Friday, August 27, 2010

Feature Friday: Tips for Learning Italian

Yes indeed! Italian can be quite a struggle and tiresome to the brain when first learning this beautiful language. When I first began learning Italian, I was confusing it quite a bit with French, seeing as French was my first foreign language pursued.  After eight years of learning French, the different tenses were still mind-boggling. In my honest opinion, from my experience, if you are not taught it correctly or have not had it explained well to you the first time, you will be utterly lost.

My first French teacher (who was not even French) was a complete idiot, and never really bothered to explain anything. If a student is struggling with understanding the material, I feel it is the teacher's obligation to spend extra time on certain areas of question, either with everyone in class, or on a one-on-one basis. Apparently this was not how my first French teacher operated. Upon entering high school, with my mother's request, I repeated the first level. It all began to eventually sink in, as my teacher's were much more proficient at explaining things.

It was not until I got to the university, from which I gained my BA, did I begin to work backwards again. My first professor for French was horrible and rude. He loved to belittle all of his students for their mistakes. Being a shy person, and for fear of making mistake, I rarely ever spoke. I continued taking French the following semester, and began yet again to grasp the grammar of French, as I had an intensive grammar class. That was my last French class I took, and began learning Italian.

Let me just say that I absolutely loved my Italian classes. There was no one to belittle me, and all the teachers encouraged students to speak, even if they made mistakes. Just to know you were trying was good enough for them. From having learned French, I quickly picked up Italian, but it was not until I began taking conversation courses that my Italian skyrocketed. Though I did have to work very hard to achieve the level that I am at now. Even in the conversation classes, we were required to do readings and debate about the different topics that arose. With the readings we had to do, our teacher would say, "read the readings without a dictionary. Try to at least understand the basic concept behind the article/story."

Well this did not work for me. Instead, I read the entire article, stopping at each word I did not know.... which was usually every other word. With my dictionary in hand, a highlighter and pen, I highlighted the word I did not know, and wrote the translation above it. It was quite helpful when the word was used more than once! Other times I wrote the translations in the margins. You can imagine how colorful my copies were! After reading through it once, and not having absorbed anything because of how long it took me to get through what I was reading, I re-read it with the translations.

It was during my first conversation class that I decided to make the leap to study in Italy when everyone in class jumped at the opportunity. And I have not looked back since.

So what have I learned about learning a new language from all this? Here are some tips:

1. Make sure you have a teacher who actually likes to teach the language. If possible, change your class for a new teacher. Learning a new language should be fun, not the cause of your nervous breakdown.

2. Do not be afraid to speak. It is important that you practice. Find a classmate who enjoys learning the language, and is not just taking the class for an 'easy A' (so they think). In fact, surround yourself with those who are equally passionate, and practice with them.

3. Study abroad! I cannot stress how important this part is... if you have the opportunity of course. Immersion does indeed help, though if you have a basic knowledge of the language. If you go to an area with non-English speakers, it will force you to use the language and not revert to your native tongue. If a study abroad option is not available to you, find a conversation group, such as the Dorothea House in Princeton, New Jersey.

4. Listen to music. This is probably the most simple way to pick up new words and begin to hear the distinction between each word, and not just hearing sounds. The sounds become words the more you listen to them. (If you understand what I mean.)

5. Read. Even if you have to sit there with a dictionary in your hand, reading is a great way to learn. It helps you learn the sentence structures of the language and of course teaches you new vocab. If it is too tedious, read a little bit at a time. Set a goal for yourself, like say, 5 pages in one sitting, depending on the complexity of the material.

What was/is your experience like learning Italian? Share with us your story!


  1. Great tips! Thanks for sharing...I took a semester of Italian in college (the professor was from Tuscany and still spoke broken English, so it was great) and I always listen to Italian radio online. It's a great way to get your ear tuned to the beautiful language, though it is pretty hard work to pick out what they're talking about! It's great because you get to learn to listen to real conversations, hear the slang and dialect, and develop the ability to identify key words in a conversation.
    I am no where near fluent, but I try my best to surround myself with the language as much as I can. I love it!

  2. Which radio station do you listen to? If you're interested, I have a link on the left-hand side of my blog for a radio station called RTL. They host talk shows and have 3 different types of ways to listen to music. One is solely Italian music being played. Another has Italian mixed with English songs from the US, Britain, Ireland. The third one is English and Italian with accompanied music videos.

    You should check it out!

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story.

  3. I should hand these helpful tips over to my husband Nick...he's still working on learning English (after being together 10 years). I'm a bit unsure though ... will he take tip number 3 literally and run off to some english speaking caribbean paradise?
    Alexia, the mom

  4. Hi Alexia!

    It's ok, he speaks better English than my boyfriend does, lol, which is why we speak only in Italian.... At least I'm learning more Italian though.

    Hmmmm well of course he should not take that tip. I'm guessing that option wouldn't be available for him. So it looks like he'll have to find a little group of men to learn English with. lol Besides, he has you, so he should be practicing. ;)

    I'm hoping that once I move to Italy, which is very soon (12 more days!) that my boyfriend and I will speak more English together. Right now it's limited to hi, how are you? Of course, he can say many other basic phrases, but anything more complicated and he's lost.

    Best of luck in your English teaching endeavors! ;)