Whether you were intrigued by the language, the country’s rich history, the geography, or the people. One thing you that’s hard to deny the beauty of the Italian language and country. If you ever wanted to go there someday or possibly living abroad there now, it has probably crossed your mind that “Hey, I should learn Italian.” You probably also asked, “But, how to learn Italian?”
As with any other country, when you can understand and speak the language you will usually get treated better. Not that people treat you worse because you don’t understand the language, its just easier to relate to people who speak as they speak. And that applies anywhere.
But even though you wanted to learn you may have been lost as to how.
Well, I’ll tell you what you need to know to learn Italian.
Ways to Learn
Before we go too much further, we should go over the 3 main ways that you will probably consider when learning Italian.
This is probably the most effective and possibly the best way to learn Italian and also probably one of the most stressful.
You plop yourself right into the language being used every day. Not only are you picking up words, phrases, and grammar. But you’re also getting used to the prosody, speed, and native usage of the language.
Everyday as you use the language you are forcing yourself to interact with people. So not only are you increasing your Italian prowess, you are also building relationships which will in turn give you more reason to speak and get even better at Italian.
Without a doubt, immersion is going to eventually get you fluent in a language, if for no other reason than you must.
That being said, depending on your level, it could be extremely frustrating for some people. While you’re making progress it will feel extremely slow because even if you understand 80% of what people are saying, the other 20% will have most of the information needed to understand.
Getting used to the speed will also irritate you, especially at the beginning. But after you get used to the speed it will sound like slower gibberish until you can make sense of it.
Immersion. This is definitely a way to learn Italian fast. But while effective, can be costly (flying and living in the country), and demotivating. It may even cause you to give up Italian altogether or go into a bubble where you only speak with people who speak your language in that country. Effectively making the immersion pointless.
We all know what a class is. Well here’s a class where you learn a language. Simple enough right?
This way of learning is probably the most hard to gauge effectiveness. The effectiveness of a class will depend on a lot of different variables. For example: the teacher’s ability, the teacher’s teaching style, the teacher’s motivation, your learning style, your motivation, the class make-up, the classes overall goals and motivation, etc.
If you luck up, you’ll select the perfect teacher for your style that really loves their job and the rest of the class is just as motivated to learn as you. If you’re unlucky, the teacher could be monotone, not care about the class and the rest of the class could be too slow or fast and hold you back.
I’m not a big supporter of language classes for those reasons, but they definitely do work for some people. And for the people who think that it would work for them, I’d be amiss to make a blanket statement and say they are useless.
My favorite way to learn is definitely online. Mainly because I spend a large chunk of my time on the computer anyway and this is the most go at your own pace style. However fast you feel like you can learn that’s how fast you go. Whenever you feel like you can handle more, do it.
There are a load of online courses and methods. So it would be nearly impossible to make any blanket statements about the category. That said one course that I do like is Rocket Italian, I have a review here. So if you wanted to get an idea about at least what one of them is like, I’d give that a once over.
With that, I’ve feel I sufficiently outlined the ways to go about learning Italian, now to get into the more specific elements you need to do.
This is the foundation upon which all your future success in speaking will be based on.
When you learn to pronounce the alphabet wrong, as you learn to read better your internal voice you use when reading will be reinforcing that wrong pronunciation. When you go to native speakers and practice with them, its doubtful at the beginning that they will correct you.
As you get more advanced you’ll have the vocabulary and the grammar, but people may have a hard time understanding you.
So first you should get this set. Before you even get deep into the words, phrases, or grammar , I suggest learning the alphabet. Especially if you will be self-studying or immersing (the same can happen in classes if the teacher is too lax). Some courses like Rocket Italian have speaking portions that will help to correct your pronunciation as well.
Here’s a video to learn that. I recommend watching it a few times until you can get it down.
If the alphabet was considered the foundation. Self belief can be considered the ground beneath that.
Many a language learner have been thwarted before they ever started by believing things like:
- I’m too old
- I’m too young
- I’m not good at languages
- I’m too dumb
- I can’t hear well
- I can’t/I’m too …
Most of these are just things we tell yourself so that we won’t try. Or just as often so that if we do meet a bit of failure we can quit right away because we never could do it because of whatever we said to begin with.
I can’t stress enough that you must believe that you can do this. Because if you start out from the beginning half trying in the race, you may as well not start.
If you want a few reasons as to why you can do it, then here’s a few:
- A baby can do it
- There are idiots that speak Italian
- Given enough time you can learn anything, even if you go slow
- What if you gave up walking after the first failure?
Setting Aside Study Time
This here. This here. This right here.
This is how a lot of people start Italian for a weekend. They may even study for 4 hours over a weekend, but when the regular week starts they do it even more haphazardly. They randomly study whenever they feel inclined to.
That’s a serious mistake. If you only study when you have inspiration, then it will be very hard going as you try to learn Italian. You’ll spend the majority of your time trying to get back to the same level that you just forgot.
