It’s easy to think, “if I were in Italy, my Italian would be amazing!” But I’ve been there, done that. While studying abroad in Italy did give me a pretty good foundation in the language, I was guilty of speaking too much English and not getting out of my comfort zone enough to make mistakes in Italian (where learning really happens!).
This time, I’m doing it differently: I’m going all in because I really, really want to become fluent in Italian. I want my Italian skills to surpass my French (which shouldn’t take much at this point!).
Create your own Italian Immersion
Even if you’re a beginner or living outside of Italy, there are plenty of creative ways to immerse yourself in Italian.
Here are some of the fun and easy ways that I’m making Italian part of my daily life:
Think in Italian/Speak to yourself
No one to speak to? Speak to yourself! (Or maybe just think silently in your head or out loud when you’re alone in the car so no one thinks you’re off your rocker). It sounds silly, but a lot of my ESL students with high proficiency say that they’ve used this method. So here’s how to do it: narrate everything that you’re doing. “Sto lavando i piatti (I’m washing the dishes)…” and try to vary verb tenses by using the future and past. It’s a great way to use vocabulary and grammar that I’m learning, plus it provides context (doing and saying the action at the same time), which helps commit those phrases to memory.
Record yourself reading something or speaking off the top of your head on Soundcloud.com and then listen to it to hear how you sound. Even better, have a native speaker give you feedback on your pronunciation. Soundcloud lets users leave comments on a specific second of audio to get specific feedback. I also can’t wait to go back and listen to myself as a beginner once I’
Do a language exchange
A great way to find local Italian speakers is by joining a meet up group. Unfortunately there isn’t one in my city, but if there were, I would join!
Italki.com is a great place to find a native Italian speaker learning English to do a language exchange (as an alternative to a paid tutor also available on the site).
There’s also hellotalk.com, which is a phone app that connects you with native speakers through text message or even voice calls, and has features like translation and grammar correction. I’ve had such good luck on Italki that I haven’t tried Hello Talk yet (but it sounds like it would be worth a try).
Cher Hale from The Iceberg Project does an Italian conversation challenge a few times a year. I haven’t been diligent about staying on task each day, but she provides the structure and motivation to successfully participate in a language exchange with a native speaker. The next challenge is in August, so sign up now! (I sure am!).
I recently stumbled upon Tia Taylor’s YouTube channel; she’s an American attending university in Milan. While most of her videos are in English, she does a little bit of Italian here and there. I think it’s such a cool (and brave) way to practice speaking Italian. I plan to try this out to get over my fear of making mistakes when I speak when I start my own YouTube channel.
Snapchat is an alternative to YouTube, and Lindsay Does Languages explains how she uses it to practice all of her languages. Once I figure out how to use Snapchat better, I might try this out as well.
I love podcasts because I can download them to iTunes and listen to them on the go-usually when I’m doing my makeup, cleaning, or driving.
Unfortunately I found Cher Hale’s 30 Minute Italian Podcast right before she recorded her final episode, but you bet I’m going back to the beginning to listen to every episode. Fortunately, Cher still has lots of Italian goodies over at The Iceberg Project (plus the Italian Conversation Challenge that I mentioned above).
Some other options are LearnItalianPod, which has free and paid options (which include transcripts, flashcards, and exercises). I still can’t figure out if Italianpod101.com is the same or not? In any case, both podcasts seem to be mostly in English and introduce selected vocabulary in Italian (so great for beginners). It’s also a fun way to learn about Italian culture and history.
There’s tons of other Italian podcasts available on iTunes, so I’ll be trying out more soon!
Ever since I got rid of my cable TV, I’ve been obsessed with YouTube! I enjoy watching vlogs probably even more than TV shows now. There are some great channels for Italian students, and my favorites are Learn Italian with Lucrezia and ItalianPod101. I also love watching vlogs from native Italian speakers (but I can’t really understand everything at this point). One of my favorites is PepperChocolate because she does tons of traveling and vlogs really frequently, plus she lives in Lodi, the name of the town where most of my relatives live in California!
The best resource for beginners is lyricstraining.com because you can listen to music while reading the lyrics and trying to fill in the missing words (the number of blank spaces vary by level).
It can be pretty difficult to find an Italian radio station that doesn’t play loads of English music, but here is a list of radio stations that play exclusively Italian music.
Blogs in Italian
I love to read blogs. Even though I’ve read a lot of blogs about American Expats in Italy, I haven’t really read any blogs in Italian. I think the best way to find a good blog is to choose a topic that interests you, such as beauty & fashion, cooking or travel. I’m really interested in hearing about the experience of Italian expats in the US at the moment, so I did a quick Google search for “Italiani negli stati uniti blog” and came up with a lot of interesting blogs I look forward to reading.
Right now I’m using a book called Easy Italian Reader by Riccarda Saggese. I like this book because it progresses from easy to more difficult and includes vocabulary and comprehension exercises. This book does require a basic knowledge of Italian vocabulary and grammar though.
Last time I was in Italy I picked up a book by Beppe Severgnini called Un italiano in America, about his experience living in the U.S. It’s a little difficult for me right now, but every now and then I read a few paragraphs and it’s getting easier and easier.
Put your phone in Italian
I changed the language on my phone to Italian, and have been learning all sorts of fun words that I wouldn’t have otherwise, like invia (send) and orologio (clock). It’s pretty easy to guess what new words mean because of the context. When I get really brave, I’ll change Siri into Italian too.
The options for using social media to practice writing in Italian are endless. I’ve experimented with tweeting some Italian phrases, and putting captions in Italian on my Instagram pictures. Another thing I plan on doing in the future is leaving comments in Italian on some of my favorite Italian social media accounts. Blogging is another way to practice writing; I intend to do more writing in Italian on my blog by recapping what I’m learning.
Italki is not only great for speaking practice, but you can also post your writing on your page and get it corrected by native speakers for free. Texting your language exchange partner is also great writing practice, especially because the time difference makes it difficult to have voice chats very often.
I use the Five Minute Journal daily (a gratitude journal created by my favorite YouTubers ever, Mimi and Alex Ikonn) and I’ve started writing it in Italian. It motivates me to look up new words, plus I have can look back at them to review. (Major bonus, I’m learning a language and cultivating a positive mindset).
Whenever I write a shopping list, or a to-do list, I write it in Italian now. It’s a great way to learn everyday vocabulary relevant to my life.
These are all the ways that I’m immersing myself in Italian while living in the U.S. I hope you find some of them useful!
Question of the day: How do you get your Italian language fix while living abroad?