Don’t let these things hold you back from becoming conversational
1. There is not even one “Learn Italian Quick” program that will be your be-all-end-all. There is no lightning in a bottle for Italian. There are hundreds of great, high-quality resources, many of which I can recommend, but know, above all, that YOU are the person learning the language. As polyglot Luca Lampariello often says, “Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned.”
2. In the beginning stages of learning, you will learn a ton, and then as you near that blessed intermediate level, you’ll have a period where you feel like you’re not making any progress.
This is normal. Don’t get down on yourself about it. You actually are making progress, but at that stage, more effort is required, particularly when it comes to spoken Italian. Speaking of…
3. Learning how to sound fluid and natural in Italian requires a lot of speaking practice and not just listening, reading, and writing practice.
As you’re able to form longer sentences and have a larger stockpile of vocabulary, you’ll want to find a language partner. For some people, speaking can start from day one, but it depends on your experience, and a language partner can help you stay in this for the long-haul, which is critical because…
4. Learning a language is a commitment that requires devotion (read: studying on a daily basis.) Start with a so-easy-you-can’t-say-no routine at first, like five minutes a day, and then build from there as studying becomes more of a habit. Now that you’re a language learner, you’ve got to find a way to weave it into your daily life.
5. It’s meant to be fun, and it’s also absurdly gratifying—especially when you have your first conversation where you can connect with someone. Make sure to engage in activities that you find joy in. Find fun YouTube channels, work with tutors who make you laugh, find Italian music to add to your playlists. But know that…
6. You will try to like Italian music, but you will probably be disappointed. (That said, I know many who have succeeded, and there are at least a solid 15 songs that I do enjoy.)
7. You will be able to understand more than you’ll be able to say.
This is to be expected since at first, you’ll be taking in more information (listening & reading) than you’re putting out (writing & speaking).
8. BUT, EVEN THEN…you may study for a long time and then feel brave enough to watch some Italian TV and not understand more than 15% of what they’re saying. That’s normal, too. Your ear isn’t used to the rate of speech yet and lots of things are in dialect or contain slang, so be gentle with yourself.
9. There is a thing in Italian where you have to make your nouns, adjectives and verbs agree in number and gender. This will happen with pronouns and prepositions, too. No matter how well you know the rules, you will mess up. It’s not a big deal. The goal is to be understood, not perfect.
10. And in that same vein, you will definitely make mistakes. They are normal.
You will say embarrassing things like “ano – anus” instead of “anno – year.” Laugh it off, and think of it as one entertaining way to acquire new vocabulary.
13. You will totally forget to use the past tense during conversations. Our brains like to go to what’s easiest, so when we’re nervous while trying to have a conversation with a native speaker, it defaults to what’s easiest, which is often the present.
14. And while you’re having those early conversations, you will feel like you lack a personality in Italian. As you learn more, your personality will re-emerge, I promise. In the meantime, it could be helpful to make a list of phrases that you often say in English and ask your tutor for the Italian equivalents.
15. You will say “yes” to things you meant to say “no” to and “no” to things you meant to say “yes” to. You will order the wrong thing. You will ask for the wrong size. You will get a lot of weird stares from people trying to understand you, and you will need to repeat yourself. It’s all okay, and nothing is personal. People really want to know what you’re saying.
16. When you visit Italy, anxious to put your Italian into action on its home turf, you will be “English-ed,” and it’s not meant as an insult. If you’d like to avoid it, though, here are 8 places to visit and here are four phrases to curve the conversation back to Italian.
17. At some point (or more realistically, several points), you will lose motivation and fall off the Italian studying wagon.
You’ll also find new ways to get back on it.
18. You will be impatient to reach “fluency.” (Hint: Fluency isn’t a real destination. So enjoy the ride.)
20. Once you learn how to use the word “boh,” you will start using it all the time in English.
21. You will love the colorful proverbs and idioms that differ from English. ‘Who sleeps doesn’t catch fish’ instead of ‘the early bird catches the worm’? Adorable.
22. Your mouth will feel weird pronouncing unfamiliar words. You will feel insecure about you’re speaking. You will think you should be further along. Remember that feeling uncomfortable means you’re doing something right. Then, ignore those negative thoughts and keep studying.
23. You will forget that communication is about more than a perfectly constructed sentence and will try to learn the language through just studying the grammar. Resist the temptation for everything to be structured.
24. But most importantly, know that you will, after practice and devotion, be able to speak Italian—not quite like a native, but comfortably enough to do the things that matter, like make friends, eat incredible food, and experience a new country from the eyes of someone who is no longer a typical tourist.