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Really Want to Learn Italian? Skip Italy's Biggest Cities and Head to Spello Instead

By: Jennifer Gherardi

I found myself in a conundrum about learning Italian and it seems to be a common problem for language learners. 

My husband is Italian but Australian born and I am a real Aussie Skip (kangaroo). We had travelled to Europe many times as Peter (a winemaker in Australia) was working as “flying winemaker” i.e. flying in just for the eight weeks of vintage in France or Italy.

One day we decided to dive in and buy a house in Europe but could not decide between France and Italy. I made the final vote because “you have relations in Italy” and I thought it would be easier for me to learn Italian.

Jennifer at a gelato shop in Spello

Peter spoke his village dialect from the north but within a few years he became conversant in proper Italian, albeit “rough and ready” as he says.

Instead, my language experience was a tad more problematic. 

I had completed some Italian classes and had come top of the class but when I arrived in Italy a few months later… I just froze. I could not think fast enough and with Peter at my side he always came to the rescue… and I sort of gave up.

Jennifer in Spello

After we bought our house in Spello, Umbria, each summer trimester I picked up plenty of single words by immersion but still couldn’t put a sentence together. So, the time had come to up-skill.

Learning Italian in a non-traditional way

As a documentary filmmaker, I love research and so I set about researching the best way to learn a language. Many days and weeks on the Internet gave me a good picture of the best track to go down. I was delighted to hear the multiple language learners’ (polyglots) techniques for speed learning. They all steered clear of traditional classroom methods.  

This reminded me of the pilot course I had done in Accelerated Learning with Japanese. It was easy and fun. Was there this type of course in Italy? The answer was yes and no. Yes, there was just one school in the far north but nothing in central Italy.  

In our village, I asked visitors and “expats” (who had summer houses there) as to how they would like to learn Italian. I remember Jim saying his wife was doing classes but as soon as he found out they were expected to do homework he bailed.  Many said they wanted to be able to speak but then they rolled their eyes at the thought of the pain!

The hilltop town of Spello 

I proposed my idea to them. “What if you could go to classes where you start each class in a lovely room and closing your eyes and relaxing while listening to baroque music…then the teacher reads you a story and then you read it back as a group... then you play games to repeat the key words – and it is all fun and positive… with no homework? They suddenly perked up… “yes, I wouldn’t mind that at all!”.

So, they were attracted to the principle methods of Accelerated Learning. From my reading of the science, it's quite clear that this methodology ingests the words into the short and long-term memory simultaneously. The mind enjoys learning in this way. This made sense to me, as there were no desks or grammar terms when you learned your first language! The proof was there - this is how you should learn a second language… with some help and classes to speed it up.

Paying it forward, a New Business is Born

Thus, I started to build the plan for Spello.

I found two brilliant language graduates, Manuela and Rachele who had the right personalities to become our specialized teachers but how could they get the special training they would need?

Rachele Taccucci, one of the teachers at Enjoy It

I searched Italy and then the whole world to find someone with the right skill set. Weeks later Daniela Montanger, the founder of the London School of Fast Learning, agreed to mentor our teachers for our classes! Our teacher, Manuela, has some dear friends who supplied the lovely studio for our classes. It is in one of the romantic streets in the village, with the cafés just steps away.

Manuela, one of Enjoy It's local teachers

Imagine staying in the plentiful and wonderful stone apartments throughout the village. Then you could walk the flower-lined streets to start the day with coffee and pastries at Bar Tulia before classes. Heaven - with real bells ringing from the nearby churches!

The Spello studio for classes, as seen by google street view

As an outsider to Spello I can see why it is a perfect place to holiday and learn Italian at the same time. On one hand, there are quite a few expats and tourists if you want to speak English and socialize but equally there are many people in the town who only speak Italian. This is what is so important… in big cities so many people speak English it becomes unnecessary to even try! Spello folk (or Spellani as they are known) are very patient and helpful.

Why Spello?

I haven’t told you why we bought our house in Spello when we had the whole country to choose from. Firstly, Spello has the best wine shop and degustation wine tasting in all of Italy (Enoteca di Properzio as per The Lonely Planet Guide). As wine and food lovers we had to find a town with lots of restaurants too. The village life we saw each time we visited was very animated and special and I am still uncovering the many layers and secrets of Spello.

Winding down with a drink at Enoteca di Properzio

It does not take long to feel at home and the shopkeepers, waiters and sommeliers quickly recognise you after just a few days. I love how Gianni knows we like our coffee super-hot. His mother (Tulia) makes all the cakes and pastries every day!

Relaxing at Bar Tulia 

Even the police are interesting. If they see a car illegally parked they blow their whistle loudly so you can hear it (if you are in a shop) and if you rush out and move your car, there is no fine. But you might get a frown and finger waggle. I love that! Everyone counts and is important in a town of this size.

There is an extensive list of activities and tourist destinations. I am amazed at the free classical concerts in the churches and free pop concerts at the lower of the 3 piazze.

When you search Spello in Google Images you will come across the amazing flower petal carpets created on the streets for the religious festival, the very famous “ Infiorata di Spello”. This is just one of the amazing festivals where the community create fantastic events. Traditions are highly valued and real Italian life unfolds before your eyes as Spello was founded in 1 B.C.

The community laying down the Infiorata (flower carpet lining the streets) in Spello

My favourite church is Sant'Andrea where there is one Pinturicchio painting. I recall seeing the monk in brown robes and sandals on a misty day come out to close the doors and I swear I felt transported into the movie “In The Name of the Rose” with Sean Connery.

I have travelled extensively with my work but I often pinch myself at being in Spello surrounded by the smells, sights and sounds of this very Italian life. It's something everyone should experience at least once which is why I chose to share my story here. 

If you would like to learn Italian the SMART AND FUN way in a wonderful part of Italy, then we have built the perfect language class for you! And oh …yes, also for me!