You don’t need to have been good at foreign languages at school to learn Italian as an adult.
Though of course it helps.
But this article isn’t for people who were good at languages at school.
It’s for people like me, who weren’t.
So, first let me tell you the good news.
People all over the world learn foreign languages, easily and naturally, as a normal part of their day-to-day lives. There are communities where nearly everyone speaks multiple languages. Seemingly without effort.
Isn’t that encouraging? Anyone can learn a foreign language! Even you.
Yet, there are many people who take up studying Italian but who will probably fail to achieve their goal of speaking and understanding the language.
You probably know people like that. Maybe you’re thinking “OMG, that’s me!”
So, how to learn Italian, even if you’ve never successfully studied a foreign language before?
1. Evaluate your resources
Begin by evaluating how much time and money you are willing to spend to learn Italian, and how quickly.
As a guideline, an evening course in your own country would be a small commitment, but would not lead to rapid progress.
You’d probably need to study for several years before you reached a level at which you’d be able to hold a reasonable “tourist” conversation on a trip to Italy.
In contrast, an Italian course in Bologna would be a lot more intensive, so you could expect much faster progress in a shorter period of time.
Typically you could reach a reasonable level in two or three months, or perhaps five-six months for an advanced level in Italian.
Either way, you should expect to pay around a thousand US dollars a level. It’s not big bucks…
2. Set realistic targets
Once you’ve worked out the type of course you want to follow, double check it’s compatible with the rest of your life!
There’s no point in signing up to something expensive and time-consuming if reality will then butt in and spoil the party!
Find out from whoever provides the course you’re about to choose how much progress you will make, and how much time you’ll be expected to invest.
Ask questions, listen to the advice you get. But be a little sceptical.
And allow yourself some extra time to reach the goals you set yourself. That way, you’ll feel less pressure.
3. Get with the program
You want to get in shape, lose weight, beat an addiction?
You could do it your way….
Or you could go along with a group of people, guided by an expert, all trying to achieve the same thing.
If you take an Italian course in Bologna you can expect various learning opportunities over and above your lessons each day: homework, a tutor to help you study, social events to practice speaking Italian, and so on.
It’s all part of the package, and all important to achieving the final result.
So, not something you should skip.
Like attending regular A.A. meetings is part of staying off the booze.
4. Beware psychological dips
Ever tried to do something that took years, maybe a decade, to achieve?
Or committed months of your life to achieving just one goal, something which meant being a long way from your home, family, friends?
Most people haven’t. And so are unprepared for the mental dificulties involved.
If you want to learn Italian, you’ll need to accept that there are going to be ups and downs.
The trick is to expect the downs. Plan for them.
It’s not easy coping with self-doubt.
But that’s what makes it such a great feeling when you succeed…
5. Measure your progress
There’s a funny thing, which you won’t know if you’ve never studied a foreign language before.
The more you learn, the more it seems there still is to learn.
As your course progresses, your expectations will change.
First you wanted to be able to order a coffee. Now you’re frustrated you can’t yet read Dante in the original.
Our most advanced students tend to be the least satisfied.
The reason is that people measure their progress learning Italian in an irrational way.
Instead of measuring our achievements and feeling satisfied, we’ll compare the level we have reached in Italian with what we are able to do in our own, native language. And feel dissatisfied.
It’s not a fair comparison, and can lead to demotivation. And failure.
Measure your progress using an objective yardstick. CILS exams are good for this.
Or measure the time it takes you to finish reading a book or article in Italian. You’ll get faster at it, I promise.
Your objective should always be to demonstrate to yourself what’s working, what you have learnt.
NOT to focus on all the things you haven’t yet achieved!
So this is how to learn Italian, even if you’ve never studied a foreign language before:
- Evaluate how much time/money you are able to spend
- Check websites, ask questions: decide what can realistically be achieved with the resources you have
- You’ll get out what you put in, so do the work: exploit all the opportunities you have to learn the language
- Expect to feel lousy at some point. You’ve wasted your money! You’re not able! Doubts are unpleasant, but normal, like menstruation
- Don’t forget: always and only, measure how far you’ve come, not how far you have still to go….
In bocca al lupo!
Literally this means: “Into the mouth of the wolf”.
Italians believe it’s bad luck to say “Good luck” so they say “In bocca al lupo!”
Like how theater actors are supposed to say “Break a leg!”
(Sometimes Italian friends say, “Into the asshole of the whale”, but I’m not going to teach you that one…)