Our Italian Adventure: Learning Italian
Updated: Mar 26
This part is called: Learning Italian.
PART 10: I thought it might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.
We are in Puglia until the end of September, then back again in the winter.
The topic we will explore is: How learning Italian can make or break my Italian sojourn.
Step 1: My advantage: Since I studied in Italy in college and have kept up my Italian, I realized that I have an advantage over others who come to live here without knowing Italian. I want to explore the pitfalls, essentiality, and learning methods.
Step 2: Pitfalls: There are many expats in Italy whose primary language is not Italian. I love connecting with expats to share their stories, experience, and goals. I especially relate to the English-speaking expats, who I find fascinating: they are people who have dared to turn their dream into reality and come here, risking everything. They realize that life is short and that a dream will always remain a dream if one doesn't take a risk.
The pitfall: I studied at the North American College in Rome, and, after three years of living in the city, some of my colleagues barely learned two words in Italian; they never made friends other than North Americans and found ways to navigate the city without understanding its people or culture. They returned to the US with the same viewpoints that they arrived with.
Isolating oneself within an expat community is a pitfall.
I am not saying to refuse to make friends and relationships within the expat community; my partner and I treasure several good friends and the beginnings of friendships within that sphere.
But isolating with other expats is a pitfall.
My rule of thumb is that, while living in Italy, I am isolating if my expat friendships are over 50% compared with my friendships with locals.
Step 3: Essential. Learning Italian is essential to gaining some understanding and appreciation of Italian culture. There, I said it. One will always be an outsider unless one can converse in the native language.
Learning a language is not simply saying the same thing in different words but is another way of thinking. When I say in Italian, "Ti voglio bene" or "Ti amo," I realize that there are different types of love expressed. "I love you" or "I love brownies" covers it all in English. This is just one small example of how language is a window into another culture and mentality.
Step 4: Learning methods. I am a teacher by profession, though I recently retired. I know, as an educator and from my personal experience, that not everyone learns the same. I've had students who are:
Others are more auditory.
Others work better on their own, and others learn best with others.
Some need structure; others loathe it.
In beginning to learn a language, I must discover which type of learner I am. Otherwise, I risk getting discouraged and discontinuing it.
For me, I need structure and in-person instruction. Taking a community college class in Italian is the ideal method for me to learn because I need structure and accountability. I've tried online platforms, studying by myself from a book, and more unstructured methods, but I end up multitasking, not paying attention, and not learning much. So if I want to learn a language, I look for a class in which I will be accountable for completing weekly work.
Every person is different, so I encourage someone who doesn't yet know what type of learner they are to try several. Does Rosetta Stone work for you? Go for it! Youtube videos? A textbook? A tutor? A full immersion program, like the famous ones at the University for Foreigners in Perugia (https://www.unistrapg.it/en/studying-at-unistrapg/italian-language-and-culture-courses)? Sign up!
Sometimes I get discouraged in learning, not because of the content but because I am trying to force a learning method that doesn't work for me.
Step 5: Trial and Error. The biggest obstacle to learning a language is wanting to get it perfect before trying to speak it. But I learn best when I, imperfectly, use and speak a new word or verb form and accept corrections from native speakers.
Step 6: Benefits and PayOff. The benefit is that I come to feel part of the community in which I live rather than an outsider, and I have the opportunity to develop deep friendships with those from different cultures, thereby enlarging my worldview.
Step 7: First steps: the first step to set out on a new learning path is to discover which learning method works for me. I will try a few, see what works and what doesn't, and then embrace, with consistency, the learning path that fits best. Consistency is everything.
Watch for my book coming around the 1st of the year: "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy."
More next time.