Learning italian - sigh............................

La Dolcevita Image
09/15/2012 - 15:10

This is for native english speakers - how did you learn italian and any tips to help me raise my game?I get that the best way to learn is complete immersion - that will happen when we move but with the slow moving wheels of waiting for building permits in Italy it's likely to be at least another 12 months - so how did you learn?I've done evening school but have a job that takes me away so I ended up missing classes and being in catch up - so have just started with a tutor who has pointed out that I avoid using any verbs - and given that verbs are used all the time it's no wonder people looked at me sometimes as if I was off with the fairies. So have gone right back to basics and getting to grips with the present tense (which is fine until there are irregular verbs - grrrrrr)I also have Rosetta Stone which I was using but bought a new macbook and now it won't work - anyone else had this problem?I have several "text" books which prettily line my book shelves but remain unopened - takes me back to school too much I think! And have some audio CD's which I listen to sometimes..............Any other suggestions/advice etc - I get really frustrated as I want to be fluent now and clearly that isn't going to happen for a while Grazie a tutti!!!!



Hi! Languages are acquired and it is hard work. You were not born speaking English. You had to learn it. When you are a child, it is much easier. As we grow older, it becomes more complicated. You have to have plenty of patience and perseverence. Immersion helps a lot, but it is a help only. This old thread, may give you some useful ideas http://www.italymag.co.uk/community/post/learning-italian In any case, don´t give up! Best wishes

You can download his lessons from file sharing. He does many languages but his method is good and repeats sentence structure not so much on vocabulary. I used his lessons in the car when driving down to Italy the first time and was pretty good by the time I arrived. In fairness I already spoke Spanish, Portuguese and French but you still have to learn each language and the differences as well as similarities.

After nearly 7 years here La Dolcevita my Italian is not good, I know the words as you say but its the tenses that floor me. However make my self understood mostly and will chat to anyone.(poor souls!).It is at its most frustrating when in official or medical situations, but we get by. Robert is a swot so is pretty fluent, its the text book back to school stuff I find so difficult....and hard to take up again after so many years, was always rubbish at languages anyway. I think it is very difficult to ever be fully fluent, I know a few ex-pats that are, but they have lived here for years, and some are married to Italians. Off now to have a shout at a few hunters.....sometimes there is a univeral language which everyone understands!  

I agree Angie (and Robert), We started lessons before we arrived, and slowly forgot a lot of what we had soaked up (which wasn't much !). After moving here, we started lessons again and panicked every time lesson time was coming around ! The other thing was that our neighbours and the locals here all speak 'dialetto'. I then had  the great sad idea that we NEED lingua di italiano MAYBE a max of 10% of our actual time (?).......and thought that why spend so much time in our dotage to help reduce the 10% to maybe 8% ? So we stopped our lessons (basic laziness I think), but..............we have enjoyed nigh on 5 years of life here, renting a house, buying a house, getting restructuring done on the house, bought a car, insurance, used doctors, hospital etc etc (oh AND eaten and drank in lots of restaurants !). We communicate (of sorts) with the locals and neighbours, and I think, very slowly, we are building up our language skills through actually living here. Good luck doing whichever way suits people best ! S Re the hunters: We have heard but not seen yet, I THINK that they have to stand and shoot until October (rather than track and hunt if you know what I mean !)

You could learn some words by memory association - that technique can give you a list of words to use, for naming things, of around 300 or so within a few days. Excellent system, works well, easy to do.  Try and watch some Italian TV programmes, on the internet if nowhere else. Watch how they talk as well as listen. It is great when you start picking out a few words.  Radio is harder because you lack the visual clues, but give it a go. Again, when you start to identify some of the words, and can get the gist of what is being said, it feels good, and motivates you to learn more. Get some children's books. Stat with the basic stuff, ABC Janet & John type books, then work your way through to pre-school and onwards. Really can help. There are a lot of smartphone apps, with flashcards that you can download and use, too.

