tu sei francese

he/she is Australian - lui/lei e` australiano  

we are Italian – noi siamo italiani

you all are Italian – voin siete italiani

they are Italian - loro sono italiani

AVERE – (TO HAVE) works the same way.

I have a child - io ho un figlio  (pronounced fi-li-yoh)

You have a child - tu hai un figlio

He/she/it has a child - lui/lei/esso ha un figlio

We have a child – noi abbiamo un figlio

You all have a child – voi avete un figlio

They have a child – loro hanno un figlio

These are very simple sentences, but if you have a few Italian nouns up your sleeve, then you can already start to make simple sentences.


The problem most students face when learning verbs is they get confused when the ‘subject pronoun’ (the person or thing doing the action), is replaced with a name.

For example:

He is beautiful – Lui e` bello

Gianni is beautiful – Gianni e` bello (He = Gianni)

Or a little more complex is when you are speaking with someone asking them questions and they have to answer changing the verb so it all makes sense.

For example:

Question: Do you have a child? - Hai un figlio?

Answer: Yes I have a child. - Si, ho un figlio.

Question: Does Chiara have a child? – Chiara ha un figlio?

Answer: Yes, Chiara has a child – Si, Chiara ha un figlio.

Note how the verb ‘have’ in the English sentences hasn’t changed , but in the Italian sentences it has because it is agreeing with the person in the sentence who is doing the action.


This is a very basic explanation and joining classes can be very helpful and would be the next step for anyone wanting to learn ‘la dolce lingua’. While phrases may be fun to learn, they are very limiting when trying to have a conversation. I always remind my students that they must walk before they run! So start your learning journey by building your Italian vocabulary and slowly but surely the language will all start to come together.

FREE Pasqua Activity Printout for Kids

Children’s 'Pasqua" (Easter) Activities

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Pasqua in Italy is based heavily on religion. In this FREE 4 page printout I created you can read a simple and easy explanation of Easter in Italy to your children and fill in the activities with them. Building your child's Italian vocabulary is a fantastic start for them if they want to learn Italian, and mixing it with learning about some of the Italian culture and traditions is a perfect combination. Does your little one know that the Easter Bunny doesn't exist in Italy? Italian children still eat chocolate Easter eggs. The egg is a symbol of 'new life', and they usually have a 'sorpresa' (surprise) in them. 

Enjoy this FREE 4 page Easter activity printout and build your child's Italian vocabulary. BUONA PASQUA A TUTTI !

Pasqua in Italia.pdf

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Easter Fiadone Recipe

Fiadone Cake - Easter Ricotta Cake

This morning I woke up really early with the urge to bake a couple of traditional Italian Easter cakes. There's nothing I like more than to rise before the sun and bake while our bambini are still snuggled up in bed asleep. I'm pretty certain they love waking up to the smell of a freshly baked crostata or biscotti too. We love a little 'sweetness' for breakfast in our home. It's one of those 'Italian' things.

Our kids aren't too fussed on 'La Pastiera Napoletana', so I made them a 'Crostata di Nutella' instead. I'll be sure to share the recipe one day soon. But for now lets talk Easter...

Here are the ingredients for a Fiadone cake my beautiful mother in law handed down to me about 20 years ago when we temporarily lived in the in laws home in Italy before getting our own apartment. She would make it every Easter. I don't pretend to be a cookbook writer but I love to share recipes. When it comes to the method, well, I believe that if you practice making something with love enough times you'll work it out.

For the pastry:

10 tbsp of type 00 plain flour

1 egg

2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp sugar

about half cup water


Knead it well and set aside to let rest while you make the filling. You will need 

5 eggs

5 tablespoons sugar

1 grated lemon zest

about half kilo ricotta ( I use Thats Amore Cheese Ricotta. It's the creamiest and the best and it's already drained and ready to go)

(if you have any fresh cream you can add a dash to the mixture also)

Roll out the dough and place it over an oiled ciambella tin:


Fill with the mixture and flap the edges over to cover the mixture


Here are the 2 Easter Cakes I made plus the Crostata di Nutella. 

The Pastiera (pictured left) was on the top shelf of the oven and overcooked slightly on one side just the way my husband likes it. Perfectly imperfect!

Conservare le Olive
Olive Picking

It’s olive picking season! And like every other year I get asked ‘how do you do your olives’? So this year I thought I’d write a short blog and include the recipe.

