I have made learning Italian a lifestyle choice.
I studied Art History in Florence and sixteen years after my Florentine college adventure concluded, Italy was still weaving its magic over me. I ached with “nostalgia” or homesickeness for Italia.
To fill the sentimental void, I decided to resume my language studies. Since then I have learned a lot more than grammar and vocabulary!
Here are ten things that learning Italian has taught me:
1. Nothing happens unless you seriously commit to making it happen My desire to learn Italian may have begun on a nostalgic whim, but since then, each day I recommit to learning the language by finding new activities to improve reading, speaking and writing skills. Excuses and stalling tactics hold us back, but proactively dedicating time and energy to learning a language moves us forward.
2. Mastering a foreign language requires time There is no fast or magic way to expedite learning a foreign language. We all learn differently and at various speeds. Processing new information, forging long term memory recall, and understanding language nuances often takes prolonged exposure to rewire our brains. Forcing the process is counterproductive and often causes us to forget what we have learned in haste. Language learning is not a race, so enjoy the journey and go at your own pace.
3. Speaking a foreign language can be humbling, but mistakes should be positively embraced Some days speaking a foreign language seems easier than others; one day we are invincible, the super men of learning; other days we are reduced to babbling toddlers who can barely put two words together coherently. Errors are a natural part of the learning process. Mistakes can be frustrating and sometimes demoralizing but, instead of letting them detour you, let them propel you forward. I believe if you AREN’T making errors you aren’t trying hard enough. Mistakes can be your best teachers and often we have stronger memory connections for having committed the error in the first place.
4. Becoming proficient in a new language requires boldness and stepping out of comfort zones When I was new to Italian, I was shy about conversing in Italian. I did’t want to sound stupid. Now, I don’t let an opportunity to engage a native speaker in a conversation pass me by. What caused the evolution from shy, shrinking violet to curious loquacious Italian conversationalist? At some point I decided I couldn’t wait to know every verb, preposition and conjugation before I opened my mouth to speak. So, I moved out of my comfort zone to embrace conversations with native Italian speakers as precious opportunities for improvement.
5. Pronouncing words in a foreign language is challenging, but knowing about culture helps us sound more like native speakers Perfecting a foreign accent requires learning new speech patterns and rhythms, so that we can make distinctions between single and double consonants. We must learn how to form new sounds in different parts of our mouths and throats and wrap our tongues around tricky dipthongs and tripthongs. But, I have also learned that the secret to truly sounding like a native speaker lies in mastering idioms and colorful language expressions and that comes from studying a target language’s culture. You will sound more fluent when you understand the nuances of colorful phrases like “non vedo l’ora” or “in bocca al lupo” and don’t attempt to translate words and phrases verbatim.
6. You DON’T have to move to a foreign country to be immersed in its language To learn Italian well doesn’t require a move to Rome or Florence. In lieu of immigrating, I believe that it is quite possible to create a language immersion environment right at home. To begin fashioning a language immersion program you should incorporate activities that include LISTENING, READING, WRITING, SPEAKING & GRAMMAR. The internet provides a wealth of opportunities to hear radio broadcasts, watch films, chat with Italians, and read articles.
7. We learn things when we are engaged, relaxed and having fun It is important to choose language learning activities that are interesting, because if it isn’t fun, we aren’t learning. If chatting with an on-line language partner isn’t rewarding, or if it feels disjointed and awkward, find a new partner. If you are reading an article on politics and it is boring find another about your personal hobby. When you are relaxed, interested and comfortable your confidence is boosted and your learning escalates.
8. Hearing, understanding and communicating with others in a new language is an exhilarating experience There is no greater feeling of accomplishment than stepping off a plane in Milan or walking into a little town in Umbria and immediately being able to understand what is said around you. It is also delightful to see the eyes of an Italian widen in surprise when he realizes that you can communicate with him in his native language.
9. A foreign language can open doors to new opportunities and friendships My quest to learn Italian has led me on an amazing journey throughout il bel paese, as well as all over the internet. The Italian language has been the key to making new friends and unlocking opportunities for work and pleasure, that were never before possible or imaginable.
10. One never stops learning a foreign languageWhen I started learning Italian, I thought there would come a time when I would be fluent and my project would be finished. I have since realized that the process of learning Italian will never be over. I am enjoying myself way too much! Each day that I navigate the internet, read articles, chat with Italian friends or listen to a song on the radio, I am reminded that I still have so much more to learn.