Whenever you learn a foreign language, there is a dual process. On the one hand, you repeat what you read and hear. On the other, you have to learn certain particularities of the language, such as conjugations, grammar and all the "technical bits". It is not only a matter of memorizing that knowledge. The most important part is to understand how the language works. Otherwise, you will be doing "parrot learning" and that fades very quickly. Also, whatever you learn orally, try to write it down immediately. That consolidates the process. And try to incorporate Italian into your daly life. When you wake up in the morning and look at the clock, think at ow you would say the time in Italian. When you go to the supermarket, think at the names of all the articles in Italian. And try to speak as much as you can. You will make mistakes, but, hopefully, someone may correct you. That is what children do when they learn to speak....

Thanks all.  I've got Michel Thomas somewhere so will dig him back out again - I'm very good at starting things but not so good at following through!!  Writing words down after I've heard them is a prime example - I've done it sometimes (it really helps) and then forget or never go back - I think what I need is discipline - I'm not a girly swot so find it a challenge - however I really want to be able to speak so MUST make myself do it! I have no problem chatting with people/anyone who will put up with me when I'm in italy - and do the same at our local italian restaurant here - I can't wait for the day someone says I'm getting better.  Hadn't thought of TV - will check out on sky or is there anything that anyone can recommend on the internet I can access. I did buy a fairytale book a while ago - I'll check Amazon for some other second hand books and give that a go too Am seeing my tutor tomorrow and she's given me lots of "homework" which will help with the discipline - though am good at finding other things to do instead.  However even if it's a midnight job tonight I'll get it done otherwise it will be very painful as she's set me some topics and will be expectingme to answer questions - nothing like pressure and the thought of humiliation to make me respond.  In group classes I could hide!!!

In my opinion it sounds like you need to find a sytem that you can relax with and simply enjoy. I have been learning the language for 3 yrs solid and it doesnt come quickly. I have tried two schools, audio, exercise books, TV and films. Devotion and discipline shall get you up a good level and provide self satisfaction. Personaly I find the practical way the best when actually living amoungst the locals when visiting. The method of thinking like one and becoming like one helps me relax understand and enjoy speaking like one. I have found the rule of the three tenses to become the most important one and only wished that someone could have told me this a year into learning. I would simply master the tenses and the other basics prior to moving then the rest should come in time as you spend your day to day life in and around the locals. Enjoy !!

Living like one and thinking like one - that's why you'll find me in the bar!!!!! cheeky Which are the 3 tenses you're talking about Johnny? - I'm assuming the present and future (but may be wrong) and the other is????  And if I'm wrong about the first 2 please fill in the gap - thanks!  I think that's why my tutor is going back to basics so even though I'd done italian for a while it's been in sporadic bursts - so I did my GCSE over 2 years taking the exam in 2007 and got an A* which means diddly squat - I just learnt some stuff parrot fashion and made it fit for the exams!!!  we had a native speaking italian teacher who was "lovely" but not a teacher so had real trouble answering the million and one questions I/we all had.  So I never understood much but got by. A couple of years later I then went on to the next level and did a year but it was with a group of really boring people (with a few exceptions) who came to just learn italian - they were miles ahead of me all retired and could put hours/days into homework so the class progressed at their pace not mine - learning for me needs to be fun.  So I've just done "bits" in the last couple of years hence the need to step change.  So back to basics it is for me - I think as Gala said you need to understand the language and I never have - so basics it is and I'm sure once I've got those I'll feel far more confident in what I'm saying.  I'm totally confident talking to people but know what is coming out of my mouth is rubbish!!!!!!

Found one of the best ways to get to grips with grammar etc is watching films with subtitles(Italian to English and vice versa) Currently on uk tv is Inspector Montalbano with Italian subtitles(also available on dvd).Worth watching just for the scenery. Also,reading crappy Italian gossip magazines.Oggi,Gente etc seems to help (no doubt next weeks editions will have photos of Kate topless)!