This time each year, we usually have an olive picking day with friends. I’ll make a delicious ragù and some fresh pasta so we can sit and enjoy lunch, a glass of wine and a few laughs together after the job is done.

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Our wonderful, kind and very healthy 95 year old neighbour Signor Gangemi, who migrated from Calabria around the same time as my parents, has an olive tree that is over 70 years old, and boasts some enormous and the most wonderfully smelling olives I have ever seen. We also have two olive trees on our verge, much younger than our neighbours, but with equally delicious olives on them.

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It just so happens that our trees fruit on alternative years, so it’s olive harvesting every year for us, because Signor Gangemi has an abundance of them when his tree fruits and he loves to share. Infact we spend a lot of time heading over to each other’s houses to share some sort of produce from our yard. He especially loves our fresh eggs, and when my children run them over, they never return home empty handed. It’s just one of those ‘Italian things’.


Now the olive conserving is my husband’s job. He’s responsible for changing the water each day leading up to the day we jar them, so here is a very rough explanation of how you can make your olives if you happen to be picking some this year. I’d be the worst cookbook writer ever, because I don’t measure ingredients (another one of those ‘Italian things’), but here goes in point form, and you can also email me with any questions tania@thelittleitalianschool.com.au



-Pick the olives !
- slit each olive with a knife – or – lightly bash each one with a hammer


-place the olives in a bucket of fresh water (make sure they are covered)
-change the water each day with some fresh water for at least 2 weeks. This may need to be done a little longer depending on the size of your olives. The best way to tell if they have lost their bitterness is to taste them.


-prepare the brine by melting 200gr of salt per 1 litre of water  and bring to boil (you’ll have to work out youself how much brine you may need depending on the quantity of olives you’ve picked. You can always make more if you need it so it’s best to start small and work it out from there.

Once boiling,  and for about 10 litres of water you’ll need to add

-a handful of peppercorns

-4 or 5 bayleaves

-lemon rind

-a clove of garlic (or more if you prefer more)

-a handful of rosemary twigs


-Using your sterilised jars, place the olives in them, poor in some vinegar (we use our own homemade red wine vinegar) maybe to a quarter of the jar, and top up with the brine.

Enjoy your labour of love!    

Something About Italy - Emiko Davies

Picture credit Emiko Davies

1) How did you end up in Italy ?

The first time I lived in Florence was during my third year of art school; I decided to leave my school in Providence, Rhode Island, for the damp Florentine autumn season – and I fell in love with it. I came back a few years later with an idea just to spend a year there and get it out of my system but I ended up staying and meeting the man who became my husband. It's been 13 years since then!

2) How much of the Italian culture were you familiar with before you moved there?

Being an art student and history lover, what I knew of Florence was the Renaissance. It was my favourite subject at university so in a way when I arrived in Florence – a city that very much lives in its past – it felt so familiar and like all my books had come to life! I knew something of the food (who doesn't these days? Italian food is so iconic) but really didn't understand the regional differences until I lived in Florence.


Picture credit Emiko Davies

3) What were the biggest cultural differences you experienced ? Are there any you dislike? Which one is your favourite?

I mainly noticed the cultural differences when we had kids. The way children are treated and brought up is so different to Australia! I'm a bit over the hypochondriac reaction to the cold, like not playing outside if it's cold or wet, not blow drying your child's hair or drinking chilled drinks even on a hot day! Let's not talk about the unsolicited advice on how your children are dressed from complete strangers! But I DO love that family culture is so respected and that children are welcome everywhere you go, that breastfeeding in public you get cheered and how strangers (often the ones telling you they should be wearing socks) gush over your babies.

4) Is Italy all roses and as romantic as people like to portray it is?

Ha, it is and it isn't. It's a land of contrasts really. There are often frustrating moments – mainly to do with politics, red tape and getting things done or things like lack of opportunities. But they are by far made up for by a certain way of life – the food, the food habits, even yes, the view! Yes, there's something about coming home after a hard day, stopping at your favourite wine bar with the beautiful Renaissance buildings silouhetted against the pink sky and the glittering lights in the river and you remember why you live in Italy.


Picture credit Emiko Davies

5) What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved there?

Finding a steady job. That still hasn't happened! And navigating the impossibly complicated system of setting yourself up (that eventually happened, albeit with lots of confusion and so much frustration). The language happened easily for me but I've grown up learning and speaking different languages though I think for some my expat friends that has been a hurdle in itself too.

6)Would you recommend moving to Italy? And why?

