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Speak Italian, Confidently and Accurately

Mar 20, 2008
I can't be the only person trying to learn Italian who is frustrated by how superficial a lot of language courses are - am I? Since we don't learn a second language in the same way we learnt the first, we need a bit of structure (I mean, grammar) to help us make sense of it all. Just when I was about to give up, I discovered a course that sees things my way.

My 1980s schooling gave me a good grasp of French. The verb tables that I learnt off by heart, agreement of adjectives, the various ways to form a question I have forgotten none of these things, because they were clearly explained and made sense.

Of course, old-fashioned language-teaching methods have their faults but, to me, they are more effective than the dumbed-down courses that keep tumbling on to the market every day. The principal drawback to the traditional system is the emphasis on reading and writing; oral communication should be encouraged first.

The strength of modern methods is the concentration on speaking and listening. The weakness is the sloppy attitude to grammar. Yes, making yourself understood is what matters but if you don't learn the correct forms in the early stages, it will be almost impossible for you to speak the language smoothly later on.

The current obsession with instant satisfaction clashes uncomfortably with study. Even the most experienced linguist, working with the best teacher, would struggle to learn Italian a day, or even a week. Courses that suggest you can achieve this would be better off promising less and delivering more. Yes, you can 'get by' in Italy with a handful of set phrases that you've learnt in a couple of hours, but this is not my idea of 'speaking' Italian. I want to be able to have a real conversation.

To learn Italian well, you have to be dedicated. It's not very exciting at the outset, memorising verb endings, sorting out nouns and adjectives, getting your mind around the different words for "you". But the investment you make in doing this will pay enormous dividends when you reach the next level.

After the initial phase, when you've got some linguistic building blocks, you can begin to put sentences together - and then things get more interesting. If you try to build a house before you've mastered the technique of brick-making, you will never have the beautiful, durable edifice that you will have if you put the time and energy into learning the basics.

As I see it, the primary role of teaching materials is to explain how the language works, in terms both of grammar and of functional language (eg, telling the time). They should also provide practice exercises, since people learn best by doing something active.

I highly recommend Italian for Beginners, an ebook written by a language school in Manchester. I bought it 3 or 4 months ago and have now just finished working through it. I've still got some way to go before I can discuss politics in Italian, of course, but I feel very secure about what I've learnt and I know I've got a solid base on which to build further. Sono molto felice!
About the Author
If you are keen on Italy and want to speak the language properly, visit Italy Info and download Italian for Beginners .
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