I had a huge advantage when it came to learning Italian - thanks to my Dad's airline job we came to live here for about 7 years when I was a child and although at first I attended the International School (later boarding school in the UK) where we were taught in English and considered too young (so wrong!) to learn Italian (6-9) I just sort of picked it up  - although becoming an Italian Brownie was a huge help. I agree with other comments however, reading children's books is a great help (did wonders for my French!), but if you can buy some children's  DVD's, Videos etc too that also helps.  Often it is the transition from reading the foreign word and understanding it to hearing it and understanding it that causes the problems!  If listening to a language you're not really good at, spoken at "native" speed, it sounds as if it is twice normal speed or more, and difficult to "catch", so watching and listening to something on your tv scren can be helpful as a precursor to watching and listening to real Italians! Try some comics (Topolino!).. The best advice though is just try!  Most Italians are so pleased you are making an effort that they will react as if you speak fluently even if you have only said a few words.  To my mind, even if you just string a series of words together to try to explain yourself, without bothering too much about grammar and tenses etc, you will already have started to communicate..and that's the most important thing! The rest will come of its own accord with time and pratice once you've moved here. Good luck!

Going back to basics if you feel that your foundations are shaky is always a good idea. You may even get a better understanding of the rules if you already have some knowledge of the language.  Buy DVD,s of good movies which have English an Italian subtitles and are spoken in Italian. We love to watch  L. Visconti's "Il Gattopardo", a fantastic movie with great dialogues, based on Tomassi di Lampedusa's literary masterpiece (I have the novel in three languages: Italian, Spanish and English, but nowadays I mainly read the Italian original). And also, don't limit yourself to watching the movies or reading the books. Think about the texts and try to understand the expressions used. Analyzing texts improves comprehension and assists with self-expression.

Ciao Dolcevita.... Thats great !!  the 'bar' is a perfect way ... A classroom with Aperitivo & good company...to easy. The verb tenses that I hammer home are the present, future and the past.

Funnily enough I recorded Inspector Montalbano last night - we started to watch it at about 11pm - not a good idea when tired so will save it for an earlier evening watch.  Great idea re childrens DVD's as well.  Think I might be challenged with literary masterpieces Gala - I did english literature at A level and hated it with a passion, I also did french A level and was asked to compare the Joan of Arc play we were doing in english with the french book L'alouette on the same topic - it scarred me for life - couldn't have done it in english never mind french!!!! Johnny - which past tense would you suggest - this is where I wish it was easier - and I'm sure if I was an italian looking to learn english I would be saying the same!!

The basis of my knowledge started when I really did not know I was learning in my early childhood. That is in the household. All that was spoken that I heard for a long time was Italian in a Calabrese dialect. For me learning English would have started in the official curriculum when I was around six. I find a regular Italian dictionary helpful and even on-line through google. I realize it's different when someone is starting to try to consciously learn and is not a child. One of the reasons that the name of this site got my interest was because I thought there might be Italian communication in here. I am very keen on acquiring more skill in the Italian language and experience in it's application. I work on it within means available to me.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

All the Calabrese do the Mambo like a crazy..check out Dean Martin or Rosemary Clooney!! New to all this ..think it's a great site ( or bel sito as it were)

Il Gattopardo ordered with english subtitles along with pinnochio audio listening CD in italian!! Also ordered Azione Grammatica which my tutor suggested I get - think I'll start with Pinocchio!

La Dolcevita, Rather than going to Sky you should buy a simple cheap receiver and dish and point at Hotbird. As far as I can see almost half the hundreds of free channels there are Italian. Loads of regional channels and news channels plus all the dubbed soaps and American series , everything really

I recommend Don Matteo. It's light-hearted and the Italian is fairly easy. I'm sure you can get it on DVD or watch it on You Tube. I also found Michel Thomas great as I could just let it wash over me on the train.

