Why moving to Italy doesn’t mean that you will speak the language…ever!
Although it’s a well-known fact that total immersion is the best way to learn Italian, just by moving to Italy from the UK, the US or any other English- speaking country doesn’t for one minute guarantee that you will become bilingual! Don’t presume that as soon as you step off the plane that the beginnings of your linguistic journey commences nor expect italiano to start flowing forth from your lips. In fact, it an equally well-known fact that many expats learn little if no Italian during their stay in il Bel Paese.
Why am I not learning Italian?
Good question. It’s not the most difficult language on the world and thanks to their food and musical terms you probably know a good 100 words before you even start. But this can be down to a number of reasons:
The main one is probably plain ‘laziness’. For many expats on arriving in a new country there is the feeling that there is always so much to do and to see and as learning Italian is not seen as a priority (particularly at the outset) or is too ‘hard’,it falls further and further down the list until before you know it you are celebrating your 10 year anniversary in Italy with as many Italian words.
‘Everyone speaks English’
The presumption that ‘everyone speaks English!’ is a very popular misconception. Granted Italians probably understand and speak more English than they let on but still a good number of Brits and Americans get a bad reputation for not making an effort to learn their language. For many expats they land lucky (or maybe its a cunning plan!) by choosing to move to one of the more tourist areas of Italy such as Florence, Rome or to Tuscany where there is a larger expat community than most other Italian areas, thus nullifying the need to learn the language in their eyes.
‘ I’m too shy’ or ‘lacking in confidence’ is something that I frequently hear. Bear in mind that we are all in the same boat. Nobody wants to sound like a 5 year old when talking in a foreign tongue but Italians in my experience are more forgiving than many other nations and the fact that you are making an effort means that they don’t have to! It doesn’t matter how little Italian you speak or how badly, they are very complimentary and you will often hear ‘tu parli bene italiano’ (you speak Italian well).
Later… (the Spanish call it ‘mañana mañana’)
Presuming that you can’ put off till tomorrow’ is not always a sensible approach. Thinking that once schools are chosen and the kids are settled and a house is bought (and don’t forget, furnished!) and the vines are sprayed and the olive trees trimmed and…. ultimately, the Italian language bit never happens. If you keep putting this time WILL catch up with you and you’ll soon realise that you have been living in Italy for 5 or 10 years and have little Italian language skills to show for it.
Furbo (the sly Italian)
On some rare occasions you may befriend Italians who understand the huge advantages to speaking a 2nd language and so take full advantage of the fact that you speak English to further their education. Not only can this leave you feeling used and empty but there is only one winner in this situation. You came here to learn their language and they end up speaking yours!
What can I do about this?
Firstly, start early! When I knew that we were moving to Italy from the UK we put a couple of things in place.
- Label the house – every object had a sticker with the Italian word on it. It is amazing now that I don’t have to think twice about the word for a table, chair or window. After a while you don’t realise that they are there but its amazing how many words you retain. This was particularly helpful for the kids (and our family and friends loved it!)
- Enroll in an Italian language course – we were fortunate that a nearby college had evening adult education classes in Italian for all levels. This gave us a good grounding. A couple of hours once a week had us reading, writing and speaking Italian; albeit at a very basic level, but two years in (by the time we arrived in Italy) we had a pretty good repertoire.
- Buy some dual language reading books – for my mind this is better than trying to read an Italian book with your dictionary at your side, it can get very frustrating when you have not finished the book three months later (believe you me I tried this!). Some good books are that I’ve read and enjoyed include First Italian Reader, Italian Short Stories: Racconti Italiano, Un Viaggetto a Firenze : A Little Trip to Florence. There are many more available on Amazon for all levels.
- Watch movies and TV programmes – I have touched on this in a previous post, what I advocate is that the best way to watch Italian movies is watch the movie in English first so you get the gist of the story line and then watch it again with Italian subtitles this time and then move onto watching it in Italian but this time use Italian subtitles. Do this repeatedly until you have a good understanding of what is being said or until you are sick of looking at it! The last step is to watch it in Italian without the subtitles.
- Attend Italian cultural events – going to Italian clubs, markets or even going to church gives you the opportunity to hear the language spoken and give you the opportunity to practice your Italian language skills as well as learning more about the Italian culture.
Although there are many aspects to learning Italian…reading, writing or speaking. In order to communicate effectively in Italian it’s all about mastering all of them together. The one that most of us expats are weakest at (and its the one that catapults us to great heights) is spoken Italian. There is no doubt that just opening your mouth and saying whatever Italian words come to mind is the quickest way to learn a language (so long as they are all related words). You might make a bit of an arse of yourself initially but as the confidence grows so does the vocabulary and as Julia Roberts says in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – “attraversiamo” …’let’s cross over’ and before you know it you are speaking Italian!
So if you don’t want to be one of the statistics that go to Italy and don’t speak Italian, get speaking now!
Are you preparing to move to Italy from the UK or the US or some other English speaking country? Are you scared about what to expect or how little you think you know? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below