10 Tips for Becoming Fluent in the Italian Language

Jan 31, 2013

David cover 100 001

La padronanza della lingua


Becoming fluent (diventare fluente) isn’t as hard as you might think, says Susan Elizabeth Nus, an Italian instructor in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of Italian Fluency, “a vocabulary companion for language learners.” The key: finding fun ways to make Italian part of your daily life.

Here are some of her recommendations for Italian students of every level:

1. Don’t stress about grammar.  (Non stressarti per la grammatica. “Some people just can’t get the words out because of fear of making mistakes,”says Nus, “while others just glide along and in so doing become fluent, improving steadily as they continue practicing, speaking, and enjoying the language.” Don’t fret. Your grammar—and your accent—will improve with time.

2. Play the role. (Recita la parte.)  “When speaking Italian, you may feel a bit more elegant, sophisticated, and worldly,” Nus notes. Go with it. Since Italian has “a theatrical, over-the-top quality,” it helps to “lose yourself a bit to the language.”

3. Be patient. (Sii paziente.)  Learning any language demands “exposure, exposure, exposure,” Nus reminds us. Every student needs to study both grammar and vocabulary, but the longer you stick with it, “the more natural and gratifying the language will become.”

4. Read, read, read! (Leggi, leggi, leggi!Look up a topic in English on Wikipedia and then read a piece on the same subject in Italian. Choose a book by a favorite author like John Grisham that’s available in English and Italian. To begin, read paragraph by paragraph: first English, then Italian. As you get more proficient, read chapter by chapter, then the entire English text before the Italian. Use a similar approach for Italian newspapers. Choose a topic you are familiar with in English and then read an article on the same subject in an online Italian newspaper.

5. Build your vocabulary. (Espandi il tuo vocabolario.)  Collect all the new words you learn in a notebook. Highlight every word you look up in your Italian-English dictionary. As you look up future words, the previously highlighted ones will pop up at you.

6. Write your “to-do” list in Italian.  (Fai la lista delle cose da fare in italiano.)  You quickly will memorize many essential, high-frequency expressions, such as “fare la spesa” (go grocery shopping). Use full sentences and include verbs in entries whenever possible.

7. Surf youtube. (Naviga su YouTube.  Type in the Italian words for a broad category of interest, such as astronomia (astronomy), and discover interesting videos on la Terra (earth), galassie (galaxies), or buchi neri (black holes). Nus’s favorites are cooking videos. You’ll learn words for ingredients and actions—and usually you can follow the recipe even without full comprehension of the language.

8. Listen! (Ascolta!) Fill your ears with Italian audio books, Italian music (lyrics often available on line), and Italian radio. “Initially comprehension may be a blur,” says Nus. “But if you stick with it, you’ll start to isolate words, then phrases, then themes.”

9. Observe and imitate. (Osserva e imita.)
Whether you see native speakers in person, on videos, or in movies, imitate their language and gestures. Pronounce vowels the way they do. Mimic their intonation. Use your hands and body the way they do. Be Italian!

10. Have a sip of wine. (Sorseggia del vino.)
“If you enjoy the noble grape, raise your glass,” Nus suggests, “because a little vino really helps the language flow.” Wine seems to release the Italian that’s been “fermenting” in your brain and facilitate conversation to an “almost magical” extent.

Words and Expressions

la comprensione –- comprehension

memorizzare –- to memorize

la conversazione –- conversation

la pronuncia –- pronunciation

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

Subscribe here



La Passione
Mona Lisa
La Bella Lingua