5 Awesome Tips to Keep You at the Top of Your Italian Learning Game
Traditional study is important when it comes to learning Italian, but there’s so much more to studying a language than that.
It’s pretty impractical to break out a textbook when talking to native speakers.
So (for now) put away those books and let’s learn some creative tips for learning Italian!
- 1. Jump Into the Culture
- 2. Study the Small Stuff: Idioms, Slang and Filler Words… Oh My!
- 3. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk!
- 4. Understand That It’s Okay to Mess Up
- 5. Mix It Up
1. Jump Into the Culture
You might have heard this a million times by now, but you’ll have to delve deeper into the culture of your target language to really know it (there’s a reason people say it over and over). It’s a vital part of studying any language, Italian included. But how can the study of culture improve language skills?
Looking into the historical and cultural contexts of words helps you understand the nuances of the language. For example, did you know that using casa as the word for “house” came from the need to distinguish between homes and cathedrals? Or that the theatrical character Scaramouche gets his name from the Italian word scaramuccia (“little skirmisher”)? I bet you’ll never forget those words again! There’s loads to be found between the lines, and it can be a big benefit to your progress as a student.
Understanding culture also facilitates communication. Knowing what a culture values will help you in your conversations with native speakers by making you aware of social standards, beliefs and taboos. There’s nothing that can halt a conversation faster than unintentionally offending the other person!
For instance, the greeting “ciao” is so common around the world that you might not realize it’s an Italian social faux pas to say it to someone who you’ve only just met. Learning about culture can not only boost your skills, but potentially save you a bit of embarrassment.
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to learning about Italian culture, some good places to get your footing are the site Roman Life and the online Italy Magazine.
2. Study the Small Stuff: Idioms, Slang and Filler Words… Oh My!
It’s easy to view language study as a chore; endlessly memorizing vocabulary and obsessing over grammar. In order to sound like a native speaker, it’s important to understand these concepts. But don’t stop there! Once you’ve got those down, take time to think about the smaller components of Italian.
Think about English as a language. Think about the slang and idioms we use on a day-to-day basis or filler words like “uh” and “eh.” There are comic book sound effects (onomatopoeia) and idioms that we use without even thinking about it. These are the sorts of fun things that you’ll also have to learn in Italian.
For instance, while we might write “Ha, ha!” in English, an Italian speaker would write “Hi, hi!”
“Eh” becomes “beh,” and the cat’s meow, or miagolano, is written as “miao” in Italian.
It’s possible to know your verbs inside and out, but not know what che pizza! (how boring!) means when you hear it. Then there are, of course, the phrases that Italians use every day that are completely foreign to English speakers. Someone might call you buono come il pane (as good as bread), but they’re not talking about carbs.
Not only does this help you better understand Italians when they speak, these slang words, phrases and idioms bolster your vocabulary to make you sound like more of a natural.
If you want to check out some more of Italian’s linguistic quirks, take a look at Grand Voyage and Culture Discovery.
Don’t forget to immerse yourself in authentic Italian mass media such as news sources, movies, music and TV shows. You could also use a virtual immersion platform for a more organized approach. FluentU, for example, takes short Italian web videos and adds interactive captions to clarify the meanings of idioms and slang words. The program also has multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes so you can review what you learn.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk!
You can’t skip conversation when you’re learning a language. It’s that simple.
This is arguably one of the scarier parts of studying, for sure. It can be nerve-wracking to talk to a native speaker in a language that’s not your first, but it has to be done.
People around the world do it every day. There are probably at least a few celebrities, neighbors, athletes or friends that you know who aren’t native English speakers and can still have a conversation just fine. Learning a language isn’t complete if you’re not speaking it, and sometimes you have to face your fears and use those skills.
This might also be a little tough if you don’t live in Italy or any sort of predominantly Italian-speaking location, but technology has your back.
Sites and apps like italki, Conversation Exchange, HelloTalk and Tandem allow you to meet and talk with speakers from around the world, many of whom are learning English and want your help.
These platforms allow you to work together and practice with different people who share your love of language. It’s an exciting, easy and friendly way to get your conversational practice.
The italki platform is a particularly great option, since it gives a huge variety of resources for language learners who want to practice with native speakers: everything from free language exchange and writing feedback to professional Italian tutoring.
4. Understand That It’s Okay to Mess Up
Remember what we said earlier? The part about people speaking a second languages every day? Those people all messed up a few times, and, unless you’re some kind of prodigy, you will too.
The secret is understanding that this is normal. If anything, it’s a good thing.
Wait, wait, don’t leave! Yes, you heard me right. Identifying and correcting mistakes is how we learn. When you get brave enough to talk to a native speaker, mistakes are opportunities to grow.
One way to do this is to go into a lesson with a language tutor or language exchange partner and asking them to point out a few mistakes you made. Be sure to use this as an opportunity to focus on your weak points, and ask them if they see improvement next time.
You can also take a critical look at your own writing and look for patterns. As you write, think about what’s giving you trouble. Are you having difficulty forming sentences? Verb conjugations kicking your butt?
Since speaking and writing are both expressive language skills, taking time to step back and look carefully at your writing is a great way to improve both of these skills.
Use a platform like Lang-8 to check your writing. You’ll write entries in Italian, and they’ll be read and corrected by native speakers. This way, you can make sure that what you’ve learned is correct, cut down on mistakes and still be actively engaged in the learning process.
Getting things wrong in a language that’s not your first is natural. Let yourself stumble, because you’ll end up learning more from it!
5. Mix It Up
Tell me if this story sounds familiar: you download a language app or buy a new study book. You rush through them eagerly, certain that you’ll be fluent in no time.
Skip to a week later, and you’re burnt out and don’t remember a thing. We’ve all been there.
We all get that initial burst of energy when we find a language we want to study, only to have it taper off quickly until we’re not practicing at all. So here’s a big tip: don’t get bored. Easier said than done, I know, but there are easy ways to make sure you keep consistent.
The most important thing is to set realistic goals and stick to them. Say you work a regular day job and don’t have a lot of free time, so try to take ten minutes out of your day every day to practice. Programs like Memrise and Drops make this easy, providing you with free language lessons that have check-ins and daily goals built into the code to keep you motivated.
As far as lessons go, shake things up whenever you feel yourself getting bored. Watch an Italian television show. Listen to some music. You can even bring out the kid in you with a cartoon. These little things add up to load of learning, so let yourself have a little fun!
Learning Italian isn’t for the faint of heart. It is, however, a deeply fascinating and rewarding experience.
So be bold and keep learning!