For the love of language: Local group meets to speak Italian

Savannah Chastain
Tricia Rennicke, Wendy Rulnick, and Noelle Osellame meet in Mimmo's Ristorante Italiano for their weekly Italian cuisine and conversation meeting.

It’s the busy lunch hour in Destin, but Noelle Osellame, Wendy Rulnick, and Tricia Rennicke are taking it slow, enjoying the daily special and lively conversation at Mimmo’s Ristorante Italiano.

The three women meet once a week to “parlare in Italiano,” or speak Italian, believing in the old Latin proverb, “Usage is the best language teacher.”

Motivation for learning Italian stems from Italian family members for Osellame and Rulnick, but Rennicke just laughs when the question is asked of her.

“I have no idea why!” the Sandestin resident shrugs. “I love languages; I speak French, Spanish and a little Norwegian.”

Having moved from the Italian cultural hotspot of New York City to Niceville two years ago, Osellame was afraid her Italian would grow rusty. But soon after meeting Rulnick, the two women decided to form a conversation group.

“We don’t have a university around here that teaches Italian,” explains Rulnick, who is a Realtor. “We just wanted to do something a little more formal to attract other members.”

Six months ago, Rulnick and Osellame launched Emerald Coast Lingua Italiana on an online networking forum called Meetup. The group invites members to come together once a month for dinner and Italian conversation. Meetings occur in restaurants ranging from Sandestin to Crestview.

The three ladies form the core group, and frequent some restaurants often enough to be on a first name basis with the staff. Wednesday’s meeting is no different; as it isn’t long before owner Mimmo La Innusa recognizes the group and stops by the table to chat.

La Innusa explains that Italian natives are very few in Destin and most are in the restaurant business, making them too busy during the evening hours to formally join the language group.

“[There are] maybe about twenty true Italians from Italy  here,” he says, “We do meet maybe on Sunday sometimes, the boys talk a ton [in Italian] and the wives speak English.”

Upon hearing this, Rulnick enthusiastically invites the wives to join, but also stresses that members must already have some knowledge of Italian.

“The meetings are only in Italian,” she states, “we don’t teach Italian, we just speak it and it helps us learn it.”

Emerald Coast Lingua Italiana currently boasts 20 members and is actively seeking to expand.

“If you’re passionate about the Italian language than you’ll find a home with us.” Rulnick said. “It’s amazing… you’re learning and you are also becoming friends.”

Rulnick, Osellame and Rennicke have quickly become tight-knit friends, and it’s the love of the language that unites them. The three have plans to visit Italy in March for a two-week intensive language school.

“It makes my heart sing,” says a beaming Rulnick, “La bella lingua, as it’s said in Italian, the beautiful language.”


The next meeting of the Emerald Coast Lingua Italiana is Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Compass Rose Restaurant at 303 Glen Avenue in Valparaiso. The only requirement is that you be able to speak conversational Italian. For more information visit