Misconceptions about learning Italian abound, and can result in you making poor decisions or even failing to achieve your goals.
So recognising the myths that surround language study may help you succeed where others would fail!
Here are five of the most common wrong ideas about studying Italian:
1. Adults don’t learn foreign languages as easily as children
We’ve all heard stories about families with young children who move abroad. In what seems like no time at all, the children are jabbering away fluently in the new language, while the poor adults appear to make much slower progress.
It’s nonsense, of course, as anyone who has children can tell you.
It takes years, decades, for a child to learn to speak, understand, read and write their own language, let alone replicating that feat in a foreign language in just a few months.
The miracle pre-schoolers you hear about are immersed in the foreign language for eight or more hours a day, so it’s unsurprising they quickly work out how to follow the kindergarten teacher’s instructions and interact with other kids in the playground.
But mum and dad, while seeming to make less progress, are actually coping with a much greater level of complexity as they deal with the demands of living and working in a foreign country.
In short, there’s no evidence that kids learn faster. In fact, the opposite is true.
Any professional language school can take an adult learner from zero to proficient (including reading and writing) in much less time than it takes a young child to learn to write simple sentences.
2. If you work, you won’t really have time to learn a foreign language
If only you didn’t have all these commitments, you could really dedicate yourself to learning Italian, and in just a few months you’d be fluent!
Sorry, but that’s not true either.
Sure, time is a factor. But so are motivation, opportunity, experience, and various other ingredients in the learning mix.
If you can find time after work to visit the gym, watch TV or mow your lawn, you can certainly find time to study Italian. Assuming you’re reasonably well-organised, just an hour a day should be sufficient to get you to intermediate level in Italian within a year.
Day job or no.
3. Studying the essentials of Italian grammar is, well, essential
It’s certainly true that it’s hard to form even basic sentences in Italian unless you have a few irregular verbs under your belt.
But a lot of Italian courses contain much more grammar than is necessary… to the detriment of time you could be spending learning new words, or practicing speaking, listening, reading or writing.
Most ‘essentials’ of Italian grammar are not relevant to carrying on a normal conversation.
So while acquiring an in-depth knowledge of Italian grammar might be interesting or even enjoyable, the return on your investment of time is likely to be poor.
4. Living in Italy will really, really help you learn
Living in Italy for a while MIGHT help you learn Italian faster, but there’s certainly no guarantee. People being people, it’s likely you’d spend a lot of your time in Italy NOT speaking Italian!
At first, you won’t have the knowledge of the language to do much more than hold basic conversations in shops and bars. So it’s inevitable you’ll still be interacting in your own language.
And with the Internet, you can be anywhere in the world and still access your favorite newspapers and TV programs.
Unfortunately, keeping up with what’s going on at home, through Skype or social networks, is much too easy these days!
So assuming you won’t have taken a vow of silence, being in Italy is not going to be a magic solution.
Sure, once you make a few friends to speak Italian with, that will certainly help.
But with a little imagination, you could do that at home.
5. ‘Knowing’ Italian means speaking it reasonably well
Speaking Italian well is a start, but you also have to be able to understand the replies you get. Listening is a complex skill too, and one which takes time to acquire.
What’s more, even if you get to the point when you can understand all the words and grammar you hear (in any accent), you still might not have a clue what a conversation is really about!
Without a basic working knowledge of who’s who, and what’s happening in sport, politics or whatever, you won’t be able to understand or contribute much.
And if you wanted to work in Italy?
Reading and writing at a high level is a pre-requisite for a lot of jobs, but even, say, working as a waitress or bartender means you’d need to know your customers’ habits and preferences. Or no tips!
So, being able to form grammatical sentences, with appropriate vocabulary, reasonably quickly, is a good start. But there’s an awful lot more to ‘knowing’ a language than just speaking it.