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My High School Italian Class Didn’t Prepare me for Italy – But This Did!

I’ve just returned from a year-long visit through Italy. Prior to my trip, I had studied Italian in high school and believed that I had a firm grasp of the language. It wasn’t until I arrived in Italy that I had a rude awakening. I discovered that despite two semesters of high school Italian, I couldn’t communicate with locals in Italy to save my life!

Which is ironic, because I had arrived as an English teacher. My job was to teach Italianshow to speak English, and embarrassingly after work I couldn’t tap into the local culture that I had longed to do because of my language inability. And going deeper into the culture was the very purpose of my trip.

My passion for Italy started when I was a little kid after my first bite of pizza. My interest in Italian snowballed from there –Roman gladiators, Renaissance masters, stunning architecture. I made a promise to myself that when I graduated college, I’d take a year off to travel Italy. I didn’t have a tremendous amount of money saved up (student loans!), so I committed to teaching English to local kids and adults in Naples for six months. Of course, after being in the country for just a week, I realized I needed to shift gears and learn Italian. One of my coworkers at the private English school I taught at recommended OptiLingo. He said that it worked for him because it uses a language learning method called “Guided Immersion.” I gave it a try and I kid you not – after the very first lesson, I was breezing through several Italian phrases. I soon recognized that the musical nature of Italian is thanks to the fact that most words end in a vowel. How I didn’t pick that up in high school, I’ll never know!

Imagine, even after my high school Italian classes I never felt as accomplished. The OptiLingo lessons worked. Let me tell you a little bit about Guided Immersion, and the general structure of the lessons. Each week is composed of five lessons – you can choose any five days you want, however I worked through my lessons Monday through Friday. Each lesson is about 30 minutes long. If I had a particularly long day at class or had picked up a private tutoring session and felt languaged-out, I simply set the day’s lesson aside to pick it up on the following day.

What I liked most about the course was that it was a great mix of audio, visual, and tactile language learning approaches. Lessons provided opportunities to listen to native Italian speakers chat, conversationally. These weren’t those forced “where is the bathroom?” questions they drill into you in other programs geared towards tourists. This was everyday dialogue that gave me deeper insight into the Italian culture and people.

Each lesson also provides written material, so you can compare how an Italian sentence is constructed in an intuitive way, because it’s juxtaposed to the direct English translation. I found this approach helped me understand Italian grammar better than anything in my high school Italian classes. And finally, the lessons encourage that you integrate a tactile approach. I’m a tactile learner – I need to physically do something with my hands to understand the material. In these lessons, I wrote out Italian words and sentences with a pen and paper. I can’t remember the last time I used a pen and paper for anything – but in this case it worked. Review and self-testing are built into the lessons so it’s easy to revisit what you learned and understood and parse that material out with what needs further attention.

For those of you considering taking the plunge into learning Italian, may I be the first one to push you! Italian is an incredible language to learn. Sure, it’s not the most spoken language in the world – or even Europe, for that matter – but it is the fourth moststudied language (behind English, Spanish, and Chinese). Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, Italian is the language used in classical music notation, and it is the spoken language of the Catholic Church, which still has global influence. (Fun fact: the official language of the Catholic Church is Latin, but Italian is used in everyday business.)

And for us English speakers interested in learning Italian – it’s the direct evolutionary link to Latin. That means that Italian has many similarities to Spanish and some similarities to English.

Because my workweek was only 20 hours long, I had plenty of free time to explore Naples and the surrounding countryside. When my English teaching contract ended, I traveled throughout the rest of Italy – from Naples to Milan to Rome and everything in between.

My Italian adventure has ended and I’m back in the United States. I plan to continue my quest to perfect my Italian and have many future trips to Italy in my bucket list. I’d like to provide some insights gleaned from my yearlong experience in Italy learning Italian. Hopefully it’s helpful if you’re considering learning the language.

Gestures Matter

In India, they bobble their heads which often confound tourists (does it mean “yes” or “no”?). Similarly, Italians gesticulate to add emphasis or nuance to what they’re expressing verbally. Gestures are one of the things that attracted me to Italian, however at first, I felt a little silly gesturing when I spoke. Don’t be. Use gestures and embrace this fascinating aspect of the culture. Even if you’re struggling, trying to find the right word – throw in a gesture to add meaning to what you’re trying to say. The important thing is that you are understood.

Easy for Native English Speakers

Why so easy? Italian and English use the same alphabet. That means no extra letters to learn. Actually, there are even fewer letters in the Italian alphabet – just 21! The letters: J, K, W, X, and Y don’t appear in any Italian words. What you will find instead are accent marks as these are occasionally used in Italian to indicate where to put the emphasis when pronouncing a word.

Nouns Change Based on Gender and Quantity

Unlike English, Italian uses gendered nouns and adjectives but one way to get around this is reminding yourself of this shortcut: singular nouns ending in -o are often masculine, -a are often feminine. Another theme when learning Italian is that you’ll notice whether a word is singular or plural, the word’s spelling will be modified. Kind of like in English we add “s” or “es” – in Italian, the word ending changes. Be advised!

Ready for the Million Euro Question?

I know what you really want to know. How fast can you learn Italian?

This depends. I thought I knew Italian because I had taken Italian in high school. Wrong! One source, the US Government’s Foreign Service Institute, estimates that it takes 600 hours in a classroom setting to achieve a general professional proficiency. (You can learn more about how long it takes to learn new languages here.) For most people, that would take years to achieve! But using the method my colleague shared with me – and that I’m now sharing with you - you can learn Italian in hours, not years!

Ready to start learning Italian fast with OptiLingo? Click here to get started. Your first two weeks cost just $9.99!


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