Learning Italian and becoming more fluent has been one of my primary goals since moving to Calabria, Italy. While I'm frustrated that I'm not more fluent, I do have to look back and see how far I've come in six months.
I'd like to share how I got here.
1. Find a Learning Program That Works for You
I've been studying Italian off and on for 10 years (and still I don't feel 100% fluent!). At first, I took an in-person course in San Diego. Then I did self-study at home.
For the past two years, I have been learning from a program called Italy Made Easy online. The teacher, Manu Venditti, is wonderful at breaking down language concepts into short videos. There are also quizzes at the end of each chapter. There are courses for beginners and advanced students.
I have realized, however, that I thrive in a classroom setting. My degree was in French, and I still feel more fluent in French than in Italian. I asked myself why and I think it was the constant repetition and coursework. And of course, not having the option to skip class like I do now!
So whatever learning program you choose, figure out what you'll thrive at, whether that's taking a class online or in-person.
2. Watch Italian TV
Yes, people in movies and shows will speak 90-to-nothing and you won't understand much, but the Italian will still seep into your brain.
I started out with English subtitles, but now I have Italian subtitles on (or none at all).
Netflix has some programs in Italian, but if you want more, check out Cibor TV. It's a little device that allows you to stream live Italian television. It's about $100 for a year, and totally worth it. You can watch the cheesy Italian reality and talk shows, Charlie's Angels dubbed in Italian, or the famous Spaghetti Westerns!
3. Download Google Translate
Gawd, I remember having to use an actual paper dictionary to look up words in French! Thank goodness for technology! I have the Google Translate app on my phone and on my computer, so it's super easy to look up a word.
You wouldn't believe how often I copy/paste a text from an Italian friend to understand!
You can create a phrasebook of words you want to remember, which is handy. I review this list every few weeks and delete any I feel confident that I know.
4. Read Out Loud
For me, reading in Italian and understanding everything is my biggest hurdle. Therefore, I work on it. I bought a yoga magazine months ago (and yes, I'm STILL not done reading it!), and what I do is read a few paragraphs out loud to work on my pronunciation and underline words I don't know.
Then I go into my Google Translate app and look up those words. I write them in a notebook. More than likely, I immediately forget the words, but if I hear them again and again, I start to retain them.
I also occasionally read Italian books on Kindle, though it's more for practice and less for enjoyment. The nice thing is that you can highlight a word or phrase and get the translation.
5. Make Mistakes
When I studied French in Belgium, I made the grave error of simply not speaking French unless I had to. I was self-conscious and didn't want to goof up.
I have a completely different attitude now. I make mistakes every damn day (faccio degli errori!). And that's okay. Because I do not give a shit about how I come off. And people are really understanding. They're just impressed that I'm trying.
The funny thing is, so many Italians I've met do speak English, but they're too self-conscious to speak it. I explain that I'm bumbling my way through this language and that they shouldn't be afraid either!
6. Be Patient
As much as I berate myself for not understanding everything, I realize it will take time. After all, Rome (and its language) weren't built in a day! Italian is made up of 450,000 words, and I wanna learn them all! As a writer and a person who came out of the womb chattering, I get frustrated when I can't express myself fully with words.
But, as the Italians say, piano piano. Slowly it will come. Give yourself credit with every new word you learn, and also know when it's time to take a break. Sometimes I feel like I should watch tv in Italian but then opt for the comfort of an English-speaking program. And that's okay!