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). I started learning Italian in 2015 from the Italian Cultural Institute in New Delhi and completed level B1 in mid 2017. After that I’ve been studying at home on my own.
My Experience of Learning Italian
Learning Italian has been the same for me as it might have been for any of you who were leaving the borders of their home language and stepping into an unknown territory for the first time.
It’s almost like your first solo trip.. You feel hesitant and unsure.
It has been exciting yet frustrating and challenging!
What stood out for me while learning were guidance, consistency and passion.
After I started immersing myself at home, I realized that I had the base of the language. So I continued to learn Italian in other different ways. I made use of podcasts, movies and the Radio wherever possible. For instance, if I was in the kitchen, listening to new songs while cooking would help.
You won’t believe how much actually went in my subconsciousness…Passive learning works!!
1. One of the major challenges I faced is when sometimes nothing seemed to work. My brain refused to function in Italian.
As I mentioned before, learning a foreign language is tough and especially when this language sounds nothing like your own!
2. The old age myth was also another common question around me. People think that as you grow older, learning a language isn’t for you, that it’s practically impossible to learn and speak it. But I beg to differ on that subject.
3. The worst challenge that I continuously faced every day was the fear of talking. My first Italian teacher never encouraged me to talk so talking has always been a difficulty.
I’m also a very shy Italian speaker and 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 an off day 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 vocabulary is my strong suit and grammar certainly isn’t. Words come naturally to me, compared to my colleagues who don’t understand the English counterpart of the Italian word.
But I absolutely hate pronouns and still struggle with their placement. I can’t understand passato remoto or conjuntivo either and wish I never face them.
I stick to things I am confident in- present, past and future along with gerundio and imperfetto.
This often makes me wonder…Is there such a thing as fluency??
If you are a Spanish speaker, Italian might come easily to you but for those of us coming from totally different worlds and languages such as Hindi, Italian is and will always be complicated.
….But not impossible to conquer!
How the Locals Helped Me:
I have been fortunate to have met the right people when traveling in Italy. They have helped me and guided me. They’ve also been in awe of why I love their country and hence have gone out of their way to talk to me in Italian.
Sometimes strangers on the street with whom I’d talk, would look at me twice, clearly seeing that I’m not Italian and ask me why was I studying Italian??
Then there have been episodes where Baristas at the Bar would shyly smile at the way I’d ask them something and nod back to reassure that they understood me. This is what motivated me to carry on….
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.
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.
A company in Delhi was looking for a person to help them communicate with their Italian clients in Italy. They needed someone to bridge this huge gap in their business and help move it forward. It was nothing short of a dream because at that time I didn’t fathom that a career path like that could exist here!
I took up that job and felt a new found respect for language learners! Switching between languages during the day and taking care of your brain speaking Hindi, English and Italian is tiring and cumbersome but learning Italian helped me find a unique side of me. It has given me an incredible opportunity to understand the business side 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:
-Take a course/classroom/online training
-Immerse yourself, make efforts
-Practice, practice, practice
-Keep a journal if required
-Don’t forget passive learning
-Mingle with the locals when in Italy
-Stay motivated by listening to podcasts
-Keep your eyes open for any opportunities
“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
Thank you, Italy. Forever grateful to you for everything.