Learning the Italian Language

Italian language booksTen 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.

Beautiful Vernazza, Cinque Terre Photo by margie MiklasMy first trip to Italy was in 2007 with my brother and sister-in-law, and after that I was smitten.

OCtober 2007 ITALY TRIP Rick, Monica anme Photo by Margie Miklas SicilyI 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.

Isola Bella in TaorminaLearning 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.

The people of Italy Photo by Margie MIklasAccording 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.

italian-758576_640I 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.

Rosetta StoneI joined an Italian Meet-Up group and started to take weekly group Italian classes. The teacher was from Italy and was wonderful.

Photo by Margie Miklas Italian Verbs CDAfter about six months, the classes ended, and I decided to continue with her for private weekly tutoring.

CiaoThis 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.Photo by Kathryn OcchpintiDuoLingo  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.

Italy. Photo by Margie MiklasIt 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.

Buon viaggo.

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.


31 Responses

  1. gregsitaly

    Amazing how one Italian word can have so many meanings. It is all in context like the verbs which have the pronouns as part of the conguation. I do best when I am conversing with an Italian in Italy. It is sure work the the effort. Great post with many good ideas,.

  2. Mary-Catherine Marro

    Reading your article had me saying, “that’s me” several times and many of your cited resources are also in my library. I’ve been studying Italian off and on for about 10 years but having no one to speak the language with makes it difficult. I was just in Italy for two weeks in June and did OK communicating. I continue to have the most trouble with understanding the Italians. They speak much too fast for me…..they’ve finished their sentence and I’m still translating in my head the first couple words of what they said!!!! Ma provo!

    • margieinitaly

      Thanks for sharing Mary-Catherine… I agree once the Italians start speaking fast I only catch some of the words…

  3. stellalucentellc

    Thank you for mentioning my “Conversational Italian Just the Important Phrases” Margie! I have to say that the reason I wrote this little pocket travel book was to make sure I had all the phrases I needed to remember when I traveled to Italy. I am so glad it is helpful to you and your readers as well. One of my tips for learning Italian – watch Italian movies. They are fun, interesting because you can learn about the culture, and you can hear how Italians really speak – over and over again if you want!

    • margieinitaly

      My pleasure, Kathy…Your book is very helpful and just the right size to bring along on a trip. Thank you for sharing the idea about watching Italian movies. I have met housekeepers in Italian hotels who told me that is how they learned Italian when they cam from other countries to work in Italy.

  4. dollygoolsby

    I agree with you, Margie. I have been studying Italian, off and on, for 8 years. Although my studies now are either on line, or reviewing past lessons, the language comes back when I visit Italy. I am certainly not fluent; it is difficult for me to carry on a conversation in Italian, but I can usually communicate well enough to get my questions answered or find something I want. I do find, in the cities, as soon as I open my mouth and start speaking Italian, many people will answer me in English. Italian is such a beautiful language. Two years ago, I took an Italian language class in Montepulciano, Italy. I highly recommend the school, Il Sasso. Staying in an apartment in that hill town, going to school every week day for one month, was an experience I will always remember. I would love to do that again.

  5. Tony

    Great resources, thanks for sharing! Some day I want/will be fluent in Italian for the day when I can hopefully live there, even if only for periods of time! 🙂

    • margieinitaly

      That’s great Tony…Learning even a little every day is a big help. Some people I know make it a goal to learn one new word a day.

  6. Kathy Sterndahl

    After finishing an older version of Rosetta Stone, I am now working through Duolingo. But I started Memrise the same day, and I feel like I am actually learning more through that one. I still do them both and every other learning opportunity I run across. I’m hoping to spend next Maggio in Italia!

    • margieinitaly

      That sounds like a great goal Kathy. By next May you will really know a lot!! I hadn’t heard of Memrise…will have to look into it. Thanks so much for commenting here!!

  7. Annmarie

    Great post,Margie. It takes me back to our first years living in Italy, when we ( being nervous speakers full of angst) decided to perfect a few good sentences around the themes of weather, food and illnesses. That helped us enormously in piazza, we just kept repeating the same sentences to everyone we met, and got instant replies, a lot of which we didn’t quite catch – ( the local dialect is NOT in the textbook)! But this left us with big smiles all round, and an energy that kept us skipping all the way home.Ha ha!!

  8. karenincalabria

    You are SO right, Margie. Once you can speak some Italian, your experience doubles, triples, quadruples…. I also began learning Italian as an adult and of course will always be learning Italian. And there are so many more tools available now than when I started. I like watching programs on the internet, for example. However, there’s no substitute for going there and immersing yourself. I highly recommend doing an intensive language course in Italy for a minimum of 4 weeks. Language classes for about 4 hours/day with sightseeing (or resting from your intense concentration) the rest of the time. If you can find a home stay, even better.

    • margieinitaly

      Karen, that would certainly be a dream! Several friends of mine have done that and have learned enough to be teaching the language!

  9. timelessitaly

    Italian, my never-ending challenge:) I am still in the baby stages….I just received Kathryn’s phrase book and I love it.

    • TravelsWithRae

      If you are in the baby stage Susan, I am in the infant stage ha ha.. I too received Kathryn’s book and am using that as well as Duo-Lingo app. I like the app because I can hear how to pronounce it instead of guessing 🙂 My pronunciation is good – I’ve always had the affinity to speak a language well. Now I just need to learn what it is that I’m saying – LOL

      • timelessitaly

        I hear you Rae….It’s not easy to learn Italian. I think the best way for me to learn is by immersion. But that may not be practical. I have done some Duo-Lingo and I think it is the best so far. Now I just need to get back to it! When do you return to Italy?

        • Anonymous

          I agree Susan. I have to learn by doing, or in this case, speaking. I forget if I don’t use it. I’m afraid I was rather timid on my first trip. Plus I only knew basic words.
          I am working on a trip for next year.

          • timelessitaly

            So exciting!! Half the fun is the anticipation, and of course learning Italian, before you go and actually use it. I get blown away when I try to keep up with their rapid speech. In fact, I’ve asked them to please slow down:) I feel like a toddler…

        • TravelsWithRae

          My response to your comment Susan, was as “Annonymous”. Sorry, got a new phone today so not everything is working/set up quite right yet

  10. Vino Travels

    The struggles of learning Italian. I’ve been doing it for years, but can’t break that fluency barrier at this point. it’s always a challenge. It’s funny we have all the same books except the Everything Italian one and I watch those youtube videos and of course use the Studentessa Matta ; )

    • karenincalabria

      In addition to the books you already have I recommend Assimil’s Italian with Ease – 100 short lessons/conversations, Italian on one page, English on the opposite, pronunciation guide on bottom of page (not any fancy international alphabet, but how you’d pronounce it – different versions for American and British English, I think) and naturally with an accompanying audio. I felt like it gave me a great basis and I eventually worked up to passing a mother-tongue equivalency test (many years later). But of course, I’m still studying even after that. Auguri!

      • margieinitaly

        Great tip, Karen..I am not familiar with that book but it sounds like a wonderful resource!!! I guess we will always keep learning! Congrats on passing the mother-tongue equivalency exam!!

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