As the saying goes, “Every rose has its thorn.”
And just like a rose, learning a second language is beautiful, but it comes with its share of pain.
A lack of vocabulary can be that thorn that keeps us from appreciating how far we’ve come.
It makes our sentences flounder and disrupts our fluency.
Vocabulary is by far the most important thing when it comes to learning a foreign language.
But why is it so difficult to memorize a couple of new words in Italian?
Well, guess what? Learning new vocabulary doesn’t have to be complicated, boring and time-consuming.
We’re going to provide you with some ways to take the pain out of improving your vocabulary!
Why It’s Time to Try These Vocabulary-building Techniques
There are always new words to learn
You might have reached a pretty good level of Italian and you might be thinking that you’ve learned every Italian word. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not the case.
According to the Grande Dizionario Italiano dell’Uso, the Italian language has more than 250,000 words. If we decide to count the dialetti (dialects) as well (Why shouldn’t we? They’re real languages.), this will increase the number to almost a million.
Yes, as you can see perfectly fine, there are nearly a million words!
You’ve probably now realized that your Italian vocabulary is not that perfect, good for you! There are so many words that you should never stop learning new ones. If you don’t know where to start, you can just choose one of the dialects and start exploring it!
Keep previous learning fresh
If remembering new words is difficult, you can forget about those words you started learning when you first began your journey with Italian! You think you’ve moved past Italian 101, but you know that sometimes you stop and say, “What’s the word for that again?”
Your studies continue to move forward, but every now and then you need some additional practice with previously-learned basic words and phrases. You’re trying everything from memory techniques to dictionaries, but the results aren’t showing. It’s time to add some new ideas to your old routine!
We’ve got some great ways to build your vocabulary while constantly bringing old words to the forefront of your mind.
7 Simple Ways to Immediately Improve Your Italian Vocabulary
1. Set Realistic Goals
Have you ever set a goal when trying to learn a language? If you haven’t already done that, hurry up and articulate what you would like to achieve when it comes to learning Italian. Why is it so important?
Doing so will help you stay focused and motivated when it gets hard (and it will). Also, the chance that you’ll be successful increases once you’ve set a goal. One thing to keep in mind—keep them realistic!
Yes, that’s right, don’t even think about setting goals that you already know you won’t be able to achieve. This will only bring disappointment and demotivate you.
So how do you set a realistic goal?
Start by asking yourself the questions, “Why am I learning Italian?” and “What do I want to be able to do with this language?” When you know the answers to these two questions, it’s time to set your goals. For example, if you want to be able to understand your new Italian friend, you should be learning new vocabulary every day.
One idea might be to focus on 10 words every day—seven new ones and three previously-learned words that are just not sticking. Not too difficult, right?
Don’t forget to set a deadline, too. If you’re learning 10 new words every day, at the end of the week you should’ve learned 70 new words. So your goal should be: “By Sunday, I need to know 70 new Italian words!”
2. Use Digital Flash Cards or Graphic Organizers
It’s time to start using digital flash cards (if you’re not doing it already). Why? Because it’s fun, easy and not time consuming. All you have to do is choose your favorite app, like Quizlet or Memrise, and start practicing. Both are great interactive tools to start with and are very user-friendly. Also, digital flash cards are very easy to access—you can use them on your phone, tablet and/or computer. So next time you’re waiting for the bus or your latte, open your flash cards and get some practice in!
A great way to learn those new words you’ve put on flashcards is to connect them with prior knowledge using a tool like Visual Thesaurus. It basically creates word maps that will help you relate the new terms to ones you already know in order to learn faster. You start with just one word, and then it creates a map that connects it to similar words you can explore. Since it gives you a visual map of words instead of just lists, it’s easier to see how words connect to each other, even if you don’t immediately understand their definitions.
3. Go to an Italian Meetup
Meetups are always a good idea, not only because they give you some real speaking practice, but they’re also very fun. Basically, you go to a very informal meeting, maybe at a bar or a coffee house, and you meet new people who are just as interested in the Italian language.
Native speakers are always attending these meetings and that’s your chance to learn some new vocabulary!
Before going to a meetup, it’s always a good idea to prepare a little. For example, write down a couple of things you’d like to ask a native Italian, things that you just weren’t able to find the answer to on the internet.
Or if you’re working on a language program, like the Italian program from FluentU or the Italian Language Tutorial from ielanguages.com, put what you’re learning into practice or ask clarifying questions. Take advantage of this opportunity!
So, what are you waiting for? Don’t miss the chance to learn or practice new words, and sign up for an Italian meetup!
4. Describe Everything You See in Italian
This is a great activity that you can do on your own and improve your vocabulary very quickly.
You can start right now—just describe what you see around you in Italian. You can do it at home, at your friend’s house, in the supermarket, at the restaurant, at the train station, etc. (Though if you’re in public, you might consider thinking the words instead of speaking out loud.)
You get the idea, right?
To help yourself in your new endeavor, consider Vocabulary Stickers. Instead of just remembering the names of objects you see on a daily basis, these stickers are already made—all you need to do is place each one on their corresponding objects.
Yep, it’s that simple. Just put the label tazza (mug) on your favorite mug, and you’ll never forget this word again. By doing that, you’ll constantly be exposed to vocabulary, and it won’t be something you have to translate. You’ll automatically look at the mug and say (or think), tazza!
5. Write Your To-do List in Italian
You’re probably a very busy person and have lots of things to do. Maybe that’s also the reason why you can’t find enough time to learn that list of new Italian words?
Why not write down those things you need to do in Italian? It might feel a bit strange and difficult at the beginning, but it’ll bring some good results because you’ll learn new vocabulary every day without too much effort.
Here are a couple of phrases to start with:
Domani devo andare a fare la spesa. (Tomorrow I have to buy the groceries.)
Oggi pomeriggio devo pagare le bollette. (This afternoon I have to pay the bills.)
Questo sabato devo andare a cena dai miei genitori. (This Saturday I have to go to dinner at my parents.)
6. Promise Yourself a Reward
Nothing will stimulate you as much as promising yourself some sort of a present or reward once you’ve reached your goal.
If you’re aiming to improve your Italian vocabulary, you could do this: every new 100 words you learn, buy yourself a nice Italian gelato (ice cream).
7. Follow Italian Blogs That Interest You
Have you ever heard someone say they don’t have time for this or that, but it seems like they post on Facebook at least 10 times a day? Of course, we don’t judge them because we probably spend a great deal of time online as well. Nowadays, everybody seems to. Well, here’s an idea for you—start following a couple of Italian blogs.
This a great way to immerse yourself in the Italian language and culture. When blogs are written by native speakers and target an Italian audience, the vocabulary you find there is extremely useful. This is where you’ll see “real language” in action!
What kind of blogs should you be following? First of all, think about your level—you should find a blog that’s not too difficult (you have to able to understand something, don’t you?), but that’s also not too easy. At the end of the day, you should be learning from it. Are you a fitness fanatic? Then find a blog that promotes a healthy lifestyle!
Maybe you’re more into food than fitness. One great Italian blog for you is Giallozafferano.
If you prefer traveling, you might check out The girl with the suitcase, where you can read the adventures of a 30-year-old Italian as she travels around Italy, Europe and the world!
So no more excuses! If you’re ready to take your Italian to the next level, start with a couple of these ideas and start improving your vocabulary today!
Mariya is an Italian language teacher with a passion for (or rather, an addiction to) coffee and Italian culture. She is the founder of MyLanguage. She creates personalized lesson plans for people who feel the same way about the language and teaches private online lessons.
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