Learning Italian!!

03/10/2010 - 16:04

Hi I have just had my 5th Italian lesson...and boy was it hard work!! I wish I could wake up one morning and be fluent in Italian! My teacher is a young woman who lives very close to me in Bournemouth,she is from northern Italy and has a lot of patience...just as well! I really want to quit as its so hard but I also want to be able to say more than "ciao" to my neighbours! I will give it another 4 weeks to see if I can progress. Anybody else having this problem trying to learn or is it just me?


 Cilla, it is always hard work for both teachers and students. The rewards are great but it takes a lot of patience and perseverance. Keep on learning, you are lucky to have a very patient teacher and someone who is keen to help. Only very young children learn languages quickly because their brains are like sponges. Once we are over 12 years of age, it becomes increasingly difficult. But you can make it.... I had students of French in their 70's and they made it into university....Keep on trying and practice as much as you can.

Hi Gala, I read a lot of your helpful posts. I was wondering if you could also advise me on this language thing. I suppose its over 3 years that I have been studying Italian & living here. I can now express myself ok, but that seems rather pointless when I just cannot absorb the replies. If it is a short reply spoken slowly, then no problem. Anything other then that & I get lost. Could you tell me what you think I should now be concentrating on to improve this deficiency in my Italian. i.e watching TV or maybe using subtitles. Its really starting to bug me. Thanks in advance.

Hi Danno I agree with Gala's always sensible and helpful advice. The more you listen to Italian, the more you absorb, even if you're not consciously paying attention. The difficulty most people have is that they are often/usually with English-speakers and never completely get out of that translating phase. It's hard work for the brain to keep making that shift from one language to another - especially as we get older - so you get tired. If your personal situation allows you to avoid English as much as you reasonably can, that will help. I met a Canadian couple two years ago who were not natural linguists, but they had decided that they would only speak Italian to each other while they were working in Lucca for a year. I was very impressed by their determination and the progress they made was impressive too. You might think about only hearing and speaking Italian for two hours each day from the minute you wake up and see how that works. It's all about findings ways that work for you and your situation. Watching films with English subtitles will only perpetuate the translating thing, so Gala's suggestion of Italian subtitles is preferable. One of my students records films and just keeps running it back until he's understood almost everything. Painful, but it seems to work for him. Maybe we should have a section where we only post in Italian, regardless of level, to help each other. Maybe it's already been tried, I'm a relative newbie. Good luck anyway and don't give up! Pacentro08 www.italianforyou.co.uk

Hi Cilla, You don't say over how many weeks you have had these lessons. Once a week for an hour maybe?  If you are learning Italian in order to come and live here (or regular visits to a holiday home?) then you really need a total immersion - minimum 5 hours a week if possible and homework everyday.  It has to occupy your thoughts and you need to keep building on what you know.  Please persevere - you will be so pleased with yourself and it will be so much easier for you in the long run if you can get your language up to a certain level just as soon as you can.   Buona fortuna :)

  Are you having private lessons or in a group?  I did an 'academic' year (more like 8 months!) at Lymington community centre with no previous knowledge and some of the class were repeating the year!  Straight away you are behind and most of the others were people with quite a lot 'previous' knowledge.  Others struggled and gave up part way through but I thought 'I've paid a lot of money - I will not give in!! Classes are expensive but you will get to a stage in another few weeks where you will be able to go and order a meal, book a hotel etc. I bought a cd from Waterstones Castle Point, they have a good selection, and while working I would put it on and talk to myself (nothing new there then!) Try to enjoy what you are learning and practise it to OH and it will all slot in place before you know it. Good luck.

 After struggling on my own for way too long I eventually bought the Michel Thomas CD's which I downloaded onto my MP3 player and listened to them constantly. I then signed up for the OU Andante course which is really good if you want to pay £400+ but is well worth it. I passed the exam but unfortunately because I'm not in Italy much a lot of it has settled into the depths of my brain but no doubt I will pick it up again next time we are out there. You gotta use it or you lose it!! Be patient Cilla and eventually it will all fall into place. You could always put post-its on everything in the house in Italian to help you remember words too. Good luck!

 I have already been through all 8 C.Ds of Michel Thomas's many times! My O.H.seems to retain all the knowledge & he's 18 years older than me!! We regularly go over these blooming C.D's, sometimes I'm sick of Michel's voice! I only have one lesson of an hour a week as I can't afford any more. My O.H hasn't a clue that I'm having lessons so that must mean there's very little improvement or he would have noticed!!! My lesson yesterday was a review of what ive learnt so far, I do understand more but putting it into sentences is quite another thing. My teacher seems quite happy with me so I'm going to carry on with her lessons until we go back to Italy in April. Its so hard going over nouns,pronouns etc. Still I need & want to speak Italian with my neighbours . Sigh language can only go so far! In our little village it's all Italians (thank god!) so speaking english gets me nowhere! We can't wait to go back!!:)

