Every once in a while I hear from a reader who does one of the following: compliments me (grazie mille), corrects my errore (anche, grazie mille) and sends me information that I think my readers would find to be of real value. Recently Patrizia Cinquini Cerruti, an Italian instructor, sent me the following Tips for Learning Italian. I asked if I could publish it in one of my blogs and she graciously agreed. So here it is:
TIPS FOR LEARNING ITALIAN*
Sometimes students feel they have a mental block or even lack the aptitude for learning foreign languages, but you can learn Italian IF you are willing to put in the necessary time. The three most important factors in learning Italian are:
Motivation: if you are passionate about the beautiful Italian language and really want to learn to communicate you have already taken the most important step.
Exposure: you need to listen to as much spoken Italian as possible. Your instructor will speak Italian in class. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to hear the language. Do not worry about understanding everything, but do try to catch familiar words. As time passes you will understand more.
Let go of fear: you will not speak like a native, and that is not the point. You will make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes. You might ask for ham gelato and ask the fruit vendor if her genitals are ripe. I have heard it before, and yet everyone laughed and survived. There are no mistakes ONLY OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN AND GROW!
Here are my practical suggestions for studying effectively, overcoming anxiety, and learning the grammar and skills necessary for success in foreign language classes.
STUDY EVERY DAY. A foreign language course is different from any other course you take. Language learning is cumulative: you cannot put it off until the weekend. Study even a few minutes everyday if possible.
DISTRIBUTE YOUR STUDY TIME in 15- to 30-minute periods throughout the day. Focus on a different task each time: vocabulary now, grammar next, etc. Get an overview during the first half hour: spend 10 minutes reviewing dialog, 10 minutes learning new vocabulary, 10 minutes learning new grammar…so you’ll at least have looked at it all. Approximately 80% of your study time should be spent in recitation or out loud practice, including practice in the language lab or coming in and working with the tutors.
ATTEND AND PARTICIPATE IN CLASS WITHOUT FAIL. You are very busy, so even if you are not well prepared, come to class! Class time is your primary opportunity for practice. Ideally, students will study the grammar and vocabulary outside of class in order to make the most of class time by SPEAKING and LISTENING. But come to class regardless of weather or not you studied or did the assignment. We will spend a few minutes “warming up” by speaking or reading in Italian.
MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE IN THE CLASS. Get to know your classmates so you will feel you are among friends. I will have a break and serve refreshments. Students may bring food or drink they want to share. I want to assist you in attaining your goals and wants to make you comfortable about the course.
LEARN ENGLISH GRAMMAR IF YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW IT. Grammar is the skeleton of a language, its basic structure: I will teach you the necessary grammar. You may wish to review a simplified English grammar text. Compare new grammatical structures in your foreign language to their English equivalents.
PRACTICE FOR TESTS by doing what you will have to do on the test. If the test will require you to write, then study by writing–including spelling and accents. If you will be asked to listen, then practice listening. Ask for practice questions; make up your own test questions. Invent variations on patterns and forms. Over-learn: study beyond the point of recognition to mastery.
GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT. Talk with your teacher. Use the web to listen and practice. Form study groups among class members.
READING SKILLS TIPS:
- First, read the vocabulary list for the assignment. Next, read the questions over the reading. Then read all the way through a new passage two or three times, guessing at meaning from context. Avoid word-by- word translation. new vocabulary and study it separately. DON’T write between the lines! Make flash cards or keep an Italian notebook. Carry the flash cards or notebook with you and recite them several times during the day at odd moments. Over-learn them until they are automatic.
- Isolate new grammatical forms and study them separately. Write the pattern on a flash card and memorize it. Write out and label a model sentence. When you encounter the form while reading, pause and recite the pattern to recognize the form.
- WRITING SKILLS TIPS:
- Pay attention to detail: notice accents, order of letters, etc. Compare letter-by-letter different forms (singular, plural, gender, etc.). Write out conjugations of verbs, declensions of pro-nouns, etc., and check your endings. Memorize irregular verbs.
- To master spelling, your instructor will dictate words to you. As you progress he or she will dictate paragraphs. You will have the opportunity to self correct and note any errors. Use this opportunity to practice the words until you get all the words right. LISTENING and SPEAKING are performance skills. You may do well at these if you are naturally gregarious. Students in foreign language classes often have difficulty hearing and speaking because they are anxious about making mistakes. Give yourself permission to be spontaneous and to take risks. Everyone is in the same boat. Your teacher expects you to make errors and is happy to assist with pronunciation.
- LISTENING SKILLS TIPS:
- Use the excellent on line resources and the PREGO! Website. Meet with classmates as often as possible. Read the exercises in your book first; then listen and read together; then listen without looking at the print. Say aloud/write what you hear.
- Participate silently in class when others are called on to speak. Focus on the task; don’t worry about how you’ll do.
- If you feel nervous, relax yourself physically by taking a couple of slow, deep breaths. When called on, pause, relax, and give yourself time to respond. Our classes are FOR our students, we are here to judge.
- Practice: join language clubs, watch Italian movies and TV, listen to blogs, Italian radio and so many other wonderful free internet resources. Start a study group.
- SPEAKING SKILLS TIPS:
- Study out loud! Mimic the sounds of the language. Don’t mumble. Although most people feel embarrassed making strange sounds, the language will soon feel more familiar to you. Practice with another class member.
- When called on in class, say something, even if it’s wrong: you’ll learn from it. If you need a moment to think, repeat the question. If you don’t know the answer, say, “I don’t know” (non lo so) in Italiano!