A guest post by Anthony Fasano
It wasn’t until my mid-30s that I really started thinking about where I came from. I don’t mean where I grew up; I mean where my family came from generations earlier. I talked to my grandparents, did a lot of research and finally connected online with relatives in southern Italy and Sicily. Once I decided to visit them, I realized I had to learn Italian—before our plane took off in ten months.
The process that I used to become conversational in Italian isn’t as structured as a language teacher might recommend, but it worked — and it was a lot of fun:
- Start with a vision. This step requires only some thought and a blank piece of paper. Set goals for what level of Italian you want to progress to by the time of your trip. This will not only be affected by the amount of time you have but also by your budget. If you have a sizeable budget, you can work with a language teacher on a weekly basis — or more often. If not, keep reading.
- Learn the alphabet again. I recommend starting the process by learning the Italian alphabet, as well as the pronunciation of key letter combinations. Visit your public library and check out children’s books and DVDs on basic Italian.
- Use music to make learning fun. Before memorizing vocabulary, sing songs in Italian to get used to pronouncing new sounds. This will make conversations easy when the time comes, as it helps you get used to the pace of the Italian language. I sang Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye over and over. (Click below to hear other examples.)
- Learn consistently with different formats. To learn a new language, you must work on it every day. Doing so through various formats will make it easier. For instance, every day I listened to a free podcast (Coffee Break Italian Podcast) and also read a chapter in an Italian grammar.
- Create accountable conversations. You must speak Italian as often as possible to become conversational. Obviously spending time in Italy is the best way to do this, but I was able to find instructors and native Italian speakers to engage with over Skype prior to my trip abroad. Some useful online sites are Italki, Fluent in 3 Months, Duolingo and Rocket languages. Also consider local community schools that often offer affordable, small group Italian classes.
Remember: Speaking a new language is not a skill you are born with, but anyone can learn a language with consistent hard work and determination. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
As I describe in my book, my wife, three children and I had the trip of a lifetime. We spent time with cousins who have a farm in Campania. I found the birth certificates of both sets of my great-grandparents and visited the street where my great-grandfather—the Antonio Fasano I was named for—was born in 1889. To celebrate an uncle’s 60th birthday, we shared a pizza in Sicily with Italian and Italian-American relatives. In a cemetery near Sortino, I touched the photograph of my great-great-grandparents pinned to their grave (in photo above with my son). It was amazing! Generations connected, at last.
Forty Days in Italy Con La Mia Famiglia gives step-by-step guidance all Italian-Americans can use to find living relatives in Italy. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Discovering where you came from is an introduction to a whole new world.
Anthony Fasano describes himself as “a proud Italian-American whose family comes from the regions of Campania and Sicilia.” He is the co-creator and co-host with Dolores Alfieri of “The Italian American Experience" podcast. Click here for Anthony's conversation with Dianne Hales, best-selling author of La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language, on the podcast.