What’s the cheapest way to learn Italian?

In 2003 I splashed out on a pair of hand-made leather shoes, from an old-fashioned footwear store just down the road from the school where I was teaching at the time.

Each lunch time, on my way to grab something to eat, I would pass the store’s window display and look in. This was a daily event, as there wasn’t much else to look at on my route from school to sandwich shop.

I never actually entered the store, because the prices displayed were way above what I would normally consider paying.

But come sale time, I began to look more closely. Prices were reduced, first twenty, then thirty percent. And there were some styles I liked a lot, though with two preschoolers and a new baby at home…

The sale lasted a month or more. In Italy, as stock is sold off, staff add little hand-written notes next to each pair of shoes in the window display, showing which sizes remain. That way you don’t waste their time by going in and asking for something that they don’t have.

Naturally, the shop will sell out of the more popular sizes quickly, so by the end of the sale only people with very small or very large feet will be able to find a bargain.

Each lunchtime I stopped to look in the window. But the styles I liked best had either sold out weeks ago at the 20-30% discount or, with the more generous, ‘final days’ discounts, were no longer available in my size.

In fact, there was just one pair of shoes left that wouldn’t squeeze my feet unbearably or make me look like Goofy. They were in plain brown leather, and were half a size too large for me.

No way would I usually pick out a pair of shoes like that.

Still, a sale is a sale, and the shoes were by now reduced 50%, from €280 to €140. I decided I could always wear two pairs of socks, and entered the shop to try them on.

Yes, they did look a little Goofy-ish on me, but I could see that they were of excellent quality: hand-made, with solid-looking leather soles and strong stitching. I pulled out my wallet and bought them.

Walking back to work later, I told myself off for succumbing to the lures of marketing by buying something I didn’t even really like…

Fast-forward.

It’s July 2015. The temperature in Bologna today is 37 degrees centigrade (98.6 Farenheit).

Now I own my own language school (Italian for foreigners, English for the Bolognese), but I still teach and today I’m off to teach the President and Vice President of a major Italian company.

So I’ll need to dress up. I open my wardrobe looking for ‘smart but cool’.

I pick out a short-sleeved shirt, light cotton trousers, brown hand-made leather shoes, with matching brown socks and belt.

How long have I had those shoes? I admit, they ARE looking rather old now, having been worn thousands of times and re-soled again and again.

But they’re still my most comfortable pair, ideal for the office or the classroom. What a great buy! Wish I could get another pair just like them…

But I digress. So, what’s the cheapest way to learn Italian?

You could marry an Italian, and/or go to live in Italy. That works, and you get away with not paying for a course. That was the route I took, though it’s not fast – without a course, it took me nearly ten years learn Italian to a reasonable level.

What about teaching yourself? A couple of exercises a day, every day, for a year or two and you’d definitely make progress. And by using resources on the Internet, such as OnlineItalianClub.com, you’d not have to spend a cent.

That said, teaching yourself is not going to be the right choice for everyone…

OK then, a course? Take a look at adult education provision in your home town. That can be a very affordable option, and will fit in with your busy life.

It’s possible, though, that there may not be many levels. You might find yourself repeating the beginners’ course year after year…

Which brings us to Italy, and professional language schools.

Do you believe you get what you pay for?

Perhaps, it depends, sometimes yes and sometimes no, maybe, probably.

The trick is to know when.

So is it better to go for the cheapest Italian school you can find?

If you’re OK with larger classes of fun-loving young people with limited budgets, taught by equally young teachers, then why not? You may have a fantastic time.

Or you could choose the reassuringly more expensive option, on the theory that splashing out a little more now could make learning easier and faster.

The cheapest options don’t always offer more value. But neither do the more expensive alternatives necessarily guarantee better results…

How to resolve the dilemma of not knowing what’s best?

Two ways:

  1. Go for the cheapest Italian course you can find. If it rubs your toes, put on a band aid (sticking plaster in the UK). As you limp along, think of the money you’ve saved.
  2. Or wait for one of the more expensive schools to have a sale. That way you can try the hand-made version but without paying the hand-made price!
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