It depends. It's not for everyone. I'd recommend it if you're willing to learn a new language and to jump into an adventure. I spent 8 years growing up in China and I feel that really prepared me for any situation (there really are so many surprising similarities between the two cultures actually)! As long as you know that living there is definitely not like having a holiday there and are prepared for the annoying bits too. That, and you need to be prepared for long, unrelenting, humid summers without air conditioning and a very active mosquito population! People love the idea of “Under the Tuscan Sun” but to be honest the summer is my least favourite part of living in Italy.


Picture credit Emiko Davies

7) How does it feel being foreign but wanting to embrace and feel part of a culture that is not yours? Do the Italians treat you like an Italian or do you always feel a little foreign or more like a visitor than a local?

I have been lucky in that I have never felt like a tourist or a foreigner in Italy and maybe it's because I learned the language quickly and made Italian friends or because I have dark hair and maybe look the part. One of my best friends is a blonde Scottish woman who speaks better Italian than I could dream of and yet in a shop or restaurant she will always be treated like a tourist first. I feel like even though Florence is a small city and its inhabitants are known as being a little gruff, there is a large international community here and so I've always found I fit in with that – I've been an “international” person more than half of my life now. I think that's partly what drew me to Florence in the first place.


Picture credit Emiko Davies

8) Is the saying ‘home is where the heart is’ true for you? Do you think of your birthplace often and your family and friends back home?

It's true. I miss my family in Australia more than I ever have, even though I've lived out of home since I was 17 – and for decades have lived on the other side of the world. I think it's been having a family of my own that makes me miss my own family more and consider Canberra, my birthplace, home even though I haven't lived there in so long.

9) Do you think you will reside there forever or will you return home one day?

I've spent my whole life moving from one country to the other and have called Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Beijing, Tianjin, Providence and Tuscany home for significant portions of my life. So staying put in one place isn't something I'm used to – but I would love to give my daughters the opportunity to experience their two cultures, Australian and Italian, equally. So we will see!


Picture credit Emiko Davies

You can find photographer /cookbook author Emiko Davies on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/emikodavies/ to view her stunning feed or visit her website http://www.emikodavies.com/ and be inspired by some of her delicious recipes!

Kirsty Russell
La Festa della Donna - Women's Day
Pictured : some of the strongest women I know. Family & friends of the heart - location: Farmhouse Italy  L-R Silvana, Adriana, Myself, Fausta, Rachel

Pictured : some of the strongest women I know. Family & friends of the heart - location: Farmhouse Italy

L-R Silvana, Adriana, Myself, Fausta, Rachel

We Italians love a good ‘festa’.

For those of you who have lived in Italy, you'll know that the Festa della Donna (International Women’s Day) is celebrated with blooming mimosa flowers that can be found on almost every street corner ready to gift to a wonderful ‘donna’ (woman) in your life.

La Festa della Donna is celebrated each year on the 8th of March and is a significant day because it reminds us of the importance of women all around the world. Once upon a time women were suppressed and discriminated against, but on the 8th of March in 1917 in San Petersburg, after the 1st World War, women marched the streets to fight for womens rights. 

Pictured: The most important woman, friend & role model in my life: Mamma

Pictured: The most important woman, friend & role model in my life: Mamma

The mimosa is the chosen plant to give women on this special day. There are a few different reasons why it is thought that this bright yellow bloom was chosen.

Some say the flowers of the mimosa are a reflection of what a woman is, being bright, cheerful, delicate and strong all at the same time.

Others say that the flower was chosen just after the war, when there wasn’t much money around, so it was economic and easily found in the fields, blooming every year in March.

Picture Pinterest

Picture Pinterest

Buona Festa della Donna a tutti!

Have fun celebrating all of the strong, beautiful, sensitive, caring, loving women in your lives!

Pictured: the other most important woman in my life - Nonna 95 years old

Pictured: the other most important woman in my life - Nonna 95 years old

Italian Christmas Traditions

Italian Christmas Traditions

This week I have been asking my students if they are familiar with some of Italy’s Christmas traditions. Surprisingly the majority said they aren't, so for our last week of Italian language classes we will be reading about Italian Christmas traditions while we enjoy a sip of caffe` or limoncello with a little bit of traditional Italian Christmas cake ‘il Pandoro.’ Excuse the lack of photo's in this blog...it’s a little hard to find any when the last Christmas you spent with la famiglia (family) in Italy was in 2004 and photos were taken with a camera that had a roll of film you’d have to get processed. Before the kids came along we used to alternate between my family and my husband’s, so every second Natale (Christmas) was in Italy.

