Your Italian lessons are only on Mondays and Wednesdays.
But you want to live like an Italian. You want to be surrounded by the sights, smells and boisterous lifestyle that can only be found on the boot-shaped peninsula. There’s only one hitch: You live in Omaha, Nebraska!
On the way home, you pick up a box of pasta and some ruby-red pomodori (tomatoes, a word you’ve just learned) and start dreaming up a delicious ragú for your dinner that evening.
Never fear! You don’t have to suffer jet lag to sharpen your Italian skills. With a little effort and imagination, you can have an immersive Italian experience no matter where you live!
What’s the Big Deal with Italian Immersion?
Immersive language learning is achieved by surrounding yourself with grammar, vocab, authentic pronunciation and colloquial speech in order to force your brain to actively live in that language.
This is possibly the most effective way to learn a language, and Italian is just about the best language you can do it in. I mean, who wouldn’t love to wrap themselves in a big Italian cocoon of cannoli, Da Vinci and Fellini?
Sounds like paradiso (heaven)! Immersion techniques are a fantastic way to take your Italian to the next level, and the great news is that they’re also a lot of fun! These Italian immersion tips will replace parts of your drab daily routine with their vivacious Italian equivalents, and before long every day will feel like a stroll through the Campidoglio.
Little Italy: How to Turn Your Home into an Italian Immersion Paradise
1. Become an Italian Foodie
If you study Italian but don’t like to cook, you’re missing out on the biggest part of Italian culture!
Choose one evening a week and deem it the official Italian foodie night. Go out and pick up a chef’s hat, then get online and search for an authentic Italian cookbook in Italian! That’s right. The immersion experience is all about living in Italian. It might be tough at first, but forza! (you can do it!)
Before long, you’ll be sauteing, grilling and slow-cooking your way to Italian ecstasy. Learning to navigate your way around an Italian cookbook has huge benefits for your language skills—and your stomach.
You’ll learn the names of all the ingredients, measurements and kitchenware. You’ll also get lots of practice with verbs, and not just cooking-specific ones! Many high-frequency verbs are used in cookbooks, like mettere (put), lasciare (leave/let) and aprire (open).
And the best part, of course, is sitting down at the table and belting out a hearty “buon appetito!” (have a good meal!) before plunging into a heap of cheesy risotto or a tender scaloppine.
2. Grab the Popcorn
After you’ve finished chowing down on your Italian culinary creation, grab a spot on the couch and relax with a glass of wine and an Italian flick. Italy has produced some of the most entertaining and highly-acclaimed movies of all time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a film buff or not, Italian cinema has every genre covered. Are you a horror fan? Hit up Dario Argento. Into comedy? Benigni’s got you covered. If you’re worried about not understanding, just put the English subtitles on and make a note of new words as they cross the screen. Try to distinguish the words as the actors say them and write them down in your notebook. As you improve, you’ll be able to switch to Italian subtitles, and then to no subtitles at all!
3. Jam to YouTube
YouTube is a great resource for Italian learners. The list of Italian-language videos available is practically endless, and you can choose anything from viral sensations and movie trailers to vlogs by native speakers and educational Italian videos made by professional teachers.
One great way to hone your skills is to watch music videos with their lyrics. Italian music is rich in culture, humor and emotion, and you’ll be surprised how fast you become addicted! Start surfing through videos until you find something you like, and then let YouTube’s suggestions take you from there.
Before long, you’ll have a whole library of new favorites! Watching, reading and singing along with Italian songs is an excellent way to improve your pronunciation and vocabulary, and it only takes a few minutes a day.
To take a shortcut to learning Italian with music on YouTube (or with any other kind of YouTube video), check out FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons, as you can see here:
FluentU helps you get comfortable with everyday Italian by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with interactive subtitles. Tap on any word to instantly see an image, in-context definition, example sentences and other videos in which the word is used.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and review words and phrases with convenient audio clips under Vocab.
Once you’ve watched a video, you can use FluentU’s quizzes to actively practice all the vocabulary in that video. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
FluentU will even keep track of all the Italian words you’ve learned to recommend videos and ask you questions based on what you already know. Plus, it’ll tell you exactly when it’s time for review. Now that’s a 100% personalized experience!
The best part? You can try FluentU for free with a 15-day trial.
4. Flip Your Phone
This is a hard one, I’m not going to lie, but if you pull it off you’ll get major satisfaction points and you’ll seriously impress your friends. So, whip out your phone and go to “Settings.”
Under the tab that says “Personal” or “My Device” click “Language and Input,” and you’ll see a tab labeled “Language.” You know what to do from here! Of course, these directions may not be the same for all phones. You’ll need to explore a little or read your user manual.
Your phone is a huge part of your life, and you never realize how much that’s true until you change its language to Italian. Most of us spend hours immersed in our devices every day. This language swap is a bit of a head-trip for the first few days, but you’ll be amazed how fast your brain adapts and internalizes the new language.
Learning Italian this way mimics how children learn—using simple cause-and-effect relationships to form connections in your mind. You might want to jot down the steps necessary to change the language back beforehand, just in case.
Your phone is a great learning resource, so take advantage of it!
5. Get the Scoop
It may amaze you to find this out, but there’s a lot more going on in Italy than beautiful people, stunning architecture, pristine beaches and delectable cuisine. Italy has the fourth largest economy in Europe and is an important member of the EU. If you want to be immersed in Italian culture, you should probably have an idea of what’s going on over there!
You don’t have to bore yourself to death reading the economics section of La Repubblica every day. Instead, search for some stories that genuinely capture your interest. Italians love gossip and sensational exposés just as much as anyone else, so you’ll find a juicy story to follow sooner than you think.
If you have trouble reading in Italian, pick one story and use a dictionary to make your way through the first paragraph. That should be enough for one day. Don’t overwork yourself or you’ll turn a pleasurable experience into a chore! After a bit of Italian practice, head to an Italian news outlet or blog and continue reading.
Another way to improve your Italian reading as you browse topical subjects is with the MosaLingua app. This is a flashcard app with pre-selected vocab, but if you use it in conjunction with the web version, you can explore authentic resources with a translator tool and make flashcards from any new words or phrases you find along the way.
6. Find an Amico (or Amica)
Italian immersion isn’t worth much if you don’t find a way to pump up your productive skills (which are writing and speaking). Finding an Italian-speaking friend is hands-down the best way to get you chatting, laughing, writing and learning in another language.
Now, I can just picture you staring up at me doe-eyed and saying, “but, but, but I don’t know anyone who speaks Italian!” Well, to that I will respond by introducing you to my good friend, the internet.
Scores of Italians are dying to find penpals and Skype buddies to do language exchanges with for the simple fact that there are far fewer people trying to learn Italian than there are Italians trying to learn English. You’re in demand!
Most Italians resort to paying for English conversation lessons because they can’t find anyone to chat with. If you’re interested in making some lifelong friends and improving your language skills, head to a language exchange site like MyLanguageExchange, create a profile and strike up a conversation.
You may meet the next love of your life, or at least get an invite to come share a home-cooked Italian dinner!
Ben Gorman is an uprooted American living in Cagliari, Sardegna. He moved to Italy in 2011, and has been writing, teaching and drinking exceptional wine ever since.
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