Adventures of Learning a Language – Part 1

Learning a language can be really exciting…it’s like decoding a puzzle and discovering a whole new world. It isn’t just about learning how to say something in another language…it is also about taking in the culture that is married to it. That can be a real adventure.

Having grown up with an Italian father I became accustomed to life as an Italian. My father and his family brought with them many traditions and experiences that make up who I am today. Having tomatoes line the floor of our garage may seem strange to some but to me it’s autumn. Building a “cantina” or “wine cellar/cold room” in our house didn’t seem pointless…it houses the homemade sausages, wine and sauces that are staples to any great Italian meal. However, with all of this culture around me the one thing I missed out on was learning how to speak Italian. With my mother, a stay at home mom who was Canadian, I was brought up speaking English. Although we spent the majority of our lives surrounded by our Italian side…the language was something that was never really pushed on us. I took Italian classes in school but never learned much more than the basics.

I would like to go to Italy this summer with a greater understanding and use of the Italian language. I understand most Italian but it’s the speaking part of it that needs work. So I have immersed myself in all that is Italian – movies, music, cooking, and news. I am learning so much more than I ever thought I would. That is not to say that I am fluent in Italian…I am by no means close to that yet. But my understanding of the language is getting stronger and with some time and practice I can be in a place where I am confident and comfortable speaking the language.

Learning a language certainly isn’t easy. I was going through my textbook and said to myself “I need to figure out how to conjugate verbs”. I can structure a sentence in Italian if it’s something basic and in the present tense but what about the past or future. So I grabbed my very informative Italian Grammar book and began to focus my attention on conjugating Italian verbs.

I felt defeated!

Take the word “Parlare” (to talk). Did you know that there are 57…yes 57…ways to conjugate the verb “to talk”. They say English is one of the hardest languages to learn but I’m pretty sure that we don’t have 57 different ways to conjugate the verb “to talk”. And it’s different for other verbs that have different endings. There are a number of different verb endings in Italian, for example -are (parlare), -ciare (cominciare), -ire (venire), -giare (mangiare), -care (giocare), and so on. Depending on how the verb ends changes how the ends of the conjugated verb ends. Confused yet? Ya, I know.

I see a lot of cue cards and memorization in my future! But I know, once I get those basics down I will be much further ahead then I have ever been in mastering the Italian language.

The funniest part of all of this is that I am learning “proper” Italian. At some point I’m going to have to learn the dialect of my family’s town…but from being around my family…our dialect isn’t as bad as some towns. 😛

Does anyone have tips or tricks for learning a language?

Ci vediamo!! (“see you”)

  1. LuLu

    May 26, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Jessica – Thanks for the suggestion…I’m going to check out that site. I glanced at it briefly and it might be a good idea for me. I actually looked into one of the Italian culture schools here and it looks like they are offering beginner classes throughout the summer. I was thrilled, I’m probably going to sign up for one class before my trip to Italy and then continue on through them once I return. At some point I have to be in a classroom because self-learning can only take you so far.

  2. Jessica in Rome

    May 24, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    I have lived in Rome for a year and a half now, study nearly all that time in a school and still struggle with speaking. I can read, write and comprehend (sometimes the dialect trips me up though since we don’t learn it in school) nearly everything, but I really struggle with talking. It takes so much work! I recently stopped taking lessons at the school since it’s close to summer (they stop offering extensive courses) and my upcoming move to Verona. But I signed up for a online class at It’s cheap and so far I am learning a lot. You should check it out and see if it would help you since you can’t enrolled in a school at the moment. It would at least help organize your thoughts.

  3. Enrico

    May 20, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    @Leanne: Yes, there are not that many verb tenses and/or conjugations in English, but the number of irregular verbs and exceptions is staggering.

    Japanese, on the other hand, has many more conjugations; for example, instead of using an auxiliary verb for expressing potential (like saying “can do” in English), you conjugate the verb into a potential form. But, once you’ve learned the rules for creating the various forms, they apply to almost every verb in the language. There are only three or so irregular verbs in all of Japanese.

    But I personally think that ease or difficulty in learning languages is relative to your native language(s). If the language you are trying to learn is very different from the languages that you already know, I imagine it’d be more difficult.

  4. LuLu

    May 16, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Lucy – The last time I was in Italy I picked up quite a bit. I even started pronouncing Toronto the way Italians do haha. I’ve never had a really hard time understanding the dialect my family uses…I’m sure I could pick it up if I needed to. Sicilian dialect is very different then any other dialect I’ve heard so far. Are your parents Sicilian?