 4 lessons (FOUR !!!!) I am now on my 3rd year of lessons (roughly 1 per week), and have gone through 3 teachers !! I communicate (of a sorts), but living here in Le Marche, most of my neighbours speak dialetto!!!! The biggest thing that we have done is to 'go for it'.............don't mumble, say what you think and the recipient usually helps out. The other thing is obviously, you have your phrase all worked out and the 'they' respond ....................at breaknight speed!!!!!!!!!!! Molto difficile! But we love it !!!!!! S

  Hey Cilla, You're not the only one finding this italian language hard to learn....my problem is concentration, somehow I can always find something more 'important' to do and before you know........Have bought verb drills book off Amazon and as from Monday.........yeh... Friend gave me this link, she enjoying learning for free !!!! ears pricked !!!!! busuu.com Mrs D

they say it take 2000 hours of practice before one can become proficient in anything. I have been learning Italian for three years now and still have trouble.  the key is consistency.  stick with it and review a little each day even if only for 15 minutes.

  Lovely positive encouragement from Capo Boi!  It sounds like you're having one-to-one sessions, Cilla, so it's difficult to judge how well you're doing as there's no-one else to compare yourself against. Don't beat yourself up about it though as all the research says you don't learn if you're stressed! Have a look at my website - www.italianforyou.co.uk - in case I can be of any help. If you email me via my site, I'm happy to send you (and anyone else who's interested) a list of websites that have some fun activities to work on. And Bonacci and Alma are my two favourite publishers for books. Their websites are always worth a look, and again, I'm happy to give an opinion on anything that looks of interest to you, if I know it. I picked up another few gems from the Italian Bookshop stand at the Dolce Vita exhibition in London yesterday. Best wishes P

  Thanks for all your helpful comments. I love your website Susan, its sounds like you can speak italian like the italians!! My lessons are on a one-one basis which I think helps me to concentrate on what my teacher is telling me. I know I would get too easily distracted if there were more people in the class. This weeks lesson was fairly easy as it was only a review of what ive already learnt. I'm looking forward to next weeks lesson but in no hurry to do the homework ive been left!:)

I feel your pain.  At 63 I was content being an American who speaks English with no second language.  All was well until I offered to trade some much needed dentistry to a 91 yr old retired Italian missionary.  I was not prepared for my first lesson.  Rigorous is an understatement.  I had intended to meet with him a few times and say that he had met his obligation to me and that, as they say, would be "that".  Not so with this old gentleman.  He intended to teach me word roots and read any language without a formal training in that language. After 5 years, I cannot speak Italian but I can read Italian, French, Spanish, German and I discovered Danish while watch the Danish subtitles on an in-flight movie dubbed in Danish.  I cannot read the news without looking for word roots.  I am hooked on the exciting world of etymology to the extent that it is like an opiate for my mind. I am not fluent but I am multi-lingual and YOU can be TOO.  Don't give up. Don

 Hi Danno! Thank you for your comments. The problems that you are experiencing are quite normal. To listen to different voices and accents, forms of speech, colloquial and familiar expressions, all that at high speed, is difficult and frustrating; however, it may take some time but you will gradually improve your comprehension skills. My advice would be to listen to the radio, watch Italian TV and films in their Italian version with Italian subtitles, as in that way you are getting both the spoken and the written word. Ask people to repeat what they have been saying and that you are not able to understand. The large majority would not mind it at all and they will help you to understand. Don't be shy!

Thanks for the great tips. I will try the various advice & see what works best for me. I do classes 4 hours per week & I do  TV watching etc, & have come to conclusion it deffo is not my forte. But, I am making painfully slow progress. Its just that sometimes I think more is dropping off the end, i.e forgetting more then what I am learning. Although maybe thats just on those bad hair days. I just want to be able to get the general idea of whats being said & feel that should not be asking too much by now. Anyway, Im no quitter, so will carry on. (death before disonour)  (-;

In reply to by danno99

 Hi Danno, Like the others, I would say stick with it, you will be amazed how much you really do know.  This morning, I was in the supermarket and asked a lady ( another shopper, not someone who worked there) for help re some wine I was looking to buy to take to a friend this evening. She explained she could speak some English, but I then explained in Italian that I needed to practise and would be grateful to try in Italian if we could.  She was very accommodating and after a little hesitation, we were on our way and she recommended a couple of bottles which I bought.  She even tracked me down as I was paying for my shopping to tell me of another she had found and perhaps I would like to buy it next time!  in all, have courage - I have found being able to understand what people have been saying around me a great comfort, even if I cannot string my own sentences together eloquently, they are understanding what I am trying to say and correcting me when necessary.  When in the UK, if I went in an Italian deli/coffee shop I always used to try and order in Italian and the staff were very patient and pleased I was making an effort.  Good luck...and stick with it.

