Ten years ago I couldn’t understand Italian and I couldn’t speak Italian. I hesitated to travel to Italy because I was intimidated by the language barrier. I am so glad that has changed, because since then, I have fallen in love with Italy and never can get enough of Bella Italia.
I knew I wanted to experience more of my ancestors’ heritage and I have returned to Italy time and again. Last spring was my 7th trip to Italy, and I am planning another visit to Italy for later this year.
Learning the Italian language was important to me to be able to really immerse myself into the culture while in Italy. I wanted to understand the Italian people. I wanted to have conversations with them and learn from them.
According to the University of Oregon, “an estimated 180 million people worldwide speak Italian as their primary or secondary language. Almost 17 million North Americans identify as having Italian ancestry.” Italian is a romance language and I think, one of the most beautiful of all languages. I could listen to an Italian speak with perfect pronunciation all day.
I certainly am not fluent in Italian, but since I first began to study the language I can understand enough of it to engage in conversations. I can also read, write, and speak it enough to communicate. I can enjoy watching Italian films and can understand some of it without the subtitles. I think learning Italian happens in steps, and I think the easiest to learn is the comprehension, or understanding. The hardest for me is the speaking, because I still have to think about how I am saying it.
Today many avenues exist to learn Italian, at all different levels. Initially I started with CDs by Pimsleur and Instant Immersion. I bought Rosetta Stone, which is an easy way to learn conversational Italian. As my Sicilian friend Angela told me though, Rosetta Stone is not sufficient to master conjugations etc. And as a writer, I knew I needed to learn more.
This turned out to be the best idea because later, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy solo for three months, and I knew I would have to speak Italian in the small villages and non-touristy towns. By the time I was ready to go, I felt that I was adequately prepared to be able to speak and understand Italian. I guess I was right because several times on that trip, local Italians stopped me and asked for directions in Italian, and I was able to give them.
Today many free resources to learn Italian exist online. One of my favorites is a YouTube site by a young Italian language student, whose name is Lucrezia Oddone. She features short videos that make learning Italian fun and also educational. You may want to check them out. They range from simple introductory beginner videos to more advanced. I really like that she also explains which phrases are most often used, even though both might be correct.
Kathryn Occhipinti’s book, Conversational Italian for Travelers – Just the Important Phrases, is what you need in Italy and you can learn it so quickly here with the author’s focus on “just the important phrases.” Her website, Stella Lucente, includes many resources for learning the Italian language.DuoLingo is an online interactive resource that also exists as an app for your phone or tablet. Other places to learn Italian include more formal classes and also language workshops held in Italy, so you can combine travel with learning. Studentessa Matta offers these several times a year.
I think though, that the most important concept to take away is to not allow yourself to let the language barrier intimidate from you traveling to Italy. I have found that in most places, the Italian people are very happy to see a traveler attempt to say a few words in Italian. They go out of their way to encourage you and have said “Bravissima” even when I didn’t feel like I was pronouncing something too well.
It pays to learn some basic phrases before you go and practice saying them, so they will roll off your tongue with ease. Learning to say easy but necessary phrases such as please, thank you, I appreciate that, can you help me, may I have the check, are just a few examples. ReidsItaly.com has several lists of useful phrases with pronunciation.
Grazie and Ciao
And in case you haven’t been to my FaceBook Author page, please check it out. There’s always something new there. Grazie amici.