It has been an absolute whirlwind of a week in Milan, from orientation programming to navigating the city. I’m not really here to go into that—if you’re looking for something that will get you up to speed with how most people write about studying abroad and you’re not easily offended, check out my friend’s post here.
Over the past week, between cultural transition seminars and group dinners, I’ve been making a concerted effort to practice my Italian. Milan is a very international city and many people speak English; I’m certain that it would be possible to glide through a semester here without learning much more than “ciao”, especially if most of the students in your program are American, yet at the same time the Milanese are incredibly appreciative of any Italian you try to speak, however rudimentary, and there are countless opportunities to practice conversational Italian. From this past week, I’ve compiled a non-comprehensive list of tips to use when you’re looking to practice your Italian:
1. Seek out you or your friends’ doorman—the doorman who works at one of the IES Abroad apartments is a lovely elderly man who always has a few minutes for a chat. Last week we had a conversation about Milanese food, including a trip to the apartment’s herb garden where he insisted that I take some of the mint to put into a tomato salad. “La menta va benissimo con i pomodori, un po’ di olio. Dovresti provarla!” (“Mint goes wonderfully with tomatoes and some olive oil. You should try it!”)
2. Asking directions is an easy way to learn some new vocabulary. When you don’t have a data plan on your phone for Google maps, ask the nearest carbinieri (policemen) where the closest metro stop is—even if you only understand a few words of their answer, Italians gesticulate so generously that you’ll have a pretty good idea of where to go.
3. Don’t forget to be adventurous when you order food. Ask for a taste of a flavor at your favorite gelato shop (Posso assaggiare la nocciola? Can I try the hazelnut?) or ask the waiter which dish on the menu is their favorite. (Qual è il suo piatto preferito?)
4. Read the labels on familiar objects. Look over a box of cereal, a newspaper, or a menu and look for cognates or words you can understand by context alone. You might be surprised at how much you can already figure out.
Above all? Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or stumble through a few lines of conversation! Every single time I speak with my host family, a professor, or a barista I undoubtedly make mistakes. Yet with every mistake I make, I learn new words, phrases, and aspects of Italian grammar—and that, my friends, is why we are all here in Milan!
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<p>Kinsey is a Biochemistry major and Italian minor from Tufts University near Boston, MA studying in Milan for Fall 2016. Everything she does is to learn more about food; catch her studying cheese microbes by day and reading cookbooks by night. She caught the travel bug the minute she tasted her first crepe in Paris way back in 2006, and hasn't looked back since.</p>