In a side margin of a worn out diary I once wrote “Goals- to learn a foreign language”. Little did I know that the next year I would take a trip to Italy that would change my entire life! (Read more about me here). Not only would I learn a language but also work with the language! So I thought of outlining my detailed experience of learning Italian on my own. Believe me, it was a journey of self discovery more than anything else. Hope you enjoy and gain some inspiration from it.
My Experience of Learning Italian
Learning Italian has been exactly like leaving the borders of my home country and stepping into an unknown territory for the first time. I remember how hesitant I was to learn a foreign language a decade ago. Over the years, I realized how useful it has been for me, my personality and growth. It has been an exciting journey even though it is frustrating on many days!
I started learning Italian in 2015 from the Italian Cultural Institute in New Delhi and completed level B1 by mid 2017 and B2 in 2021. Apart from the course, complete immersion at home has been one of the prime factors of my improvement in the language. So I focus on other methods of learning such as podcasts, TV shows, YouTube videos etc (anything but a textbook).
For instance, while cooking, I often play the Radio and over the months I’ve begun to notice the difference in how much I can now understand. So much went in my subconsciousness than I thought and yes, passive studying does work!
What were the challenges I faced??
What stood out for me all these years were consistency and passion. But there were also a lot of challenges:
1. One of the major challenges I faced is that my brain refused to function in Italian. There were days when I couldn’t speak in Italian, I didn’t feel the motivation to work even on an extra word. It was hard!
2. Another challenge I faced is constantly having to hear the old age myth – that it was impossible to learn a language in my 30s. People had a habit of telling me every now and then that it’s too late, that learning a language isn’t for me. But I do beg to differ on that subject now 🙂
3. The most challenging aspect for me however has always been my fear of talking. I’ve always had difficulty in speaking to locals, I feel shy and conscious. It is hard for me to put myself out there. And even though I love constructive feedback from locals, I don’t appreciate locals telling me how every single word needs to be said. Which is also the reason why I constantly second guess myself!!
Another challenge was…..
My boss (of that time) didn’t appreciate my studying Italian over the weekend. He was quite discouraging that I was doing something that didn’t that involve the company’s work. (no, it wasn’t even his company!) One Friday, he asked me to come for an extra shift on Saturday. I refused to come mainly because it was a day off for me and I had already committed to go for my Italian class.
Boy, did he hate my guts!
Not only did he question and judge me on that incident but also expected me to leave my weekend classes. Today I have a sudden urge to send across this link to my ex-boss, not to feel superior but to let him know that learning a language wasn’t a waste of time (read till the end). And that there’s more to life than the cubicles in the office 😉
Progress So Far:
Progress in Italian hasn’t been super fast but fairly okay. I’ve come to the conclusion that language learning is a lifetime activity. It’s not something you can ever do in a few months or even a few years.
Is there such a thing as fluency?? I’m not sure.
For instance, if you are a Spanish speaker, Italian might come slightly easier to you. But for those of us coming from totally different worlds and languages such as Hindi, Italian will always be new, challenging and complicated.
I’ve also come to realize that everyone has their strong suits while learning a language. For some it is grammar and others it could be speaking. I’ve realized vocabulary is my strong suit and grammar certainly isn’t. Words come more naturally to me, compared to my fellows, who sometimes don’t know the English counterpart of the Italian word. So If I can be honest, I face difficulty in grammar more, especially pronouns, reflexives, congiuntivo…
My goal is to speak but also stick to things I am confident in- present, past and future along with conditional, gerundio and imperfetto.
How the Locals Help Me in Italy:
I have been fortunate to have met several kind people during my travels in Italy. They have helped and guided me immensely. Most locals have been in awe of my love for their country and have gone out of their way to talk to me in Italian. Baristas at the Bar have shyly smiled at the way I ask them something and nod back to reassure that they understood me. This is what motivated me to carry on.
Sometimes strangers on the street would look at me twice, clearly seeing that I’m not Italian and ask me, “why are you studying Italian”??
But everything isn’t as rosy as it seems. I have also faced my share of unpleasant situations where people have simply frowned back because they didn’t understand what I spoke in Italian or replied back in English to avoid the conversation or simply disliked the way I spoke (a local once said to someone, “oh but she barely speaks knows anything. It is too less, pochissimo!) It wasn’t encouraging to say the least but these things are part of learning a new language.
Just give yourself credit for the smallest of things!
And then an Opportunity Arrived..
In 2018, after almost 3 years of learning Italian, an opportunity knocked on my door. I found that a company in Delhi was looking for a person who knew both impeccable English and intermediate Italian. Their role was to bridge the gap in their business and cultures and for someone to basically understand that. The company was looking for a person who understood the culture of Italy but also the language.
It was the most bizzarre experience to apply for the job and get selected. Honestly, it was nothing short of a dream because at that time I didn’t fathom that a career path like that could even exist.
I took that job and a new world opened for me!! Today I’m working with another client in their Italian project which gives me the opportunity to use the language in my daily life.
I have a new found respect for language learners and translators because over these years I realized how difficult it is to constantly switch between languages. My brain is speaking Hindi, English and Italian and it often gets tiring and cumbersome. That being said, it is all fulfilling. Learning Italian helped me find a this business side of me and offered an incredible opportunity to understand the business aspect of things in Italy.
Sometimes even in our darkest times we only have to trust the path.
So if you are learning Italian like me here are my TIPS:
- Take a course/classroom/online training
- Immerse, make daily efforts
- Understand the gestures of the Italians- most important!
- Keep a journal in Italian
- Talk to locals when in Italy
- Stay motivated by listening to music, radio and podcasts
- Keep your eyes open for any opportunities
Forever grateful to Italy for everything!!
“Credi in te stesso e in tutto quello che sei. Sappi che c’è qualcosa dentro di te che è più grande di qualsiasi ostacolo.”– Christian D. Larson