"All the Calabrese do the Mambo like a crazy..check out Dean Martin or Rosemary Clooney!! New to all this ..think it's a great site ( or bel sito as it were)" Hi Spud - what is it your 'all new' to exactly?  Is it the Italian language, Calabria, Mambo or this site?  My money is on the Mambo. I'm going fishing now - is it true you can use a silly little Sprat to catch a great white Shark?  wink

Am I meant to thank you Penny?????  It's a bit like Inspector Cleuseau meets Dallas meets Lassie!!!!  Don't understand it in the slightest verbally but as they say a picture paints a thousand words - and is far better than sitting in front of a text book! As you've probably gathered I should be doing my homework and not playing on a forum - so easily distracted..

Been in the UK for the weekend so just picking this up now, and though I posted in the thread Gala pasted in, there are a few things to add since 2010. Firstly, have a look at the BBC's newish beginners video course, which is interactive, sort of... It's lovely. http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/italian/lamappa/ Secondly, it sounds like focussing on grammar is not the way forward for you. If you hate it and only do homework because you have to before the next lesson, you will never get beyond feeling it's a chore. If you're happy to chunter on to people when you meet them, this is where your strength lies, so develop your language skills from there. Some people would kill for the confidence to just babble on whether correct or not! IMHO you need to find a teacher to have 'conversations' with, and who will correct you and explain any grammar bits as they crop up. There are tons of materials out there which any teacher worth their salt will know about, be happy to use and be flexible enough to work in the way that suits you. All of the above posts have good advice that you can pick and choose from and find bits that work for you. I'm always banging on about publications by Alma Edizioni, which are excellent and you could very usefully simply download the samples of their books and audio materials and play around with them. There are sample chapters of course books with games and audio, sample chapters of short stories with accompanying audio, games, puzzles etc. If you really want a grammar book, the best one I have ever seen in 40 years of teaching is Susanna Nocchi's Grammatica pratica della lingua italiana and I know they've done a version with explanations in English, though I've never used it. Finally, at the start of this year, I set up a new website because I'm covering English as well, and the website needed to reflect that. More importantly for those who are learning, is that I put tips about learning Italian (and English, but irrelevant for this thread), with links to video and audio material as well as online exercises, which are intended to help anyone who wants a bit of additional input. The posts are actually on my Facebook page but they appear on the website pages so you never need to go near FB to get the information. I'm always happy to find materials for specific requests because they're bound to benefit someone! And before anyone starts questioning my motives, yes I'm in business, but the posts are something I can do to help anyone interested in Italian, not just people I work with. Have a look (www.susangirellihill.eu) and maybe you'll find something useful. As someone else said - don't give up! The rewards you will reap from learning to speak the language well, will be worth their weight in gold. All good wishes SGH 

One of the ways to ram something home is put post its round your house, on the furniture, etc with the italian word for fridge, sofa etc - then every time you use something make a sentence using tenses.  aprirò il frigorifero. Apro il frigorifero, ho aperto il frigorifero, etc - you'll find that the tenses begin to come naturally.  It all depends where you are in ITaly as to which tenses you use.  In the north they use the imperfect for the past, while in the south they will still use the remote past for things they did this morning - which takes a bit of getting used to.    If you can get a grip on present perfect, present and future you wont need much else.  For me, its the pronouns that I hate - glielo, gliegli - what type of sputtering nonsense is that!??? And of course that all the books say how 'regular' Itlaian is, until you realise that everything is irregular and its only practise that will help you get it in your head...  Montalbano - yes lovely scenery - all filmed where I live, but unless you want to learn Sicilian dont copy the accents on the programme!   

Have to pick you up on the past tenses comment, Ram, as it's not quite as you suggest. The imperfect - andavo, parlavamo, scrivevano etc - is used everywhere because it relates to description (in the past) or repeated actions in the past, among other uses. What you may be thinking of is the use of the Passato Prossimo, which equates to both the simple past and the perfect of English, depending on the context. This tense is, as the name suggests, used to refer to completed actions in the past that still have some relationship with the present, ie prosssimo to the present. In the north, it is used in speech and the Passato Remoto (see below) is never used in speech. The Passato Remoto is also used to refer to completed actions in the past, but their effect is considered remote from the present. This remoteness can be in actual time - a long time ago, or psychologically, ie it is felt by the speaker to have little significance now. The standard language uses both the Passato Prossimo and the Passato Remoto and speakers in central and most of southern Italy will use both in the spoken language. Don't be fooled into thinking it is just a written form (like the equivalent past anterior in French is). When you get to the extreme south - the southern part of Calabria and Sicily - the Passato Remoto is used in speech and the Passato Prossimo is not. However, this is changing very slowly. The reasons for the different usage come from the influence of the dialects on the regional spoken form of Italian. From a foreign learner's point of view, you can get by quite happily without ever using the Passato Remoto is you're living in/visiting the north, but if you're anywhere else it would be sensible to at least learn to recognise it. Not high on your list of priorities though!! Hope this is useful SGH

