Many a’ language learner will tell you that the process of becoming one with a language begins after your classroom experience ends. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. Today’s guest blogger, Katie of Olio di Oliva e Sogni di Vino shares five tips for learning Italian, after you’ve put away your books and tapes.

Even after I’d taken a language course in one of the most beautiful, Renaissance cities in the world-yes, Florence, I’m talking to you-I found it hard to muster confidence to talk to my friends in Italian-let alone to strangers on the street.

After a bit more time studying verb tenses and honing my comprehension skills … and getting frustrated with the process … I remembered what my friend, Francesca, told me after my first Italian class.

“First you understand by listening … then you will gain confidence to speak and respond.”

These words of wisdom helped get me through those stressful times and frustrating moments and today I wanted to share some tips on learning Italian after you’ve completed a language class.

1. Surround yourself with non-English speakers
This is key. If you have friends who speak English, then insist they speak to you in Italian. If you don’t, you will automatically fall into the English-language-safe-zone and rely on your native language because it is easier. Yes, I did this. Yes, it was a mistake.

2. Go to a local shop and chat up the owner
I did this once … just to see how much I understood and how easily it was for me to respond. It is a good exercise. Even if you can only get out a few sentences, you will leave that shop a successful Italian speaker.

3. Enter a bar or pub, then just listen
Yes, eavesdropping is kinda creepy, but listening to what native speakers are saying around you, really helps you break that language barrier. Even if you don’t get every word-try to understand the general topic or see how many words or key phrases you understand. If you hear a word or phrase you don’t know, write it down and look it up later-this is a great way to increase your vocabulary while practicing your listening skills.

4. ALWAYS respond in Italian
If your Italian friends tell you, “But, I want to practice my English with you”, and continue to speak to you in English, even after you’ve asked them to speak in Italian, then at least force yourself to respond in Italian. It is hard, I know, I was caught in this circle when I first got here-but I always responded in Italian and eventually they began speaking to me in Italian, as well.

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t using the right verb tense or correct article … just try. If you can communicate, even on a basic level, you have succeeded. Correcting tenses and perfecting article usage come later in your learning process, but speaking to an Italian-and having them understand me-was by far the BEST feeling I have ever had.

I’d also like to point out that learning a language is a continuous process you go through while living abroad. You will continue climbing that Italian-language mountain … and then one day, fall into the “how the hell do you say that?” valley or you might plateau for a while and say “bene, bene” as a response for everything. But don’t worry, just know you are improving, keep your faith and no matter what else you do … keep speaking Italian.

Traveling to southern Italy? Click here to see how I can help you plan your trip to Calabria or Italy’s southern regions.

Photo: Cartoon Stock and See You in Italy

6 Responses
  1. Thanks Cherrye!! It looks great! 🙂

    Prego, Katie! Maybe you can make this a two-part’er and give us some more concrete examples of how you learned Italian!

  2. Watching TV is a good way to improve your comprehension. Oh, and finding a non-English speaking boyfriend! 😉

    Those guys will get ya every time! 🙂

  3. These are great tips. One down side of living in a city like Rome with many so American/British/Australian expats and Italians who speak perfect English is my Italian is not where is should be after 2 1/2 years.

    It doesn’t help that you work from home, either-I think that (and P!) are to blame on this side! he he

  4. Give it time…It took me 8 years to speak more confidently. 🙂

    Definitely-I’ve been here over 4 years and I still have “those” moments.

  5. Lucia

    Ciao! Just saw this site. As a bit of an Italian-speaking beginner, I always asked the salesperson “Parla inglese?”. If they responded “No”, I would say “Parlo italiano un po.” Then I would proceed, often using my hands to communicate. After ordering panini once and using my hands to communicate, I said, “Quando non e possible de parlare con le parole, e possible de parlare con le mane!” The salesperson smiled and agreed!

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