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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: The Struggle to Learn Italian

PART 93: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps and what we are learning along the way.

We love every minute of it, and what was once a dream is our life!

We live in Tuscany in the Fall, then back again in the Spring, and in California for the rest of the time (in a previous blog, I explained why we live in Italy only part of the year).

Let's explore the struggle to learn Italian.

Step 1: This week, let's explore the challenge of learning the language as one more piece of the puzzle to make life in Italy complete.

Step 2: I admit it: I had an advantage. I lived in Italy during my college years, and I didn't have the option of not learning Italian. If I didn't learn the language, I would have flunked my classes.

Before moving to Rome, I had taken an adult Education evening class in Italian for two years. I thought that my Italian was pretty good until I arrived in Italy. Everyone seemed to be talking so fast that I couldn't understand a thing, and when I tried to speak, I got all tongue-tied.

I initially experienced a period of panic as I fell behind in my classes and didn't understand what the professors were saying. However, I continued to attend my language lessons, and I made a more significant effort to speak Italian, build relationships with locals, and study systematically.

Then the unthinkable happened.

It was January of my first year, and I was sitting in my philosophy class at the Angelicum in Rome. Suddenly, like a rush, something in my brain switched gears. I suddenly began to understand what the professor was saying without having to translate it in my head.

How did that happen, and how can my path to learning Italian help others who share my goal?

Step 3: Reframing the question

Is learning Italian a struggle?

"Hell yeah!" I've heard from many an expat.

But does it have to be?

Learning Italian is an art rather than a struggle. This reframes the task and allows me, the student, to be flexible in my learning approach.

Step 4: Learning styles

To transform my approach to learning Italian from a struggle to an art, I need to first understand my learning style.

As a former high school teacher with 25 years of experience and about 35 students in my classroom, I have witnessed different learning styles every day. Some of my students were auditory learners, who learned best by listening to podcasts or language tapes. Like myself, others were visual learners and needed pictures, videos, and other visual stimuli to grasp a concept. There were also independent, group, and kinetic learners who needed to learn through some physical action.

What type of learner am I?

In a previous blog, I explored this, so here, I will state that we can get frustrated with trying to learn a language because we are using a learning style that doesn't fit. For instance, listening to tapes or unstructured independent learning may not work for everyone.

To determine what type of learner we are, we can look back at what has worked for us in the past or try different learning methods to see which one works best for us.

Step 5: What is most crucial

I will begin this section by sharing a brief account of my experience in the classroom. I used to teach at a school where the principal decided to switch to block scheduling. This meant that instead of my students attending my class for 55 minutes every day, they would meet for 100 minutes on a rotating schedule. For instance, in week 1, they would attend my class twice, and in week 2, thrice, and so on.

My responsibility was to teach my high school students Italian 1A in the first semester and 1B in the second semester. Initially, it seemed like a good idea, as it allowed for project-based learning and longer time for student engagement. However, it turned out to be the opposite, as learning took a nosedive, and the students retained very little.


Because the crucial factor was missing: CONSISTENCY.

They learned more by meeting 55 minutes daily rather than longer times every other day.

Learning Italian as an art can only happen if I have two things in place: CONSISTENCY and STRUCTURE.

Another example: Some years ago, I had a book written in my head about a dog living on the Acropolis, but I could never find the time or mood to write it down. Finally, I decided to go to school 15 minutes early every day and devote that time to writing. 15 minutes felt doable, so it didn't take a great effort to do that.

After two years of working for 15 minutes a day, I completed the book.

It is the same with learning Italian.

I will learn more by being consistent than by spending hours studying Italian when I start to feel guilty.

Starting small is the key.

If one starts to study Italian for 15 minutes a day, every day or at least Monday-Friday, they will learn the language over time.

Consistency, consistency, consistency.

The other key is being systematic.

This means that I have a system in place: a set time and place where I study/learn, a definite textbook that I go through, chapter by chapter, and other materials that I use systemically without jumping around.

If I get on the internet or Youtube and start poking around for Italian materials every day, I am not being systematic.

Finding a learning path/textbook/course and working at it consistently is systematic.

Step 6: Speaking

"I can't speak Italian, but I can understand it," I've heard over and over again.

Many times, we let fear hold us back. We may think that others will laugh at us or feel self-conscious while trying to speak what we are learning. But that is all in our heads. In my experience, locals are happy when we share their language.

The two factors that helped me to speak Italian were:

  • Keeping a pad in my pocket with new words and phrases I wanted to learn and using them throughout the day

  • Developing friendships/relationships with locals

Step 6: The cost of not learning Italian

Living in Italy, whether part-time or full-time, without learning the Italian language comes with a price. It means I will always be perceived as a foreigner, an outsider looking in from the outside. While many Italians do speak English, relying on Google Translate or any other translation tool is not enough for me to fully experience the culture. Therefore, I must learn the language to have a complete cultural experience.

Step 7: Which path to choose?

Learning Italian is as simple as:

  • Making a decision

  • Choosing a learning path

  • Being consistent in my learning

Choosing which learning path is different for each learner. I need consistency, accountability, and assignments, so taking an online or in-person course works best for me.

For someone else, buying a textbook off Amazon works. For someone else, private tutoring.

The critical step is that I make the decision, that I choose a learning path (even to try it out) and that I am consistent.

Step 8: Studying in Italy

What about studying in Italy?

A huge number of Italian courses are offered in Italy, most by private schools or companies. However, the most respected that I know about are the full immersion courses offered by the University for Foreigners in Perugia ( I am sure there are others, and you are welcome to share your experiences with others in the comments.

Insights: Learning Italian can become an art rather than a struggle. Three factors can help: making a decision, finding a learning path, and being consistent in learning.

More next time.

Now on sale for $2.99: My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

Amazon Italy- my book "Lei mi ha sedotto. Una storia d'amore con Roma":

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