It’s been over 5 months since I arrived in Italy. From barely being able to order a coffee, my Italian has come a long way. However, this wasn’t without a serious commitment to do everything possible to learn the language (Word Reference has become my best friend over the past few months). Although I still can’t say nearly everything I’d like to in conversations, the language barrier has become a daily part of life and I've accepted that this is a reality that comes with living in a foreign country. I even surprise myself by how much I can understand when people around me are speaking. I think it’s important to realize that learning a language is more than just immersing yourself in the country. Although this definitely does help, it requires a lot of hard work and dedication too. Unfortunately, I never had the magical day where I woke up one morning and was completely fluent. It does happen over time though, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort. Here are a few things that I try to incorporate into my week to constantly be learning and improving my Italian!
1. Language Exchange Partners
IES Abroad offers a great program that pairs you up with an Italian student and then you are free to meet once a week, or however often works for both of you, over a coffee (or gelato) and converse. Sometimes the conversation ends up with you attempting to speak Italian and your partner responding in English, so in the end everyone gets to practice. This is also an awesome way to interact with locals.
2. Watch Italian Films
The Italian film industry is known for its influence and success around the world. This being said, there's no doubt that Italian movies are phenomenal and worth watching, even if you have to use subtitles. If you haven't heard of Roberto Benigni, I highly recommend starting with his movies. A few of my favorite Italian classics are Life is Beautiful, Cinema Paradiso, La Dolce Vita, and Mediterraneo.
3. Walk Through Grocery Stores
I know this may sound strange, but its a great way to learn new vocabulary. Plus, since food is a critical part of Italian culture, experiencing food the way locals do is a perfect opportunity to learn more about the cuisine. (I advise not to do this one when you're hungry)
4. Use Duolingo
This is an app that can be easily downloaded on your phone to practice and learn almost any language. It's especially convenient to use when traveling or commuting, and a great place to start if you have no background in Italian.
5. Listen to Italian Music
Whether you're into the latest top hits, or old classics, Italian music covers all genres. The catchy pop songs are especially helpful in learning new words and phrases.
6. Set the Language on Your Phone to Italian
This one is a commitment, but once you get used to it, you’ll be getting Italian practice every time you check your phone!
7. Most Importantly, Don't Be Shy
When living in a foreign country, you're surrounded by opportunities to practice the language every day. The best way to practice is to speak! Talk to people, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's all part of the process, and locals will be more impressed that you're trying to speak their language than focusing on your mistakes.
In bocca al lupa! (Good luck)
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Abigail is our 2016-17 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! Abigail studies Economics and International Studies with a minor in Business Administration at Brandeis University—where she is also an IES Abroad Ambassador. As a Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Blogger, Abigail illustrated her year abroad in Milan through her insightful posts and candid photography that navigated her growth in the historical city of Milan.