:)  I chickened out of my lesson last week!! No excuses...I couldn't face it! Then later on in the day I got my punishment. I was in my local Post Office queuing up as usual,when I saw in front of me my Italian tutor. I was so embarrassed after canceling my lesson with her that morning, I almost ran out of the P.O!!! Serves me right I suppose. Anyway todays lesson went ok, I'm just brain dead! I need a large glass of wine! Salute everyone!!

I guess its like the old saying, the more you put in the more you get back. This holds true big time where my learning italian is concerned. I am making steady progress, but it is very easy to get impatient when you turn on the radio & think what the hell was that about, & this should not happen  after living here for over 3 years. But I think the moral to that is turn the radio on more often. Just wish you could pay to have a chip implanted with the language of your choice, and save tanti tanti ore

Having only 2 months left in the UK before the big move to Italy, only just started the BBC Talk Italian lessons kit (£6.99, includes 2 cds and booklet). And also used the BBC website for Italian language. Brilliant for absolute beginners like me. Had been on the internet watching re-runs of Italian soaps to check my listening comprehension. One day, I shall be able to fully understand.:) You can do it, Cilla. All my very best, Joy

Don, from my Spanish dictionary , as we have the same verbs: ahogar and sofocar: affocare: From the Latin ad (at-to-in and many other meanings in English) and focus (fire) Originally the meaning must have been to extinguish the fire, but it got other uses as well. suffocare: Also from the Latin verb suffocare, but I would say that it is a combination of sub and focus, meaning to cover a fire in order to extinguish it. I did not find etymologies in my Italian dictionaries, but I trust that these would be accurate.

Hi  I'm really fortunate in that I grew up with an Italian mother so I don't have the problem of having to learn the language. However, one tip that I can give you  is to start out by trying to get hold of some children's books, and I do mean starter reading books. (try Amazon)These will have really basic  language and just work your way up from there. See if you can find the ones that have to do will general everyday situations , rather than fairy tales. I think you will find this will help. Hope so. Good luck!

Listen to on line Italian radio while you are on the computer. I found that the most difficult thing is to understand what is being said to me. I can prepare wonderful comments - all of which are totally useless in the face of understanding the spoken word. Hope this helps

Hi Cilla we have just had our first hour of an italian converstion class! more like a listening class for us but hopefully we will pluck up courage & join inmore before too long. Like the others I have all the cds & listen to them on the way to & from work every day but as soon as I am expected to converse my mind goes blank.We have been assured by friends that as soon as we are in Italy full time we will very quickly be able to speak with confidence so here's hoping. Good luck Valerie

Valerie, what you are experiencing is a natural reaction. We are all afraid when our turn comes to speak in a foreign language. Many of my students used to go blank although I was sure that they knew the answer to my question. A few others had to be kept under control because they would monopolize the class to the detriment of the shy ones. The important thing is to fight that shyness and answer. Even if you give the wrong answer, you learn more through your own mistakes. And your teacher would understand what you are trying to do. Think at this: if you knew all the answers, you would not need to be in a class with the rest of the students. You would be in the teacher's place. Good luck with your studies, and please, keep on persevering. This is my advice as an old teacher of foreign languages.

I'm an Italian teacher and I agree with all that Gala says.  Learning a language takes time and you never stop.  It's quite normal to be able to understand more than you can produce for quite a long time.  And, as people have said here, it's one thing to be able to say a few simple phrases but another to understand speedy replies!  Three tips here:   1] When we listen to people speaking our own language, we don't actually listen to ALL that they say.  We don't realise we're doing it but we partly rely on our prediction skills - in other words we EXPECT people to reply in a certain way.  For instance, if you see your mate in the street and you say, "Hello, Jo, how are things?" you expect him to say "All right, thank you" or "Not too bad" rather than to launch into a discussion of the Nasdaq Index or something.  The trouble is that we don't have the confidence to use our prediction skills when listening to another language and that's why we find it such a strain.  But try it!  It will help you relax.  2] You don't have to understand everything the speaker says.  You need to get the gist.  3]  Do take every opportunity to listen to Italian.  Even if you have an Italian radio station on while you are doing the cooking and you aren't listening attentively you are getting the rhythm of the language and it will help!  Another thing you can do to improve your listening skills is to use SONG.  Just pick an Italian song you like, find the lyrics on the internet and follow them.  Then blank out some words at random, listen again and try to fill them in.  You won't get them all at first but you will a second or third time.  With regard to reading, once you've got a basic level you can start looking at Italian newspapers online.  Read a story that is of international interest in a newspaper in your own language and then try to find the same story on an Italian news site.  If you've read the story in English, you already know what happened so you don't have to struggle for the gist.  Quite quickly you will be able to work out more and more of the Italian text. The Italian language tips and articles that we publish in the magazine cannot take the place of an organised course with a "live" teacher, nor are they meant to.  But hopefully they'll give you some pointers, too. And remember, Italians are pleased that you want to learn their language and they will help you!