My mom tried to get me to sew or craft like her, but it never took. Neither did cooking. I prefered the quieter interests, and could always be found with a book in my hands. I clearly remember the excitement of third grade, the first year that I was assigned real, bring-it-home-in-your-backpack, homework. I have always loved every single aspect of being a student, from the smell of a bookstore, to buying new school supplies, to reading, working in text books and completing assignments.
So it’s no wonder that, in my life as a grown-up, I have selected an interest which takes me back to the joys of being a student: learning Italian. In this post, I share with you some of the ways in which I surround myself with Italian, and try to keep moving forward on the language learning path. I would love to know how you study Italian, so please be sure to leave some tips in the comments below.
The fine print: I am in my fourth year of studying this beautiful language, and consider myself an advanced beginner. I can navigate fairly well as a tourist using my Italian, and work my way through a restaurant. I can chat about my family, the weather, or the activities of my day or week pretty well. But when the conversation goes beyond that with fluent speakers, their words start flying by in rapid-fire, and I can only pick out individual words here and there. I still have a long way to go, but I love the challenge. This Huffington Post article is a great source of encouragement to language learners and reminder that acquiring a new language is a process.
In the Beginning
One of the first steps I took on this journey was to search the internet for tips from others on how they learned Italian, and mix my favorite suggestions into my study process. Below are links to my three favorites.
- My Top 10 Secrets for Learning La Bella Lingua ~ by Dianne Hales
- Learning Tips ~ Studentessa Matta
- 50 Great Ideas to Supercharge your Study Time ~ Jodina Hahn Gallo
Next, I started with one simple workbook (highly recommended for new learners), and subscribed to a few websites which sent me an Italian word or phrase every day. This was a good way to start, and provided me some exposure to the language. I read the daily emails faithfully, and copied the words and phrases into a notebook for further practice and retention. The act of actually writing the words down, and even reading them out loud (a voce alta), helped me remember them, and was an easy way to get a stockpile of new words into my vocabulary.
Another important tip: I always had something to study with me close at hand. Any time there was some unexpected downtime in my day, even if it was just a few minutes while waiting to check out at the market, I would glance over my Italian. I still do this now.
Duolingo (Interactive lessons for varying levels, a great place for beginners to start)
Even though I put quite a bit of time into studying that first year, I could hardly say anything beyond the very basics when I finally arrived in Italy, despite nine months of practice. That was somewhat discouraging but surprisingly motivating. Upon returning home from my trip, I found a class which would provide opportunity for me to both speak and hear the language — something which was desperately needed in order to move forward. Learning a language is an interactive experience, and I have found that silently studying workbooks and internet sites only takes you so far. To truly advance, you must jump into actual communication.
The Importance of Speaking and Listening.
Find a class, an Italian meet-up group, online lessons via Skype or even just one Italian speaking buddy so that you can hear Italian spoken live and have a conversation. Try to save time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes, to listen to spoken Italian. If you cannot speak Italian every day with someone (still my greatest challenge), at the very least repeat what you are hearing when you visit these sites, or read aloud from the Italian which you are studying.
My favorite sites with audio:
- Learn Italian with Lucrezia (Blog and You Tube channel for all learning levels)
- Diario di una Studentessa Matta
- Radio Italy Live (app available for apple and android)
Skype lessons available through: (note: I have not tried these yet but they are recommended by other bloggers)
In the beginning, and still today, I like finding Italian sites and books which are aimed at children. These tend to be simple, colorful and appealing, with clear pictures and illustrations. Do a You Tube search on Italian lessons for children, and start with the basics like colors, numbers and shapes, then move on as you feel comfortable. I also really like to read children’s books, especially if they are books I’m familiar with in English. These are a bit trickier to find in the states, but many local libraries have a section of Italian books in their children’s area.
Websites for kids:
I also really like this book, and keep the audio cd in my car:
Surround Yourself with Italian
There are four components to language study: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Try to include these different areas into your study. Here’s what that looks like in the course of a week for me:
- Read Italian newspapers online (I like the Florence edition of La Nazione).
- Scan a few favorite websites first thing in the morning (Parola del Giorno, Italian for my Girlfriend, Diario di una Studentessa Matta, Becoming Italian Word by Word).
- Make flashcards with a few words and phrases that I want to learn this week & carry those with me to study when there is down time
- Listen to Italian in my car (Radio Italy, Italian CDs or audio books).
- Visit one or more of the audio websites mentioned above at least once a day.
- Read a story or article in Italian — gathered from a book or printed from the internet. Remember to read it out loud too.
- Write my to do lists, calendar items or list of gratitudes in Italian.
- Translate my thoughts into Italian, or translate my actions into Italian, and speak them aloud (adesso, faccio il caffe` — now I’m making coffee) — this may feel silly at first, but it is helpful in growing your Italian brain. If you don’t know a word or phrase, look it up and work it into your vocabulary. Word Reference and Google Translate are helpful tools.
- Chat with a friend in Italian, or chat with my daughter, who is also learning a few words here and there.
- Chat with my Italian cousins on Facebook.
- Read Italian proverbs – this is great exposure to both the language and culture.
- Workbooks, workbooks, workbooks! I love them – my favorites are the Practice makes Perfect series. There are choices for all levels of learners, and are readily available in bookstores or online.
I love this post by La Studentessa Matta, who has worked learning Italian into the very fiber of her being. Even though she is clearly advanced in the language, she is still deliberate about infusing Italian into her day, all day long.
Wherever you are in your language learning journey, I encourage you to stay with it, adding different dimensions and challenges as you feel comfortable. Having a discouraging day? Give your brain a rest and put the learning aside for a bit. When you are ready, go back to the simpler things — those which you have mastered, as a reminder of the progress you’ve already made. And remember, the joy is in the journey ~ la gioia e` nel viaggio.
Other writings you may like: La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales; Why Study Italian? by Sarah Mastroianni; My Crazy Journey to Learn Italian by Melissa Muldoon; Prayers and Piazzas posts Italian and Me: A History; Things I Learned While Learning Italian; The Unintentional Climb, a guest post for Diario di Una Studentessa Matta.