Speaking is the hardest part of learning Italian. As a language teacher with a Master’s Degree and a kind heart, Gloria Gloria Spagnoli is here to help with five tips to learn to speak Italian.
I follow Gloria Spagnoli on Instagram. Gloria just gets it. She knows that Italian language newbies like myself need to hear someone speak clearly and slowly to learn. Which makes following her Instagram stories super helpful! Not only that, Gloria’s a pro. Literally. She has a Master’s Degree in Languages and Cultures for International Communication and Cooperation and has worked as a translator and language teacher since 2012.
So without further ado, I bring you a guest post full of humor, kindness, and empowerment for those like me, hoping to learn to speak Italian, in Italy!
Why Learning to Speak Italian is Hard
Imagine the moment you’re at home getting ready to leave and start a new life in what you’ve always felt was your real home: Italy. You packed your luggage dreaming of the very first moment you would step foot on the Italian land. Happy and dreamy. Excited about your new life. Clothes, passport, laptop, and of course your Italian in your mind.
Nothing could stop your enthusiasm.
You said bye to your loved ones, jumped on a plane and took a long voyage to the place of your dreams. You stepped out of the plane, took your luggage, got out of the airport, and began to settle down in your new home. Sure, it was not easy to understand everybody. There were so many things to think about that you could barely focus on what people said: your new house, your job, paperwork, getting used to how life really is in Italy, and, of course, meeting new people and making new friends. You find a moment to socialize and you decide to jump in. Knowing that you can make it because you’ve been preparing yourself for this all this time.
But the minute you start talking to people something goes wrong.
You’re not sure why, but you forget what you want to say, you don’t understand Italian people when they talk. You thought it was just a temporary thing, but it’s been going on for a little while already. You start to wonder why? You’ve been learning all this time. You know Italian, you can read articles, you can write something of your own. Why on Earth is this so painful?
Speaking Italian is the Hardest Part of Learning It
If you’ve found yourself in this situation, or you’re finding yourself into it, you’re in good company. Many people work hard on their Italian and still feel like they have to start from the beginning when they first arrive in Italy. Luckily, this situation doesn’t and won’t last forever. You can change it in your favor and make it a thing of the past. But before we dive into it, let’s see what is going on and why you’re struggling so much when you already know what it takes to have a conversation in Italian.
The problem underneath.
You’ve really learned a lot and worked really hard. You’ve spent months on grammar books, filling in each blank in the exercises, memorizing conjugations and words, repeating things aloud… but you didn’t have the chance to speak with anybody. And, most importantly, you didn’t have the chance to have a conversation with an Italian person.
Learn to Speak Italian, 5 Tips from a Teacher
It’s easy to think that there is something wrong with you, that maybe you’re just not talented, or that you should have done more. But the reality is that without real practice it’s hard to see real results. How can you know what to say if you never try to speak to someone? Or understand people if no one around you speaks Italian to you? Let alone build up your confidence if you never try to do what makes you nervous?
You see, there are so many factors that play a big role here. And you are not the cause of this situation. Nope. Forget it. Stop blaming yourself for something you’re not guilty of.
Rather take on responsibility. When you blame yourself, you put yourself in the poor victim role and you rarely (let’s say never) see any changes in your life. But when you hold yourself responsible for your situation, you’re able to see the power that you have to make this challenging situation work for you.
Let’s see what you can do.
Learn to Speak Italian Tip 1: Expectations? Forget Them.
It can be challenging to understand absolutely everything at first. And forcing yourself to do it will only perpetuate your “but I can’t understand anything” negative loop. So what can you do to begin to catch what other people are talking about? You’re already in Italy, so you’ve got a great advantage. Try to listen without expecting to understand too much.
When you set expectations you (and not only you) tend to set really high expectations. Usually and unconsciously to prove that you don’t know enough. This not only will damage your self-esteem but also won’t help you get what you truly want from that situation: understand the Italian people. So, at first, try to listen without expecting to understand.