That constant 2 steps back 1 step forward will take its toll and you’ll end up quitting.
To avoid that, do this instead. Set aside a time to study after work/school where you will always have available. Set this time so that unless something major happens, you have to study the language for that time.
It doesn’t even have to be a huge amount of time. If you set aside 30 minutes everyday, you will often go over it when you are inclined, but having that time set up will allow you to make constant progress.
If you happen to have a month or two where you are more motivated than usual you’ll make even more progress. But if you a have a month where you’re demotivated, you will make much less progress, but progress nonetheless. That’s a major key.
Having a Study Area
This part is less important than the previous ones. I’d venture to say that this part is optional, but I’d recommend it anyway.
So why have a study area?
It’s not simply about having a spot for all your stuff. It’s more so a way to trick your mind.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before that you shouldn’t watch TV in your bed if you have trouble falling asleep. At first it seems like pointless advice that couldn’t possibly help. And since people think that, they never give it a try.
The way it works is, you train your mind to know that when you get into your bed and your sense feel, smell, and hear the sounds that are associated with it. When that happens your mind thinks sleep. So over time when you hop into your bed, you just start to instantly fall asleep because your mind knows that those feelings are associated with sleep.
This is the same as having a devoted study area. You train your mind to know that, “Hey, it’s time to study and not get distracted by Facebook or Snapchat”. Eventually that place can become its own little world.
Combined with keeping a specific time it becomes even powerful. Your mind knows that at x:00 pm at that spot that it can safely tune out the rest of the world, because nothing else is going on but studying. This will also help with habit building as we will talk about next.
Staying Consistent and Creating a Habit
When you set aside a time for Italian, you are beginning a habit. The more you do it the less you have to think about it. After a month or two of consistently studying at the exact same time, you no longer have to think about starting.
You’ll find yourself with materials in hand already doing what you should be doing.
This is a very powerful level to be when learning. Having a habit allows your mind to carry you towards making progress without any input from you. So becoming proficient will only be a matter of time. Anything extra you do becomes pure Italian learning profit.
A way to take it to the next level would be to stack habits as you become better at Italian.
You start out studying a lesson at 7:30 am every before work for 30 minutes. After two months you ingrained that habit, you are making consistent progress, and are at a higher level.
Now instead of just being happy with that progress, what it you started listening to guided podcasts at 7:00 pm for 25 minutes. After two more months you’ve ingrained that habit and now you study almost an hour a day, and now you can read simple books.
You decide to stack another habit. Everyday at 12 noon you read an Italian book for 40 minutes. 2 months more and you now are studying everyday for about 1 1/2 hours and you are getting better at a dizzying pace. Not to mention your coasting pace is 3 times faster than when you started.
If you listened to any of the previous recommendations, then this should be less of an issue. But it does need to be talked about.
From time to time motivation dips. Ideally you had already set up a habit and at the very least you would be coasting by in the language. But sometimes you want to go faster than just coasting. This is where motivation is needed.
Some quick ways to get motivation for Italian is to think back to your reasons for wanting to learn the Italian language in the first place.
If it was because of architecture, take some time to scour the internet and admire those. If it was just the language itself, when you’re not studying simply turn on some Italian TV and just watch it for a while. You may not understand much, but sometimes understanding more than you used to is good motivation.
If it was the country, look up some flight tickets and make plans for going. Going through the motions of going to a place can release endorphins to give at least a bit of the happy feelings of actually going.
That’s basically all there is to it. Sometimes you have to accept that motivation is going to stay low and there’s nothing you can do but wait. Motivation usually ebbs and flows over time. So its just a matter of waiting it out.
Developing Mental Triggers
This goes back to having a set time and set area for studying. This just goes farther. You set up doing something that engages one or more of your senses to put you in a mindset of doing whatever it is you want yourself to do.
Anything you think of. You could:
- Use a certain pen every time you study
- Play a certain song just before you study (or on repeat if it doesn’t bother you) to get you into the zone
- Eat a certain food before you do an Italian routine
This effect can be even more powerful and quicker to stick if you involve an emotion. You could even watch a certain scene of a movie in that makes you cry or laugh before every session.
The only limit is your imagination.
Finding Native Material You Enjoy
This is when learning Italian becomes really fun. When you start dabbling into media made for native speakers.
This stuff isn’t slowed down or sanitized to be grammatically correct. And you can count on there being plenty of slurring words. Despite all that this is fun.
Getting used to all the difficulties will be easier when you find a show you like that you could just binge watch. But this binge watching will be useful. This is when your progress will start to skyrocket and you’ll start remembering things you never studied, but heard and/or read so many times you just accidentally knew it.
All of the sections before will help you to get here. Some will reach it quicker than others, some will be able to deal with the pain of not understanding better than others and watch anyway. This one thing can make most of the other things I discussed fall into place.
In conclusion. Pick a way to learn. Start a habit. Let that habit take you forward. Stack your habits. Reach native material and let the language take you away.
To start with I’d recommend Rocket Italian if you haven’t already tried it.