Traditional teaching styles have fuelled the myth about Italian being a challenging language. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you learned any foreign language during your childhood, you surely remember the onerous grammar exercises, translation tasks, and red marks to correct any tiny mistake.
So, when it comes to learning Italian during your adulthood age, all these memories begin to come back, and you find yourself sabotaging your progress without even being aware of that.
So, what can you actually do to learn the Italian language easily and reach the goals that you have set for yourself?
Here is a 5-step guide with a few tips that might help you, based on my experience as an Italian teacher.
1. Set small goals
You want to become fluent in Italian quickly, but maybe you lead a very busy lifestyle and therefore have very little time to dedicate to your learning. A full Italian language training course looks so vast, and you just want to get to the end and be able to have your first conversations in Italian.
As a result, you complete a chapter, or topic, and you immediately start a new one. At the end of the programme, you’ve covered all the topics, and you think you can now go out and speak Italian…but almost nothing comes out of your mouth. How come?
Before you give up on your Italian, let me explain why this happens: learning too many topics in a row, without leaving any time for revision, is counterproductive. Especially when your ultimate goal is to become an independent speaker.
So, here is the solution to that: set small goals. Setting small goals for yourself will secure more effective and longer-term language learning.
In an instant-gratification-based world, we all want to become fluent in a short period of time. Nevertheless, as we also happen to live in a busy world, we need to deal with plenty of daily tasks. This is why small goals are not only a good compromise, but also a more effective strategy to remember and retain new information.
By dedicating all your efforts to a small task, learning will feel lighter. You will also be able to learn without stress, and mastering the Italian language will cease to feel insurmountable.
As an Italian proverb says, whoever goes slowly, goes safely and goes far (chi va piano, va sano e va lontano).
2. Learn words with pictures
If you’re used to a traditional, translation-based learning approach, chances are you are used to drafting word lists to learn new vocabulary. The problem with word lists is that they can be overwhelming, they are demotivating, and they don’t help you retain the new words. Vocabulary word lists just don’t work.
So, when it comes to learning new Italian vocabulary, what I recommend is to learn words by associating them to a picture. If you think about it, this is how we would learn words when we were children. No one has ever told us that tavolo meant table. No one has ever used translation to teach us new words. We only learned words by associating them to a picture.
This technique has a great benefit as well: it will help you think in Italian sooner, because you won’t have to spend time thinking about how to translate sole, casa or albero, but you will already have pictures of the sun, of a house, and of a tree ready in your mind.
Some useful tools to help you associate nouns to pictures are flashcards and post-it notes. You can create your own flashcards, or use tools like Quizlet or Anki. As for post-it notes, they can be useful if placed around the house, and they are the ideal solution for the lazy learners. By using post-it notes, your mind will straightforwardly create a mental association every time you look at a particular object.
If you’re ready to give them a try, flashcards and post-it notes are a powerful and effective way to learn and retain your new Italian words easily.
3. Learn verbs and use them in context
When it comes to learning Italian verbs, people tend to learn verb conjugations by heart. This is a habit we all have developed during our school years, where we were told this was the right method. However, verbs are meant to be used, not memorised. This is why using them in a context is much more effective than simply learning them by heart.
I particularly recommend using fill-in-the-gap exercises to do this. They already provide you with a context and they challenge you enough so that, at the end of the task, you will know how to use that particular verb in the right way.
Alternatively, if you feel confident and creative enough, you can also create your own sentences for each verb that you learn. This is even more powerful: the sentences would come directly from you, so your brain will help you remember them more easily.
Always remember that languages have to be practiced, not just seen, and Italian is no exception.
4. Enjoy it
This might sound superficial but enjoying learning Italian is crucial if you want to learn it easily. There is one basic reason for this: we tend to remember what we learn through positive experiences.
Studies have been done to show that as children we learn better through play. Negative experiences sabotage our learning, while positive experiences ensure an effortless and long-lasting learning.
One way you can start enjoying learning Italian is by using language games.
This advice applies to you especially if you’re an adult and you feel self-conscious about testing your knowledge of Italian. Language games would place you in a totally different dimension and would shift your focus from completing an exercise to winning a game.
When you shift your focus to a more pleasant and enjoyable activity, your brain won’t make you feel threatened by the danger of being exposed to potential mistakes. You will enjoy the process and you won’t be bothered too much in case you don’t give the right answer.
In addition to that, as previously said, you will also secure yourself a more effective and long-term learning.
As Raph Koster said in A Theory of Fun for Game Design, fun is just another word for learning.
5. Speak from Day One
Perhaps the most useful advice on this list. Speaking is the skill that mostly grows your confidence and fluency. We can study all the grammar rules and vocabulary in a book, but it is only by practicing that we learn how to put all the pieces together and fully understand the language.
Therefore, if you get used to speaking right from the beginning, you will develop a stronger knowledge of Italian and you will feel more confident when moving towards the next chapter.
Now you might be thinking that it is impossible to speak from the very beginning, and that speaking is only for intermediate learners. Actually, you don’t need to wait for too long before you can speak in Italian. You can start right at the beginning of your journey and say the first sentences that you learn, or even the first words, and the first sounds.
Step by step, you will:
- be able to express yourself smoothly,
- feel more confident,
- approach advanced topics positively.
Approaching Italian language learning with a gradual, enjoyable and practical learning strategy, ensures a smoother learning experience and stable, long-term results.
Applying these strategies can definitely benefit any language learner whose ultimate goal is to speak Italian confidently for life.
This article was written by Gloria Spagnoli, online Italian teacher and founder of Speakita.com, where she helps beginners and false beginners learn and speak Italian through a fun and playful teaching method.
If you are interested in setting up an Italian course for yourself or your team with a teacher like Gloria, get in touch with us and talk to one of our Account Managers about it.