“Come si dice…?”: Italian Language Learning Tips

By Sarah Noel Rodriguez, MA 2015-16

One of the most exciting aspects of studying abroad in a different country is the opportunity to learn a new language. As someone who knows Italian very well, I am often asked how I became fluent and how long it took to be where I am. I took my first Italian class in the spring of 2013 and followed with a summer intersession course. By the fall of 2013, I was taking Intermediate Italian. Then, during Spring 2014, I decided to study abroad in Arezzo for a semester where I continued studying the language. For my final semesters in undergrad in 2015, I continued to take courses, ending up with a degree in the language from my university. Now, in 2016, I still continue learning the language every single day!

The beautiful thing about learning new languages is that there is always more to learn, no matter how long you’ve been studying. Once you have a strong background in grammar, then you simply learn new verbs, adjectives, nouns, and phrases. I don’t have a clear answer when people ask me how long it’s taken me to be fluent; I am still learning every day.

Living in a city like Florence that is fueled by tourism and attracts thousands of visitors of different languages, it’s quite easy to get by without speaking Italian. It’s easy to go into a restaurant, bar, or gelateria and order in English. However, haven’t you noticed how much Italian people appreciate when you at least try to speak their language? One of the best parts of living in a city like Florence is that the locals love when non-native speakers attempt to communicate in Italian! This reminds me of something Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”

When you’re studying abroad in a foreign country, you have the chance to reinvent yourself, learn new customs, and become a part of an entirely new culture. Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” You have the chance of living a second life – a life that is vastly different than what you’re accustomed to back home in the States. So why not make the effort to learn a new language while you’re living and breathing Italian culture?

Below, I’ve included seven helpful tips for learning a new language that I have found the most useful. In bocca al lupo!

  1. Make it an effort to study at least once a day. Read some Italian phrases out loud, practice useful phrases, look through your textbook, or find language websites to review. Do not let a day go by that you’re not looking at something Italian-related.
  2. Write out conjugations of verbs and other grammatical structures. I promise you, focusing on grammar is extremely important to be successful in language learning. Grammar is the entire basis of your learning process, so make sure you start with a strong foundation.
  3. Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Mango Languages are great tools to help you study. WordReference is a useful dictionary and thesaurus, and there is also a forum for specific phrases. Quizlet is fantastic for learning vocabulary and there are hundreds of premade flashcards that you can go through.
  4. Watch your favorite films with subtitles or read your favorite books in Italian. When you’re familiar with the storylines, it’s easier to comprehend because you already know what’s going on. This is a great way to learn and translate.
  5. Start writing small entries in Italian about your day, your goals, your dreams, your feelings, etc. It will help you become a stronger writer and you’ll learn new words and ways of expression.
  6. Train yourself to think in Italian as much as possible. In my head, I am constantly translating conversations and thinking about how I would reply in Italian.
  7. The most important tip: find your confidence. It can be very intimidating to actually speak to people, but don’t be afraid! I used to be terrified of speaking the language out of fear that I would make a mistake. However, you’ll never learn if you remain silent, so don’t let the fear of making a mistake hold you back.

Photo by Meredith Pollock

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