How to Fine-Tune Your Italian in Italy

June 29, 2015
Learn Italian: How to Fine-Tune Your Italian in Italy

So you’ve finally arrived in Italy, but if you think your Italian is just going to magically fall into place, think again. Languages are tricky and unfortunately the popular urban legend that says you learn one just by being around it 24/7 is just that, an urban legend. No matter how long or how often you “immerse” yourself in a language, you have to actively participate in learning it.

Italy used to be a great place to learn Italian because it was, in the past, difficult to find Italians who spoke English. Nowadays, with globalization and demand from the job market, the younger generations of Italians are now more than adept at speaking English. As well, it is fairly easy to navigate the more popular tourist cities using only English.

Don’t breathe a sigh of relief because this is actually dismal news for the aspiring Italian speaker. Gone are the days of having to adorably stumble through your restaurant order, sifting swiftly through your Italian vocabulary while aided by frantic hand gestures. Italy is making it too easy for tourists now. So should you be intent on improving or learning some Italian on your trip, here are my personal tips and tricks:

How to Fine-Tune Your Italian in Italy

1. Parli, parli, parli 

Talk, talk, talk…as much as you can, every day, with everyone you meet. At the very least, greet and say thank you/goodbye. It’s easy to get into the habit of reverting to English but try to remind yourself that the only way to improve is through practice and that you’ll never be surrounded by as many opportunities to speak when you head back home.

2. Sbagliando, si impara

There’s an Italian saying that means you learn from making mistakes. This is undoubtedly true with languages so even if you know you’re saying something wrong, make the mistake and ask how to say it correctly. I guarantee that it will stick afterwards.

Learn Italian: How to Fine-Tune Your Italian in Italy

3. Non vergognarti

Don’t be ashamed or shy. While it may be embarrassing to speak up, be assured that Italians are typically extremely appreciative and supportive of attempts at the language. This point is probably the most crucial because it’s the main roadblock in learning languages for a vast majority of people.

4. Curiosità e sperimentazione

Curiosity and experimentation are two more cornerstones of language learning that should be fully exercised during your trip. Stay curious. Look-up the written words around you–restaurant and shop names, signs, and menus are just some examples. How many of us have sat down at a trattoria with a neat name and never bothered to ask its significance? As for the experimentation side of things, try to be creative and “experiment” with the language. Perhaps you don’t know a specific word but can you put together an educated guess?

5. Amici italiani

Get some Italian friends. Yes, this can be difficult if you’re on a whirlwind trip around the country but if you happen to be in one place for a longer period of time, gravitate towards the locals and forge a relationship, even with the fruit vendor you pass every morning! Often travellers and expats find themselves (understandably) drawn to speakers of their native language. This can be very detrimental indeed. If you’re single and ready to mingle, that’s even better…there’s no better motivation to learn a language than love and I speak from experience!

6. Tre parole: Condé Nast Traveller

Three words: Condé Nast Traveller. This used to be a favorite magazine of mine back home in Canada, until I discovered the Italian edition, which is an absolute treasure for Italian learners. I know it gets tiring trying to work your way through an entire newspaper in a second language, but what if there was a publication that had both Italian AND English text, side-by-side? That is exactly what you get with the Italian Condé Nast Traveller and they also offer a travel-size version that fits into your purse.

Go to any newspaper kiosk to get one (look for the word “edicola,” although you really can’t miss the displays of hundreds of magazines on every corner in the major cities). This magazine is extremely helpful in the sense that you can flit your gaze back and forth between the Italian and English content, no need to be constantly flipping through a dictionary.

Learn Italian: How to Fine-Tune Your Italian in Italy

A Spanish teacher of mine in university once said: you will only ever learn a language for one of two reasons–for love, or for survival. You can survive in Italy without Italian, so unfortunately the latter is out. What I hope for you, dear Pink Pangea readers, is that you fall so hopelessly in love with Italy like I have and with that, acquire a similar passion for (arguably) the most fascinating language in the world.


Learn Italian: How to Fine-Tune Your Italian in Italy photo credit by Unsplash. 

About Jasmine Mah

Jasmine is a former pharmacist, foodie, and fashionista from Alberta, Canada living the sweet life in Bergamo, Italy. A city girl with a country heart, she currently curates all things fabulous and Italian on her blog Questa Dolce Vita and enjoys drinking wine in her spare time.

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