I think Susan has hit the nail on the head. If you are a 'I hate structured learning' kind of person then it won't work for you. Michel Thomas is not perfect but it does let you concentrate on the speaking. The grammar sort of happens 'by accident'. Plus it's portable so no excuses - you can even have it on your mobile phone!!

Here, where I live, the passato remoto is used in everyday speech - people say andai for what they did this morning, and yesterday.   Disse for what someone said in a phone call less than a few hours ago.  I know that in the north, where Dante's Italian is king' they would use the imperfect for everything other than Cesare fu imperatore'  but down here its not the same.  They even do it in Montalbano! 

In reply to by Ram

I don't want to be 'pignola' or end up going off topic, but I feel it's important to respond to Ram's second post on the passato remoto. Maybe our posts crossed in the ether or maybe we are talking at cross purposes, but we could easily cause people to go down the wrong road with these tenses. I think, from what you said elsewhere, that you're in Sicily, Ram, and what I was saying in my previous post agrees, not disagrees, with you. They use the passato remoto in speech for all completed actions, and at the expense of the passato prossimo. And as a result, we hear it used in Montalbano. Where I have to take issue is your assertion that the north uses the imperfect for 'everything other than Cesare fu imperatore'. It's not the imperfect (imperfetto - mangiavo / andavo) but the passato prossimo (ho mangiato / sono andato). Forgive my use of the Italian names for tenses, it's not for effect but rather because it is clearer than using some not entirely equivalent English name. The imperfetto is used throughout the country in the relevant context, but it's not an alternative to the passato remoto or passato prossimo (apart from a very small number of situations and even then there's a slight shift in meaning). I'm intrigued by your 'in the north, where Dante's Italian is king' but I suspect that really is a completely new thread!! Anyway, good luck to the original poster

For me, I need multiple means of picking up the language: occasional private lessons, films (yes, I love Il Gattopardo too!); magazines etc. And sometimes just sitting down with as grammar book. The BBC 'Talk Italian Grammar' book is very good for me. I did find that the Penguin Parallel Texts Series were brilliant: short stories by Moravia, Calvino, Ginsberg etc - one side of the page in the original Italian and the other side of the page in English. There are some lovely stories. Italian Short Stories: Racconti In Italiano (Vols 1 and 2): (Penguin Parallel Texts Series) Italian Short Stories: Racconti Italiano (New Penguin Parallel Text Series) But good luck however you manage it!

But Pacentro, I'm not quibbling with you!  but... now you've started.... :)  Im curious.  Would you say that you went on holiday last June - sono andato in vacanza o andavo in vacanza?  I would use the latter - too long ago to be passato prossimo, I would use the former if I had been on holiday last week, but.....   When I learned Italian it was ho mangiato this, and ho letto that, but talking to Italians they all seem to use the imperfetto instead.... so when in Rome .... or am I completely wrong/cross purposed? As for Dante's Italian - I was in Tuscany last week, and there they never stop reminding you that they speak Italian proper like what Dante did! 

