How to become fluent fast in Italian
Knowing how long it will take you to learn any language is a complex question. It depends on what other languages you have learned and whether your native language belongs to a similar family to the one you are about to learn. If your native language is part of the romantic languages, as Italian is, then you are going to find it easier than most. If Italian is your third or more language that you are starting to learn, then your brain is going to adapt better to picking up the patterns of language.
According to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) it can take up to 600 hours to become fluent in Italian. This may seem like a significant commitment but remember you are likely to be able to comfortably communicate in Italian before this time and there are short cuts you can take to speed up this learning. Yet, it is also realistic to assume that you will have to continue to learn Italian long after you feel fluent, as we are all still learning our own language never mind another. Language use is dynamic and learning never really stops.
The question is: what make learning Italian complex and what strategies can you use to overcome these complexities?
First, you are going to have to learn to conjugate your verbs; you are going to have to learn the gender for nouns and you are going to find prepositions complicated too. You are going to find learning Italian from Italians difficult too – as they speak quickly. It is not all bad news. There are aspects of Italian that are easier than English. Let’s break the learning of Italian down into steps.
Let’s start with the good news first. Italian is a phonetic language, meaning that sounds and spellings are predictable, unlike its English counterpart. You look at the word and you know how to say it. You hear a word and you will have a good idea how to spell it. This makes learning Italian that much simpler than you would imagine.
There are some exceptions to this – it couldn’t be all good news. First, there are changes dependent on accent, which means the stress on syllables may vary. Usually, the stress falls on the penultimate syllable but not always. A second issue for English speakers learning Italian is the C and the G sound, which changes dependent on the vowel that follows the consonant. Finally, double consonants in Italian are important as they can change the complete meaning of the word – from house (casa) to box (cassa) from ninth (nono) to grandfather (nonno).
The best way to overcome these issues of pronunciation are to listen to native Italian speakers and hear how they say words. Listening to Italian media or sitting in a coffee shop and listening in to the conversation next to you are great ways to immerse yourself in the way to say Italian words. This is quite difficult considering how quickly Italians speak but not impossible.
Like a lot of romantic languages, such as French and Spanish, Italians give gender to objects. If you are learning Italian and you speak other languages that apply gender to nouns, then this won’t be a problem. However, if you are learning from English then you are going to make mistakes for a while.
There are general rules you can apply. Nouns ending in O are normally masculine and those ending in A are feminine, though there are exceptions. However, those ending in E can be either feminine or masculine. It is important to get this right in Italian because it can change the choice of article and the ending of adjectives.
Reading Italian books and newspapers will expose you to the rules of gender. However, it is also a good idea to accept being corrected and learn from this, maybe taking note of the error. There is an Italian proverb that fits brilliantly here “Sbagliando s’impara” – by making mistakes you learn! Though I am guessing noticing a B follow an S makes you worry that making mistakes is inevitable.
You might be feeling comforted that the issues you face learning are going to be minor. However, we haven’t mentioned verbs yet. It seems that verbs are difficult in most languages – particularly English. However, like all Latinate languages, you are going to have to learn to love conjugating verbs. In Italian there are three conjugations depending on mood, person, tense, number and gender. There are also irregular verbs, as in English.
Italian verbs end in are, ere and ire. Learning which is which can be complicated and it might be worth learning this from a professional tutor. The rules of grammar surrounding Italian are relatively logical and can be learned. It is likely that this is one of those aspects of language learning that you need to learn with the help of a teacher.
It is true that native Italians speak quickly – much quicker than native English speakers speak English. This means following Italians in conversation is difficult and can be a major barrier when learning the language – finding the motivation to even try could be a problem. However, the more you speak Italian the more you will understand Italian and a lot of the language is emphasised by some emphatic body language too. Italians are more than happy to show patience and work out what you are trying to say – therefore – it is a matter of trying it out to see how far you can go.
The major barrier that rapid speaking causes is that it is difficult to learn the language by immersion alone. Some languages can be picked up by living within the culture and picking it up from conversation, the media and walking the streets. It is more likely that you will need more formal teaching of Italian at first before immersion can reinforce the lessons learnt.
So, there are difficulties to learning Italian and the estimate is 600 hours for learning the language. How can you make the process of learning Italian easier?
Learning Italian, despite myths to the contrary, is no more difficult to learn than any other language. For those who are native French and Spanish and Portuguese, learning Italian should be relatively straightforward. If you are learning from scratch as an English speaker there are difficulties to face – mostly related to grammar but also related to pronunciation and accent.
Remember the basics of all language learning: break the learning into steps, use a variety of strategies to learn the language, be prepared to make mistakes and find a way to immerse yourself in the language to perfect your fluency.