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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Learning Italian

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

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:

  • Visual learners.

  • 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 ( 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.

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Antonella Lavoro
Antonella Lavoro
03 juin 2023

Buongiorno Mark, sono molto interessanti le considerazioni che fai sull'apprendimento. Sono anch'io un'insegnante e posso dirti che, in una classe, non ci sarà mai omogeneità, per cui, quello che si può fare è sperimentare tutti gli stili di apprendimento. L'insegnante può proporre prima un testo scritto, poi un audio da ascoltare, poi una breve conversazione, ma anche una canzone o un film. Ciò che sempre più viene sperimentato dagli insegnanti è un approccio comunicativo e ludico, con una minima parte di grammatica. È per la troppa grammatica che alcuni studenti perdono interesse e abbandonano i corsi! La grammatica nella lingua italiana è molto più complessa che in inglese, per esempio, e dovrebbe essere considerata, a mio avviso, un sostegno dell'apprendimento…

Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
03 juin 2023
En réponse à

Sono d'accordissimo! Ognuno impara in modo diverso perché i nostri cervelli funzionano un modi diversi. Io, per esempio, imparo meglio con immagini; se non lo "vedo" non posso intenderlo. Altri imperno meglio per l'ascolto, ecc. Noi insegnanti abbiamo esperienza di questo. Grazie mille.


Stephan Zehren
Stephan Zehren
29 août 2022

Another very interesting and important post by you, Mark.

To me, learning another language also means having patience. Patience from the one who's studying another language (because it takes a while before you can express yourself somewhat properly), but also patience from the native speaker that student is interacting with.

My native language is german. I studied english at school and then, many years later, spanish during my former job as a flight attendant.

English is probably one of the the most widely used languages when people from different countries interact with each other.

My husband is originaly from Wales and so we switch back and forth between german and english at home when we talk to each other. Hence…

Mark Tedesco
Mark Tedesco
11 mars 2023
En réponse à

Great insights here. Thank you.

I think it is important to understand my own learning style before setting out to grasp a new language. If not, I may be using methods that make me unnecessarily frustrated rather than adapting learning to the way that my brain works!

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