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Italy 2014, Language, Travel

Learning Italian from Scratch

Italia! A nation full of romance, beauty, and just the right amount of mystery. Wine country, the Vatican, and Roman ruins.  What more could a girl ask for?

I plan on treating my sister to an Italian getaway with yours truly as a reward for graduating high school, turning 18 and getting into college. One big gift! She’s currently only 16, so I’ve decided to teach myself Italian in preparation for the trip.  I conducted a fairly thorough study exploring the most effective way to learn any language from scratch, and I’d like to summarize my findings for you here.

First and foremost, do not focus on grammar in the beginning!  Traditional language learning has grammar at the center and it just doesn’t work for a large percentage of people.  My own experience with grammar has been lukewarm at best. I was raised in a bilingual household and as a result am near fluent in (understanding) French.  I was a shy child so I didn’t practice speaking French very often, but the greatest deterrent to my progress with speaking the language was my study of the language in high school where I was formally introduced to conjugation, et cetera. Now, if you find that starting with grammar is helpful, by all means, go for it.  I’ve simply found that immersion is much more effective than tedious practice of verb forms.

The real challenge is in immersing yourself in a foreign language without leaving your own country.  Having a goal to think in a foreign language while your daily activities are primarily executed in your native tongue presents a bit of a dilemma.  Luckily for you and me, the internet people (aka YouTubers) have organized!  A wonderful man who calls himself syzygycc condensed tips and tricks from “polyglots” across the globe into one very long PDF.  I came across the video below during my initial Google search and found a link to said document.  Here, take a gander yourself:

Your free copy: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/60429490/The-Polyglot-Project

This video brings us to the second greatest insight from my research: though there are an infinite number of language learning methods out there, the individual determines which one will work successfully for them.  In other words, do what you enjoy whether it worked for others or not. Whatever works for you.

You can learn about some of these methods by scanning syzygycc’s book. For example, Ling is a very popular site which focuses on building vocabulary before attempting to speak (input method).  Others who were interviewed praised books by Teach Yourself and Living Language.  Everyone agrees that you should listen to native speakers one way or another.  Music, YouTube videos, movies, podcasts from the iTunes store, all were suggested by these language learning “experts”, if you will.  Some also benefited from Rosetta Stone, but most warned against it.  You can go through similar lessons for a fraction of the cost.  Get a dictionary, some audio in your foreign language of choice, and poke some of these polyglots to find a native with whom you can practice speaking. Equals poor man’s Rosetta Stone.  Don’t have money for a dictionary?  Just use Google translate! If you are seriously interested in learning a foreign language, I recommend going through the book to get some ideas of how best to attack the project.

So the final point is that once you’ve determined your language learning method, do whatever you can to focus on the language every day.  You don’t have to spend hours if you can’t afford that much time.  The more time the better, but if you only have 20 minutes to spare every other day, that’s fine too.  Make sure that you force yourself to review old lessons regularly as well.  You’ll find that a system that includes this sort of iteration is much more robust because it helps move learning from short term to long term memory.  Use as many senses as you can in order to take advantage of all learning channels (sound, images, writing, motion, acting).


  1. Don’t focus on grammar unless you find it helpful.
  2. Find what you enjoy and use it to practice your target language.
  3. Practice regularly!

When developing your method, focus on what activities you enjoy the most or what activities you find yourself busy with daily and give them a language learning spin.  If you watch the news every day, find a version in your foreign language.  If you practice an instrument, learn some songs in your language of choice.  Maybe you do a lot of reading.  Try reading short articles on a topic you enjoy written in your target language. Are you a sports fan? Watch the game in a different language. Turns out all the people of the world enjoy sports too!  Any activity can be a vehicle for immersion and a learning opportunity.

My own plan places Living Language lessons as the foundation to guide my learning because I need structure in order to learn.  I’m augmenting my lessons with podcasts, music, soccer games, and movies.  I haven’t been doing very well over the first two months (I’m only at lesson 4….), but I can say with pride that I can understand two handfuls of words from every podcast I’ve listened to so far.  The fact that I can’t roll my Rs yet is holding me up a bit too. I’m getting better though! Words like il padre and la madre are more successful than la sorella or grazie. My tongue just doesn’t want to move that way! haha

Hopefully I will have learned an Italian song for you all by my next post.  I’ll record it for you and you all can enjoy my sub-par voice. haha Until then….Ciao, Ciao!


3 thoughts on “Learning Italian from Scratch

  1. ooh – can’t wait for the song! I suggest “Fais dodo” in italian!

    Posted by ta maman | December 1, 2012, 2:17 pm
  2. this is awesome!!!!!!!!
    great tips!

    Posted by Elsa | December 3, 2012, 7:41 pm


  1. Pingback: Music Helps Language Skills : Trilinguistical - December 3, 2012

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