“What is the most important thing to focus on when learning a new language?” a reader recently wrote. I posted his question on the LA BELLA LINGUA page on Facebook and got some great responses from Italian teachers and students.
“When learning a language like Italian, I feel the most important thing to focus on is the WHY,” says Christina Ball, director of the Speak! Language Center. “Why are you learning Italian? What do you absolutely love about the language? Maybe it’s the way it makes you feel when you speak it, the thought of all the people you’ll be able to connect with when next in Italy (or in your Italian class at home!), the musicality, perhaps — in the case of those with Italian heritage — the way it makes you feel closer to your family, to your roots.”
As Christina wisely observes, “Learning a language is like any relationship. You’ll experience ups and downs, but remembering why you’re so committed will help you through those challenging moments so that you can enjoy the journey itself.” [Click here for more information on the programs Speak! is offering in Italy this year.]
“There is no one way or one golden method that you learn from,” observes Melissa Muldoon, the “crazy student” (studentessa matta) with a terrific blog in English and Italian, “You have to read, write, listen and speak the language and build your vocabulary every day. I at first concentrated primarily on grammar, learning conjugations and tenses. Then I began to branch out and found native speakers to converse with on the internet. If you set aside time every day to create your own experience of immersion, you will get past the proverbial wall that all language learners hit at a certain point.”
Here are some other useful tips:
*Especially in the beginning, focus more on simply expressing yourself and carrying on meaningful conversations vs. perfecting pronunciation and grammar. “Perfectionism can be a true obstacle,” Christina Ball notes, “not only to progress, but also to true enjoyment of another language/culture and your personal experience of it.”
*Don't worry about your vocabulary; it will grow naturally. Instead, learn the basic verb conjugations. Find Italian newspapers, which generally (but not completely) stick to the simpler conjugations, online, and read stories out loud.
*Immerse yourself. Listen to Italian CDs; watch Italian TV and DVDs; stream Italian music and news stations daily. You can find native speakers to Skype at sites such as livemocha and mylanguageexchange. They offer both free and paid programs.
*Talk to yourself in Italian. One student pronounces Italian phrases in front of the mirror every morning. Another practiced rolling her r’s while sitting on her scooter at stop signs in Italy.
*Stick with it. ”Surround yourself with Italian in every aspect — listening, reading, speaking, and watching — and don't stop for as many years as it takes you to learn the language,” urges Italian teacher Carolina Gengo di Domenico of Piazza di Carolina.
*Enjoy yourself. “The most fun way for me to learn was marrying an Italian,” wrote one student, “but the verbs help!” (Unfortunately, as I replied to her, verbs don’t hug back.)
*Savor your successes,” another reader urges. “And downplay your everyday mistakes. Your listeners will, I can assure you.”
A fun way to start learning or review what you know is to watch the instructional videos by my friend Jodina Hahn Gallo, an Italian language teacher in San Diego. Vote for your favorite, and you could win a prize, including a signed copy of LA BELLA LINGUA!