  5. lucy

    May 16, 2008 at 10:29 am

    When I was 18 I went to Sicily for the third time.
    I stayed 3 months and spoke the Dialect that I learned at home with my parents in Toronto where they immigrated to. After being made fun by some local boys…I wouldn’t talk to them anymore and they begged and pleaded with the Canadian Americana to talk to them. After 3 months I spoke fluently but it’s been sometime now and like all things if you don’t do them often you forget. I speak half dialect and half english with my mom or other relatives at least we understand each other. My favourite Italian work was doonquay (do you know the word)…not spelt like that but they used to say it ALOT!!!!
    Anyway, now I hear that kids are learning the dialect in school like a history lesson. I bet I could pass that class!

  6. Leanne

    May 14, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I live in Rome now (again), was in Sicily last year (taormina which is beautiful) and now back in the ‘eternal city.’ My dad too comes from a small village in the provence of Cosenza – his has only 150 people in it! (well it is a frazione, and not a village as such) my boyfriend is also from a village near Cosenza but his is a little bigger with 800 odd people.

  7. LuLu

    May 14, 2008 at 8:47 am

    Michelle – That’s a great idea. Putting together sentences has been the hardest for me. I think in Italian (does that make sense?). I will say something in English and then try and figure it out in Italian. I’ve also been emailing with my cousin in Calabria which has been very helpful. The deal is I have to help her practice her English when I’m there this summer! 🙂

    nyc/caribbean ragazza – I think all the verbs was just overwhelming. I’m finding the flash cards I made are helping. I wanted to take an Italian class before I went to Italy but the Cultural Centers don’t offer them over the summer so it will be something I’ll look into doing when I come back to Toronto in September. In the meantime, I’ve been watching movies in Italian and listen to a lot of Italian music (Eros, Tiziano Ferro, Anna Tatangelo) which is great because its not too fast that I can follow along. I’m very fortunate that I have family that I can practice my Italian on. I just want to surprise my nonna in Italy when I go because last time I was there my Italian was horrible. 🙂

    Leanne – Thanks for stopping in! 🙂 I’ve heard the same thing…that once you master grammar its smooth sailing after that. I think that’s why I switched up my approach. I still write down a lot of vocabulary too…especially words I feel I will need to know. When I watch movies, or read news articles in Italian I’ll look up words I don’t know and write them down. I know I have a long way to go but I feel good about my progress so far. 🙂 At the end of the day practice makes perfect. Where abouts in Italy do you live?

  8. Leanne

    May 14, 2008 at 5:21 am

    I just came across your blog and I so know where you are coming from with the ‘being’ Italian but not speaking the language. My dad too was born in Calabria, and my mums parents in Puglia, but I spoke next to nothing before coming to live over here. SO I hear your pain and frustration! I still speak very poor Italian 🙂

    P.S Also English is not meant to be one of the hardest languages to learn, it is the opposite actually – one of the easiest. Our language is so simple as there are not many verb tenses. My Italians friends say English is really easy to begin with then really hard as we have lots of words and they say Italian is really hard to begin with but once you master the grammer then it’s down hill from there.

  9. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    May 14, 2008 at 1:58 am

    English might be harder to pronounce, but Italian is not easy. The verbs tenses are no joke. I’m okay with the big seven but subjunctive? Oh mio dio!

    I took classes at the Italian Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. I know there is one in Toronto. My problem is I focused so much on grammar I feel my vocab is lacking. Esp. since in L.A. there weren’t many people to practice speaking with. I read and write Italian much better than I speak it. This is a problem as I now live in Rome. ha

    Watching movies is very helpful and so is listening to music. Do you know Giorgia? She sings clearly, as does Eros.

    I agree with Bleeding talking to yourself also helps.

  10. bleeding espresso

    May 13, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    My best tip is to talk to yourself in Italian–it gets your mind used to thinking that way 🙂

    In bocca al lupo!

  11. LuLu

    May 13, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Your tips and tricks have been a big help. I can’t wait to see your podcast when you get it going…it’s a good idea and can be applied to anyone learning a language! 🙂

  12. Enrico

    May 13, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I have lots of such tips and tricks but we’ve already had some long conversations on the topic. Hopefully I’ll get my podcast going soon… =D

Leave a Reply