Better than you’d imagine, actually.
At least, once you get used to it.
And assuming your teacher knows what she’s doing.
But why won’t you teach me in English??
Lots of reasons.
But most obviously, people come to us to learn to speak and understand Italian.
Should we insist that they have an excellent working knowledge of English before we allow them to study Italian?
Of course not.
Clients come from Spain, Brazil, Japan, China, Russia, Germany, France, not just from English-speaking countries.
They MAY know English, but often they don’t. Or not much.
Were the teachers to explain things in English, people would be excluded.
Learn how to not understand
Then there’s the fact that, by explaining things in English, our teachers would be denying you the opportunity to listen to Italian during your lessons.
“But I don’t understand Italian” you protest.
True. But that’s why you’re taking a course, right?
And the first thing you need to learn, ironically, is how to not understand.
Yes, you read that correctly.
In the medium term, you will be able to understand what people say to you.
But at first, it’ll be just a stream of sound.
That can be upsetting.
But getting upset (and insisting that someone translate every word into English, so you can be sure you didn’t miss anything) doesn’t get you any nearer your medium-term goal.
What you need to do, and as soon as possible, is get used to the idea that you won’t be able to understand everything (anything?)
Oh, and you won’t be able to express your thoughts, either.
At least for a while.
That can be frustrating.
Learn to stay calm. Go with the flow. Smile and nod.
But don’t stop listening. Try to get some idea of what’s going on. You’ll have to guess, but that’s OK.
By all means, ask for repetition (in Italian) of things that seem like they might be important.
Or for them to be repeated, slowly. Or written down.
Usually, people will be happy to help you, especially if you’re calm and positive.
Just don’t expect to be able to understand and participate as if you were speaking your mother tongue.
Conclusion? To learn Italian, you also need to learn to manage the situations in which you will have an incomplete understanding and a limited ability to express yourself.
Even advanced students of the language will certainly always find it harder to speak Italian than to speak in their own language.
But they’ve gotten extremely good at not understanding!
Does your teacher have a clue?
Untrained teachers talk too much.
Their students can get demotivated quickly, as they are exposed to a constant stream of unnecessary chat that they have no hope of following.
The poor students may ask questions, hoping to better undestand what the teacher has said (which they assume must have been important).
So the kind teacher “explains”. At length, using more words they don’t know. Which, of course, just make things worse.
Zoom. The teacher crashes and burns. Though he may be completely unaware of the damage done, and assume the class is going fine. After all, he’s talking a lot and everyone appears to be listening politely and learning, right?
And yes, the class learns: they quickly understand that, when the teacher’s speaking, you can just switch off.
It won’t be anything important. And you won’t be able to understand it anyway. And don’t bother to ask questions. It just makes things worse.
People are nice, they tend not to blame the teacher for being incompetent. They’ll assume it’s their fault, that they’re incapable of learning Italian.
That really makes me angry!
The right way to teach Italian
We’re talking beginners, here.
The right way to teach a foreign language to beginners, using ONLY that language, is to go slowly, step by step, with lots of repetition (LOTS of repetition), each step building on the last.
Naturally, the lessons must always be stimulating, never boring.
But the teacher must never say anything important unless she already knows the class will understand it.
How does she know what they will understand and what they won’t?
Because she must use words and grammar that she has already taught, and must constantly verify that everything has been understood, and remembered.
Nothing is assumed. Greetings, instructions, common phrases, all will form part of the syllabus for the first few lessons, so they can then be used to comunicate with in subsequent lessons.
Mimes, gestures and pictures make it easy to get meanings across without “explaining”.
Everything is practised, until it can be done with ease, ideally by everyone in the group.
Meaning builds on meaning, day after day, the end point being clearly understood, at least by the teacher.
The secret is “control”.
The teacher needs to know exactly what she’s doing, and why, and what she’s going to do next.
She needs to know how often to revisit what she has taught before so that the students will truly learn it, and how to do that in interesting and motivating ways.
And she needs to know when to keep her mouth shut. To not screw things up.
It’s not rocket science, but it does take experience, so pick a school with a stable team of well-trained teachers who know all this stuff.
Oh, and by the way, in a “proper” language school, if we see someone is not making progress, we assume that it’s our fault, not theirs.
You pay to learn Italian, and that’s what should happen. If not, the school director will want to know the reason!
Hey, it really works!
Each week, students leave Madrelingua able to speak and understand Italian better than they could when they arrived. Often, a lot better.
Given enough time, and patience, we can teach more or less anyone to comunicate in Italian. Without ever using a word of English to “explain” things.
Early on, it’s normal for students to panic a little:
“Help! I don’t understand ANYTHING!”
But if you’ve made the right choice of language school, hopefully that feeling won’t last long.
Soon, you’ll relax, and even begin to enjoy yourself. You’ll get used to not understanding, and that’s when you’ll start to understand.
Funny, huh? It’s the opposite of what most people expect.
Remember, you don’t want to learn ABOUT Italian. You want to learn to get by IN Italian.
Which means actually doing it, right from Day 1.
And yes, it really does work.