If there’s one season I am not too fond of, it’s winter. The long Italian winter was one of the reasons I swore I’d never be able to live there for good, hence our annual return always being during the summer months. But there is that one thing I miss dearly about Italy during the freezing cold months and that is Christmas with all of it’s traditions, and spending those wonderful moments with our family and friends. There have been many laughs and fun games of tombola on an overly full belly following a Christmas feast. Luckily my nonni (grandparents) continued the traditions when they migrated to Australia like most other Italian families did... but out on the streets & in the shops. there's always that little something missing. 

Christmas in Italy doesn’t show it’s face in the streets, shops or homes until the 8th of December, the day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In Italy the festive season is more about family than it is about consumerism, and you can really ‘feel’ it all around you. I know that sounds so cliche, but it really is like that. Of course this would be different if you were holidaying there, but for those who have family, it really is the best!

What can you do on holiday in Italy during the Christmas Season?

In pretty much every citta` (city) and paese (town), you will be able to lose yourself in the many little markets that take place. You'll no doubt find a religious event here and there, various little concerts, and you’ll also be able to enjoy the Christmas lights and decorations that veil the towns and cities. Italian Christmas traditions are heavily based on religion, so there are many pretty churches to visit where you will be able to see the stunning Nativity Scenes (il presepio). Italians are huge on Nativity Scenes, but take note… you won’t be seeing any sign of ‘bambino Gesu`’ (baby Jesus) in his crib until la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve)! Some of the most beautiful Nativity Scenes can be found in the stunning city of Naples and are a must see. Some people dedicate a whole room in their home to creating one, and you might even find a live presentation of a Nativity Scene if you are lucky. When it’s freezing cold outside, it’s a great activity to give the kids to do, but I can’t imagine my kids getting out of the pool to stay inside to build a nativity scene!

Picture from Pinterest

Picture from Pinterest

Traditional Christmas ‘cibi’ (meals)

Traditionally on Christmas Eve, Italians get together with the family to indulge in a feast of fish before heading off to midnight mass. No meat is eaten on the day before Christmas.

Instead, on Christmas day the family get together again to enjoy a feast of everything! Each region in Italy has their own traditional dishes. Generally we begin with an antipasto, then onto some sort of pasta dish, a meat dish, a side dishes and then most families all over Italy will enjoy either panettone or pandoro, and perhaps some torrone (noughat), along with some other type of desert.

Dov'e` Babbo Natale? (Where’s Father Christmas?)

In Italy, our Father Christmas is known as La Befana. She is an old kind witch who takes presents to well behaved children during the night and leaves coals in the stockings of those who have been naughty!

La befana is celebrated on the 6th of January, the day of the Epifany, which is the day the 3 wise men arrived at baby Jesus’ crib.

Apparently, 3 wise men were following the star in the sky to find the Son of God and passed her house to ask for directions. La Befana wasn’t sure of how to get there, but took them in for the night so they could rest. The next day they took off and asked La Befana if she’d like to join them but she was too busy, only to find later on she had a change of heart, and went off searching for the 3 wise men to catch up with them to bring baby Jesus a gift. She was not able to find them, so to this day she is still searching and takes presents to all the little children in the world on her way on the the night of the 5th of January.

We have promised our children we will brace the cold and snow for them one year and spend a Christmas in Italy very soon. I know I’ll probably curse the cold weather the whole time, but I also know the novelty of the snow will be a great experience for them and there will be some fond memories made with the only ‘cugini’ (cousins) they have, which is definitely worth shivering for!

Our Befana (bought from the markets in Italy many years ago)

Our Befana (bought from the markets in Italy many years ago)

Ciambella allo yoghurt, datteri e noci
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I often wake early in the morning and love to bake when it's quiet and the kids are still asleep. I usually always make the same Ciambella al Limone, which the family love for 'la colazione' (breakfast), unless there is something in the fridge like ricotta, cream or yoghurt that may be close to it's use by date. If so, then I'll usually use 'un po` di fantasia' (a little imagination) and add something different to the ciambella. I hate waste, and this is such a great way to waste less. I often create our evening meals like this too, but that's another blog...

now back to la ciambella...

