As with anything we want to get good at, love is essential. And I love the Italian language. I love how the r’s roll, how the gn’s press the roof of my mouth, how the gl’s touch the back of my throat. I love how expressive it is; its drama and flourish and furtive whispering.
Although I’m half Italian, the only language spoken at home was English. Italian was a secret language my grandmother used with my father when she didn’t want the rest of us to understand. And it worked; none of us knew what they were talking about.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I got la lingua Italiana fever. At that time I took my first trip to Italy and did not linguistically prepare myself in the least. What was I thinking? I have no idea. But I as I’ve said before, I thought I was just taking a vacation; I didn’t know I was changing my life forever.
Since then I’ve used a variety of methods to improve my Italian. Am I fluent? No. But I’m always improving and that’s how I like it. To get myself started, I used an audio program that promised to prepare me with basic phrases in 30 days, which it did. It worked so well that these basics coupled with another trip to Italy (immersion; definitely the deep end of the pool) really improved my ear.
But I realized I was clueless about the written language. To help remedy that, I used a ‘teach yourself Italian’ book, which was a big help. But still, I wasn’t practicing the language enough to get comfortable. Then I ventured onto the internet and found a new friend in Italy who helped me practice written Italian while I helped him with his English. That was a huge help. Since then I’ve connected with more Italian friends, both in the US and Italy, with whom I get to practice speaking and writing.
If you are a music lover, this can be a great way to learn Italian. I’ve always loved music so it was natural to buy CD’s of a few artists I liked while in Italy (Renato Zero and Michelle Zarrillo reign supreme right now). Listening to this music makes me happy and relaxed, which lets my brain absorb the words even more. Since I’m curious about what the songs are about, it’s fun to sit down with the lyrics and my Italian-English dictionary (luckily, all the CDs I’ve purchased come with the lyrics. If yours don’t, it’s easy to get the lyrics online). This increases vocabulary, improves pronunciation, teaches idioms and shows me how to string the words together in a coherent way.
Another fun way to learn Italian is to take a class in Italy. I’ve done it a few times and it’s a great experience. My fellow students were from all over the world and shared the same passion for the language. We laughed and (almost) cried together as we tried to clear our linguistic obstacles. We learned that what’s easy for one person can be hard for another, sometimes depending on that person’s native language. Above all, we learned not to take ourselves too seriously and to roll with our mistakes. And sometimes, we really surprised ourselves!
Do you have a favorite way to learn a new language, or have advice about method that didn’t work for you? Let me know.