I often receive calls from people, telling me they are going to Italy soon, and would like to come and learn Italian. As much as I wish there was, I can honestly say that there is no fast track way or short cut to learning Italian. Learning to parrot phrases is like entering a dead end road with a car, and even if you have memorised how to ask where the bathroom is, when the native speaker answers you with ‘in fondo, a sinistra e poi e` sulla destra’, you won’t know what he or she has said because you have only learnt a phrase.
I always remind my students they need to bare in mind that it takes us around 2 years to utter our first word when we are totally immersed in the language and culture of where we are born and raised. Speaking is one of the last things we master because we don’t want to be embarrassed by making mistakes, so here are a few tips of things you could do out of the classroom to speed up your learning.
Watch Italian movies with English subtitles
Even if you don’t understand every word, by listening and reading you are sure to pick up bits and pieces and you get to relax and enjoy a movie while you’re learning. You’ll probably also learn a little more about the Italian culture.
Read Italian books
If you are a beginner, choose some Italian short stories online by doing a google search, or buy a short story book for beginners. If you are a little more advanced choose an easy to read novel like ‘Io e Te’ by the amazing (and my favourite!) Italian author Niccolo` Ammaniti. Make sure you have a dictionary handy so you can underline and translate the bits that are new to you. The more times you see a new word and write it, the more likely you will remember it.
Do some free online learning
There are thousands of free resources online. All you have to do is search for the grammar exercises you are covering in your Italian class and you’ll be amazed at all of the extra practice you can get in. Some sites even have drop boxes so you can check your own answers.
Download some apps like Duolingo and do a little bit each day
Even if you only spend 5 minutes on the app a day, any Italian is good Italian.
Listen to Italian music, free live radio streaming, or podcasts
Sometimes the old classics are good to listen to because the Italian is sung more clearly than some modern day Italian artists. I am sure a lot of you are familiar with the famous old song ‘Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu’ by Domenica Modugno. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qivzSaALee8 . Listen to it and learn it by heart, then get a copy of the lyrics and translate them. You’ll pick up a lot just from a song, especially if you are learning the grammar in class.
All of the above can compliment your Italian lessons in the classroom where, in my opinion, you should be learning the mechanics of the language and how it works so you are able to construct sentences. Grammar may seem a little boring while you are learning it but it is an essential part of learning how to speak a language and when you learn the rules, it all falls into place eventually. Time, patience and persistence is the key. Don’t try to run before you walk. The speaking will come, a lot later in the game, but it won’t happen overnight.