In reply to by Ram

Hate to say it Ram, but I think you're completely wrong :-( The passato prossimo is for a single completed action in the past, eg Sono andato in Germania la settimana scorsa / a giugno / due anni fa. The imperfetto relates more to repeated actions, an action that was going on when another action interrupted it, descriptions etc. Here's Susanna Nocchi's explanation from Grammatica pratica della lingua italiana: L'imperfetto si usa normalmente: a) in una descrizione fisica o atmosferica     -    da bambina avevo i capelli biondi                                                                      -    faceva così freddo ieri! b) per indicare una ripetizione o un'abitudine     -    d'estate andavamo al mare tutti i giorni c) per una descrizione psicologica, una sensazione o un sentimento  -  Ieri ero depresso d) all'inizio di una favola               -      C'era una volta un re che aveva una figlia bellisssima.... e) con le espressioni   stare + gerundio,  stare per    -   stavate mangiando?                                                                                    -    stavano per uscire quando siamo arrivati f) dopo la parola  mentre                    -   mentre guardavamo la TV è saltata la luce g) quando si esprime un'azione continuata, che non è finita o non è stata limitata nel tempo    -                               -   aspettavo l'autobus da mezz'ora quando è passato mio padre in macchina                               -    Anna era in casa e leggeva il giornale .... With the exception of 'faceva così freddo ieri' you couldn't substitute the imperfetto with a passato prossimo in any of the above examples. In the faceva freddo instance it's possible but it changes the meaning just a tad. Does this help? They really are for two different uses. As for the Dante comment... well in one sense they're right because the standard language was based on 14th century Florentine dialect, BUT there are plenty of regional forms spoken in Tuscany that are most definitely NOT standard Italian. Just one example is the [x] sound instead of a [k] sound between vowels as in 'una coca cola' which sounds a bit Spanish on first hearing (una hoha hola)! But Tuscany's not in the north... (maybe it's north of where you are, but it's not linguistically or geographically :-)) If you want to chat more on this... (!) let's start a new thread, huh? Salutoni

  I have enormous respect for those here that can actually debate grammatical subtleties on ANY level, never mind the level THEY are at. I’m not sure though that many newly arrived ex-pats would either have the determination, time or energy to ascend to these dizzy heights when probably all they are hoping for is a good working knowledge of the language: something that’ll function reasonably well for social & domestic purposes, not academic or business. Having an Italian mother, I had a head start but was never interested in studying Italian & was fairly useless with French at school. My mother’s English was incredibly good with only a fugitive trace of accent. I think what I did get from my mother & those long annual Italian holidays was good pronunciation & I think it has been that & that alone that had me communicating freely with Italians  from all walks of life while fellow ex-pats, whose Italian was technically pretty damned good, constantly struggled. I often had Italians asking me to translate what had just been said to them, by studious & grammatically correct Brits. I was constantly apologising for my poor Italian & being told not to worry because, at least they understood the words I used; that my grammar might be primitive but they could work it out. Anyway, they’d say (& this was said to me by every Italian) that Italian was still a fairly new language to most of them, that most Italians still speak their own local dialect as their first language, that most Italians speak grammatically incorrect Italian but they all manage to get by. If like me you can’t or won’t do the studying, then getting the pronunciation right will get you by much better on it’s own than good grammar & crap pronunciation. Imitate the better spoken locals’ speech patterns & get stuck in. The world loves a tryer & Italians are no exception. I did, however, regret never having attained a really good level of conversational Italian because, when it comes down to it, being able to communicate the minute subtleties & nuances is always going to make the difference between just talking & full social immersion. It’s one of the many complex reasons I came back to the UK. I wonder though how good my Italian ever had to be to provide me with that level of satisfaction. Does anyone know, or have their own experiences/impressions to relate? Maybe it takes starting young. The hundreds of different dialects, which are far more like different languages than just varying pronunciation as it generally is in the UK, is bound to me a pretty big issue though; maybe even for Italians. Pilch

Im sure you're absolutely right - but when i talk in Italian, as I do every day for work - most people use the imperfect.  What can I say?   As someone who taught English in an Italian university I had to agree with the students who said that the text book said one thing and everyday English was quite another.  Its the same with Italian - no excuse for not learning the rules however. 