Maybe sit on a bench, close your eyes and listen to what people say. Then, open your eyes and write down what you heard. Focus on the intonation, on how words flow, on sentence stress, on sounds that you didn’t know before. Most of the time we have the wrong idea about of a word is pronounced. So this is a great exercise to do a little reality check and see how Italians truly speak and pronounce their words.
Learn to Speak Italian Tip 2: Use Transcripts
When you feel like you need some more structured practice, you can go for audio tracks that come with a transcript. I would like to debunk a myth here. Most people assume that if they want to understand, they need to start from day one without a transcript. But, once again, this is just a way to make things hard for yourself. If you want to truly understand, you need to know what people say when they say it. To make that connection between what you hear and what you see and read.
You need correspondence between sounds and written words. You might recognize words when you hear them, as we saw in the previous point. But you might also have no clue about how a word is pronounced. And, again, you’re not to blame for it. Help yourself with a transcript. Use it to mark where the sentence stress falls and how words are pronounced. Use all the signs and drawings that help you remember.
Learn to Speak Italian Tip 3: Read Out Loud
Great, you have your transcript and you now know every single word in it. Now it’s time to take those words out. Reading aloud is a great activity that helps you build the bridge between having so many words in your head and wanting to take them out to actually taking them out. You can also do it with your own texts, as long as you read aloud and not in your mind. Why is it so important to do it?
You need to get used to saying those words. You need to get used to making those new sounds. And you need to get used to hearing yourself saying those words. When you read in your head, you can only picture yourself doing that. But when you read out loud, you can have an idea of how you actually talk. You have your audio track as a reference and you can compare yourself to the track when something doesn’t sound right to you. Do it a few times and, once you feel ready, start repeating without reading to sound and feel more natural.
Learn to Speak Italian Tip 4: Get Out There Slowly
There will come a point where you’ll have to talk to people and get some real practice. Here is where your mind will tell you to join any random event that you can find out there. But be careful. If you want your practice to be successful, you need to play smart. So, don’t listen to your mind telling you that “you should do this and already know that”. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself which situations make you feel comfortable and which ones don’t.
Start with the ones that make you feel comfortable and just a little bit challenged. Then get used to speaking in these types of situations. Once you’re comfortable with those, ask yourself what could be the next step for you. What situation is a little bit more challenging than the previous one? Once you know it, you can begin to have conversations in this new type of situation until you feel comfortable with that as well. And, guess what?
When this new situation is now a familiar and easy one, you can move on to a more challenging one. We’re always tempted to jump from 0 to 10, but that rarely brings results. When, we gradually move from 0 to 1, then to 2, etc… we can slowly learn as we go and feel more and more confident in our abilities.
Learn to Speak Italian Tip 5: Question Your Brain
You’ve noticed that I’ve said in this article many times that “your mind might tell you that…” Well, minds often do that. It’s easy to get caught by your negative self-talk and imposter syndrome that tell you that you’ll never make it, that everyone is better than you, that you just can’t do it… Well, when this happens, question your mind. Thoughts are not reality. They’re not facts. They’re just thoughts.
So when you find yourself thinking something negative about yourself, do a reality check. Ask yourself if this is true. You will realize that most of the time, it is not. Thank yourself for spotting that thought and recognizing it as an unhelpful one. Think of a more empowering thought that can help you get out of that negative state. And, every time you speak Italian with someone, focus on what you did well and congratulate yourself for that.
To sum up, you can, indeed, break the barriers that stop you from speaking Italian. Just remember that it will take time and it will be a step-by-step journey. Be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t take and treat yourself kindly when things don’t go as you expected. Allow yourself to show up when you’re ready and with the people you want, and always remember that your achievements, even the smallest ones, deserve a good celebration.
Thank you Gloria for your expertise, humor, and most of all honesty about the struggles that come with learning to speak a new language. Connect with Gloria for more tips to make speaking Italian easier on her website Speakita.com, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn. Plus, get Gloria’s free guide to learn How to Find Your Italian Voice here!