First, you start with the basics. Bad words. Parolacce. The most important part of any language. Va’fanculo. Cazzo. Minchia. Stronzo. I curse enough in English, I’ll let you Google these to figure them out yourself. Use them liberally. Use them well.
Then, I moved on to the real basics. Counting. Colors. Greetings. Pronunciation. YouTube provided a ton of useful tools.
I also found it extremely helpful as I was learning on my own when I discovered that many English words are easily converted into Italian words. For example, all -ible and -able words are practically the same, you simply hit the middle syllable instead of the first one. Possible is possibile. Probable is probabile. English words that end in -ly are Italian words that end in -mente. So probably is probablimente. If you catch on quickly, you can start using a more adult vocabulary rather rapidly, and not always sound like a 3 year old when trying to communicate.
And now, I’ve been studying Italian for about 8 years, though I feel like I should be a lot farther in my education, but alas, I have other things to do. But I also feel pretty confident where I am. There were 5 major things that helped me learn to speak well, and there are 3 things that I don’t do enough/at all that would take me to a completely different level. I’ll delve into them all below.
5 Ways That Propelled My Learning/Speaking
- Michele Thomas. I feel like I got extremely lucky in choosing an audio program when I found this guy. It was the third or fourth one I picked up, and the others were pretty much garbage. At first, I was a good consumer and went with Rosetta Stone, but really struggled with the learning. I didn’t like it at all. So I went back to the store and bought a few others. When I finally picked up Michele Thomas, something clicked. The upside: The way he teaches helped me construct sentences, understand grammar, and memorize in an incredible way. His constant statement, “your ability to memorize is my responsibility. If I teach you well, you will learn well.” The downside: as you are learning, it FEELS like a ton of vocabulary, but once you go through it and try to communicate with other Italian speakers, you realize how many words you actually don’t know. Also, he uses third person singular for both he/she/it AND you/singular and you/singular/formal. It feels easier when you are learning, but the moment you actually go to Italy and use the formal tense with a friend and they look at you strangely…it makes you realize you may have learned a little incorrectly. Because you did.
- Because Michele Thomas wasn’t the best for vocabulary and many verb tenses, I bought a huge book of just verbs and all the conjugations. This was AWESOME. I made flash cards with the Italian on the front and the English on the back, and set them beside the toilet. Not a moment wasted. Upside: quick learning, and I only spent about $20 for the book and index cards. Downside: all your friends are grossed out when they come over and realize what you do while eliminating.
- Go to Italy for language learning school. This was, by far, the best way EVER to learn Italian, and have an amazing life experience. As of this writing, I have attended three different schools. First, you are there, in the country. You see Italian written everywhere, you hear it spoken everywhere, and you are forced to communicate in it. AND, with school, you don’t just learn a little at a time through osmosis, but usually four hours per day, you are purposefully studying and learning. I could go on and on about how enriching a language school is. I think I will in another blog post. Bottom line, immersion is the best. If you want to learn quickly, sign up for at least a week or two in a school. Upside: F*ing awesome. You meet new friends from all over the world, and often times the only way you can communicate with them is through your new language that you are both muscling through. Downside: time away from work and the plane ticket. Once you’re there though, it’s no more expensive than being here in the states.
- Make an Italian friend. When I met Gio in my hometown, I was stoked. He was my age, from Sicily, single, and liked to party. Done and done. So he and I would hang out together and he would let me practice my Italian. By far, this was one of the things that really helped me here in the states, especially learning slang, curse words, and other fun vulgarities. He also didn’t correct me every time I slipped up, so even though I may have been saying some things wrong, my confidence in my speaking improved, which helped my fluidity. Upside: You will get the experience of talking about people in bars when you are right beside them…and they have no idea what you are saying. Downside: Those people instinctively know you are talking about them, and they also recognize that Italian isn’t your first language. So when they get in your face and shout, “Say that in English mother*%$#,” the awkwardness is debilitating. Do I respond in English? Italian? Offer them a drink and feign ignorance?
- Hire a teacher online. Towards the end of my first language school, I asked the director if she would be willing to give me lessons via skype each week. She seemed a little hesitant, but said she was game. For whatever reason, it didn’t go so well. So I looked online, and that’s when I found my current teacher, Sarah. Sarah lives in Mestre, which is a small little town outside of Venice. Every week, I log onto Skype and we have our lesson, and every week, I get a little better. Well, actually, I feel like I don’t make much progress at all because I never do my homework. (I told her I would tell everyone the truth…) But in all seriousness, I have improved tremendously. The last time I went to Italy, almost everyone I communicated with looked at me inquisitively and asked how I speak so well. They all knew I was a foreigner, but many guessed French or something other than American, due to my accent and proficiency. Sarah was proud. Upside: Real Italian, choose your own time that works best for you, cost-effective, you get to practice every week and not lose your fluency, and if your teacher yells at you for not doing your homework, you can click out of Skype and blame the computer. Downside: Sometimes the technology legitimately doesn’t work right, and can be frustrating. But that hardly ever happens.
And, even though I feel like I speak well and communicate and understand pretty much everything, I know that I could be even more proficient. Below are three things that I could do if I were an actual MODEL student:
- Read in Italian. I have tons of books that I have bought with the best of intentions…but I usually don’t follow through. Even one per week would help! Do I do it? Of course not.
- Write in Italian. This is one thing that happens every so often, and it always makes the biggest difference for me. I learn best when I write things down. So if there is a new word to learn, hearing it helps, speaking it helps, but once I write it and use it in a few sentences, it’s mine. It also makes it easy with Sarah when I do this step. I will write something during the week about what is happening in my life, send it to her, and she corrects it with me at the beginning of our lesson. But do I do it consistently? You guessed it…no. If you hire her to teach you, this one activity makes all the difference in the world.
- Listen in Italian. With YouTube and other venues on the internet, it’s easy to find things in Italian. But that requires more focus. And admittedly, I am more focused on other things.
Bonus method to learn Italian faster: Do your homework. Sarah used to always send me worksheets via email. After week after week of not doing them, she doesn’t even bother sending them to me. But she always tells me that it’s a good idea…:)
Currently, I am quite proud of myself for still taking lessons. There was a time in my life that my goal was to get my son in college, and then split to Italy…and never come back. I have too many things I want to do here in the states now, but moving there is still definitely on my list. One of my current life goals is to at least move there in the future, even for just a few years, and teach martial arts. I know it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, being so fluent that I can teach, sell, and run a business in the language. Even just the thought makes me smile. Keep reading my stuff…one day you’ll see a post entitled, “Finalmente, Italia!”
If you are interested in hiring Sarah, you can email her at email@example.com or reach out to her on Facebook. She does an incredible job. Though you might want to learn this phrase first: Smettila di sgridarmi! Stop yelling at me! 😉