Although OH doesn't seem to be able to tell a verb from a noun or a plate of spaghetti and has to try and pick things up as he goes along, he really isn't making wonderful progress. I would find it extremely frustrating myself not to have a basis of Italian grammar so I can be more precise in what I want to say,although I do make lots of mistakes in conversation when there is no time to think. It may seem boring at first to learn tenses etc. but it feels fantastic to be able to use them to express yourself more clearly. I actually have a terrible memory for both vocab and grammar, but when in Italy you are constantly reminded of all you have learnt and I know I find it easier to retain if I understand how it all works (not that there aren't many gaps). The more you know the faster you pick new things up, without even realising you are doing so. For me it would be much more of a struggle without the tools, but I know some people are much better at assimilating these as they go along. All I can say is, even when you only know just a few words, you get pleasure from using them and being understood, and this pleasure just grows with the more you learn and can use. That, for me. is why language learning is so ideal. The rewards start instantly, the feedback is constant and everything you have learnt you continue to use so have continuous reinforcement and your memory hardly knows it has to make an effort.

Grammar is the backbone of any language. There has been methods claiming that you learn any language without learning grammar. As far as I know, they haven't been able to prove their claim. Parrot learning does not work. On the other hand "functional grammar" is the answer. Students need to know how the language works in order to assimilat what they learn. Exposure to the language or immersion are necessary to make progress, but we all need some basic knowledge of the language's own structure to be able to properly assimilate knowledge.

  English differs from many other European languages, official Italian being a case in point, in that it is a mongrel born of pretty diverse parentage. It has been forced to be an ever-changing, dynamic & fluid language, which, to an arguable degree, makes it the very capable, & expressive language it is today. Because it is a mongrel, rules of grammar are constantly broken by officially sanctioned exceptions as to make nonsense of them. Consequently, English Grammar is not a subject generally taught beyond early teens. This can make learning the grammar of other languages, especially Greco-Romano languages, infinitely tedious for many Brits, even those that may also be intelligent & reasonably well educated. Language tutors, or those who had the benefit of the usually high level of education in the grammar of their own Latin based mother tongue, may sometimes forget the advantages they have. Stand someone in front of a high mountain & they may never attempt more than a few faltering steps to the summit. Show them a modest hill, give them comfortable boots & a lightweight pack & they’ll usually get to the top of the hill pretty quickly. Then maybe the next hill, then the next. They may eventually get really keen, invest in crampons & ice-axe & go for the big one. Grammar is one component of language alongside vocabulary & pronunciation. In an imperfect world it's down to individual choice as to how to achieve the desired results. My opinions re learning Italian, however, are biased by my being study-phobic & needing quick results; as poor as they may be.   Pilch  Pilch

'Stand someone in front of a high mountain & they may never attempt more than a few faltering steps to the summit. Show them a modest hill, give them comfortable boots & a lightweight pack & they’ll usually get to the top of the hill pretty quickly. Then maybe the next hill, then the next. They may eventually get really keen, invest in crampons & ice-axe & go for the big one.' Love the analogy, Pilch! There are some fantastic contributions in this thread - I just hope some of it works for the OP. It's probably worth repeating that we all learn differently and so all the suggestions made here are really helpful because they provide a variety of ways of learning. I recently had a student who knew loads of grammar, but struggled to speak the language. The group he was studying with in the UK felt that learning grammar structures was the way they had learned at school and so they were in their comfort zone. While this has merit for some people, I firmly believe we have to be drawn out of our comfort zone to be able to create usable language in everyday situations. And as someone else has said, a lot depends on what you want the language for. Most of us want to be able to communicate in the spoken language, so it makes sense to concentrate on listening and spoken skills, but somewhere along the line some kind of structure needs to be identified so that it can be built on in the future. I also find that even though many adult learners say they want 'conversational Italian' and don't want to do grammar, sometimes they ask for an explanation precisely because they are adults and want to understand the reason behind a particular usage. While I adore grammar personally, I don't refer to structures as a default position in my teaching. I suppose I'm saying I don't think we can have fixed ideas but need to be very flexible both as learners and as teachers. Sorry I got drawn into the past tenses aside, but Ram, I've had a look at articles on regional Sicilian and Sicilian dialect and can't find anything to suggest the imperfetto is used instead of the passato prossimo/remoto. BUT I did find that there are some forms of the passato remoto in Sicilian dialect that look like imperfetto forms. Lifelong learning - isn't it great!? The post on pronunciation was another goody. If we can get rid of the most non-Italian features, such as the English pronunciation of the vowels and [t] and [d], we make ourselves more easily understood by Italians and believe it or not, it's easier for us to understand them. Onward and upward, folks!!

