No time or money to learn Italian? What you really need is..

“Oh if I only had the time to learn Italian…”

We hear that all the time.

Equally common is:

“I’d love to, but I can’t afford it.”

Perhaps you find yourself saying one or both of these things…

But are you sure they’re not just excuses?

I’d know all about that, as I’ve been putting off perfecting my Italian for nearly two decades!

I came to live here in Bologna in 1998, which is (OMG!) eighteen years ago.

And yet I still don’t speak Italian perfectly.

Reasonably well, yes. I read effectively, understand most of what I hear, and can write some.

But I have a terrible accent and make plenty of grammar mistakes. Our Italian teachers (my employees) cringe visibly when I speak to them.

Admittedly, time has been the enemy. Since we’ve lived here, I’ve always worked. We’ve got married, bought a house and had three children. Not to mention building two businesses.

But I confess, I did have at least SOME free time during those eighteen years. I just spent it doing other things: writing books, cooking, listening to jazz, drinking wine, learning to sail and so on.

There was money too. Doing an MBA at Bologna Business School ‘cost me an eye’ as Italians say. And took up several years of evenings and weekends.

So I guess I have no excuse for my terrible grammar.

Or at least, it wasn’t a case of ‘didn’t have the time’ or ‘didn’t have the money’.

For me, what was missing was another essential ingredient…

The ‘Time/Money/Motivation’ Triangle

I have this theory.

It’s sort of triangular. Or flat, maybe.

Let me explain: there are three elements to achieving something big but worthwhile like learning a language.

They are ‘time’, ‘money’ and ‘motivation’.

But you only NEED two of them to succeed (it helps if one of these is motivation).

The reasoning goes like this:

If you’re motivated, you need to find either the time or the money.

If you have the motivation to do something, you should be able to find the time for it.

And if you have the time, you don’t really need the money, as there are so many wonderful resources on the Internet for learning Italian, it’s now perfectly feasible to learn Italian without ever spending a cent.

Or if your situation is that you’re time-poor but motivated, you can probably find the money. It’s just a question of spending what you would have splurged on something else. Cut out a treat or two, skip a holiday, and over a year you’ll easily save enough for a good Italian course.

It’s neat. If you don’t have much time, spend more money. If you don’t have much money, spend more time.

Taking a course costs, but is a lot faster and arguably more effective for many people than doing self study.

But if you have no cash to spare, you pare down your routine so as to free up some self-study time.

That way you could read the newspaper in Italian each day, or do some online exercises. There’s no doubt that, with language learning, a little at a time will get you there in the end!

I see people using one or the other of these approaches successfully every day – at our language school in Bologna, and through my online activities.

Both approaches work just fine.

The problem is that too many people choose neither.

You wouldn’t believe how many of my Italian students learning English claim to have no time to study – none – but then take an hour-long lunch break each day to relax and socialize.

Neither do they seem to have much of a budget for lessons, but it doesn’t stop them driving shiny German automobiles and dressing in branded clothes.

The result? Many of them improve less than they’d like to.

You DO have at least some time. You probably have at least some money too. Possibly, like me, not much of either one.

But then you don’t need plenty of both.

What you need is the drive to reach your goal, which is much, much more important!

So, it’s your call: learn Italian faster but spend more with a full-time course, or do it gradually but spending little or nothing with self-study materials.

The problem is never the time or the money. The problem is ALWAYS the motivation.

Back to me.

Over the years, I guess I’ve gotten used to not speaking Italian that well, and get by just fine with what I have.

But imagine the return on investment if I’d taken a couple of months out of my life to do a decent Italian course way back in 1998…

If I’d realized the long-term pay-off.

If I’d invested then some of what I’d been putting by for the future.

If I’d put off starting work for a few months longer so as to get the basics sorted first.

I’d have spent, what, a couple of thousand dollars (this was before euros existed.)

Plus a similar amount that I wouldn’t have earned.

Total cost maybe a couple of months earnings at the time.

I’d have felt it, sure. But I’d have speeded up my learning massively, made new friends, become more self-confident…

It would have changed my life.


Anyway, as I say to my kids: “Don’t do what I did, do what I say!”

It’s obviously self-serving in this case, given that I’m marketing language courses right now.

But it’s also 100% true.

If you really want, or need, to learn Italian, you have to find the motivation to do one of two things:  allocate some time or spend some money.

Do either one and you’ll be moving forward towards your goal.

And doing so much faster than I did.

(Do both, and you’ll be flying!)

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