Another thing I find hard to do is follow methods. I find that if ever I have tried to read a method while cooking, the dish loses my attention and often lacks something. Since I was a young girl I have watched my mamma & nonna cook, and realised that preparing food is about using all of the senses, so if you put the recipe book down, you'll magically be able to connect to your dish through 'touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste' and your meal is sure to taste delicious! Give me the ingredients and I'll create the dish. Because cooking really is that simple, as long as you've been taught, or taught yourself, the basics. If it's too complicated, I don't care for it. Simple is key.

So this morning I woke up to check what may be going out of date in the fridge, and it was the good old plain greek style yoghurt. Here are the ingredients, step by step and quite roughly for you to recreate this really easy Ciambella with a twist:

You'll need...

a whisk and a bowl

3 eggs

12 tablespoons of sugar (or less if you prefer)

12 tablespoons of sunflower oil

3 tablespoons of plain greek style yoghurt

12 tablespoons of self raising flour

a handful of dates (or more if you like them)

a handful of walnuts (or more if you like them)

some vanilla (either from a pod, or essence or whatever you have or usually use)

** greese your tin and put the oven on to a moderate heat

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Crack your eggs and add the sugar and whisk

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add the yoghurt and whisk a little more

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Add the sunflower oil, and then add your flour and vanilla and whisk again.
Then add the dates and walnuts and mix with a spoon gently at this stage.

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Pop in the greased baking tin, then into the heated oven.

Bake until it's golden and smells delicious! Poke a knife in if you're unsure and if it comes out dry you're good to go. Serve with some thickened cream or with some breakfast caffe` e latte (milk and coffee)...

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The word 'Molto' & it's different endings

When do we change the ending of the word 'Molto' in Italian?

This week in one of our Italian language classes, we stumbled on the word 'Molto' with a different ending, which led to the question of 'why' and 'when' does the word change. So I decided to write a quick blog about it...

Wouldn’t it be great and much easier if the endings of Italian words were all the same?! But if they were, then the saying ‘la dolce lingua’ would no longer be. The sweet sound of the Italian language is partly made of just that. Almost everything rhymes!

The word ‘molto’ means ‘very’, ‘a lot’, ‘very much’, ‘ a great deal’ and so on. This blog is to explain, very basically, why the ending of the word ‘molto’ changes sometimes and when we need to change it.

Location: Campobasso, Italy

Location: Campobasso, Italy

If we are using the word ‘molto’ as an adverb then it doesn’t change.

Here are some examples:

La ragazza e` molto bella.

The girl is very beautiful.

Il bicchiere e` molto pieno.

The glass is very full.

Queste mele sono molto buone.

These apples are really good.

Questi occhiali sono molto carini.

These glasses are very nice.

If the word ‘molto’ is used as an adjective then changes like so:

C’e` molta neve.

There is lots of snow.

C’e` molta gente.

There are a lot of people.

Ci sono molte mele.

There are a lot of apples.

Ci sono molti libri.

There are a lot of books.

Hopefully this helps Italian language learners a little!

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Crostata con la Crema e le Fragole

Here are the ingredients and very rough method of how I put together a couple of crostata's this morning because I had dozens of eggs from our wonderful chooks to use and my nonna handed me some sweet red ripe strawberries yesterday she got from a farm she went to with her friends on the community bus. (Her social life at 94 years of age is more full on than mine!)

First of all : make some custard! and let it cool. 

Pasta Frolla Ingredients:

250gr butter

approx 250 grams (half packet of) La Molisana Flour 00 

5 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of lievito per dolci

1 small satchel of vanilla powder

Lemon rind from 1 lemon

2 eggs (whipped by fork and poured in at the end)

Mix, knead and let rest in fridge for half an hour

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Strawberry Mixture

Cut up a 2-3 punnets of strawberries, add a few tablespoons of brown sugar and a tablespoon of plain flour. Stir through and let sit.

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Roll out your pastry wider than the pie dish you are cooking it in. Fill it with custard on the bottom layer and then top it with the strawberries. Don't use all of the juice they have made while soaking in the sugar, but a little bit is ok. Flap the pasta frolla hanging over the dish on top of your pie as shown below. Cook it in a really hot oven (mine was on fan forced 220 degrees but it's old and almost had it's day I think). When it's nice and brown take it out. You'll should be able to smell when it's cooked.

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Ecco la crostata! Let it cool to set. Don't worry if the juices flow out while it's cooking. They add a nice sticky sweetness to the edges. We don't mind imperfections in our home!  

Enjoy :)

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