It is the terms of grammar which most people normally don't know not the usage. Michel Thomas teaches grammar without using the terms. The Latin way of using the present tense where we would use the perfect tense is part of the learning. Da quanto tempo sei in Italia      How long have you been in Italy This is an anomaly as the tenses usually are the same.

Interesting thread. I'm a bit fixated on names for things, and IMO you can learn nouns (outside Italy) by reading mags like Gente or Oggi. Verbs you can (in the initial stages) trundle along using just a few verbs (potere, volere, dovere) as well as the obvious essere and avere - just like you learned French in school - compounding them is easy. But (IMO) the biggest difficulty is if you are tied into an English speaking partner. That means you'll have Sky TV, and ninety percent of the time you'll be speaking English between yourselves. You probably won't even go to the shops alone, and other shoppers and cashiers will be intimidated by hearing English (or Dutch or German) spoken so they won't be inclined to respond in a 'normal' way.. Again, IMO, forget all this stuff about the passato remoto - I rarely see it used in serious newspapers - and if you can cope with fu and ebbe that's more than enough for literature. Coping with 'io fo' isn't rocket science in Tuscany - just get stuck in and respond like a human being to anything thrown at you. It's an absurd ambition to be thought of as a native Italian - it will never happen - but just bask in the glory of being a native English speaker: now that is realistically (again, not wishing to give offence) IMO your greatest attribute. If, perchance, your ambition is to translate obscure Italian texts, then fine - learn everything about grammattical perfections - but if you just want to crack on in the bar about how Catholicism or Berlusconi influence Itallian politics, I'd say the present tense and the past imperfect are quite enough. If you want to engage in 5S, maybe the future tense (magari future conditional)  would be handy. I suppose what I'm saying is that you need first to understand what sort of discussion you are engaging in before getting pedantic about Italian grammar. (Okay, I'll shut up now!)

2 great Italian words: Sistemare - means everything from making the bed to putting your financial affairs in order Controllare - to control (obviously), but also a much wider sense of being in charge of something

Ooh ooh, a friend just sent me this article on grammar rules in language learning and teaching! It's specifically about English, but has some value for Italian learners as well. In the last paragraph, the writer suggests that vocabulary is the most important thing. Is it? Just because we know the names of the pedals in a car doesn't mean we know how to drive itwink!! http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/sep/18/teach-grammar-rules?fb=o...

I have no more excuses - thank you all so much smiley  I love the mountain analogy and all the really practical and useful suggestions - having lots of choices suits me perfectly.   I listened to Michel Thomas in the car on a long journey home this evening - so perfect and am going to put him on my ipod/nano/ipad etc so he will be everywhere - along with you tube clips etc One of my childrens stroy book CD's arrived - like a little kid I ripped open to discover they'd sent the english version!!! And tomorrow I'm not working so am going to label everything in the kitchen and then move to another room the following week Am very excited now as opposed to sighing - and one day in the future may be able to participate in discussions on tense usage in different parts of italy (but don't hold your breath!!) Thanks again

Italian is a very difficult language. I have been studying it for 4 years, I don’t know how anyone, but it’s really difficult for me. I often use the annotated bibliography writing service, using https://edubirdie.com/annotated-bibliography-writing-service to translate into Italian later. My method is this: I take texts and translate them 4 times a week, write down unfamiliar words in a dictionary and repeat them 3 times a week. I also watch movies in Italian, which is good practice.