In a side margin of a worn out diary I once wrote “Goals- to learn a foreign language”. Little did I know that the following year I would take a trip that would not only change my life but also help me learn a foreign language! (Read more about me here). This thought prompted me to outline my detailed experience of learning Italian (on my own and with help). Believe me, it has been a journey of constant learning, self discovery and revelation. I do hope you enjoy the experience and gain some inspiration from it.
My Experience of Learning Italian
It just happened after my first trip to Italy. I realized I wanted to connect with the people of Italy and so I thought why not learn the language. So it was never planned.
But what has been my experience of learning a foreign language?? It is akin to leaving the borders of your home country and stepping into an unknown territory for the first time.
I vividly remember how hesitant I was to enroll in a foreign language class a decade ago. But I’m so glad I took the decision and did it. Because over the years, not only has been useful for my personality but also for my professional growth.
It has been an exciting journey even though it is frustrating on so many levels!
I started learning Italian in 2015 from the Italian Cultural Institute in New Delhi. After completing B1 level by mid 2017, I took a pause and studied Italian on my own until I resumed my B2 in 2021.
Complete immersion at home has been one of the prime factors in the improvement of my language skills. I focus learning with movies, books, podcasts, TV shows, YouTube videos etc.
For instance, while cooking, I often play the Radio in the background. Over these years I’ve begun to notice the difference in how much I can understand now. It is important to note that a lot goes in the subconsciousness mind than you think, so passive studying does work!
What were the challenges I faced??
What stood out for me all these years were consistency and passion.
But language learning came with it’s fair share of challenges:
1. One of the major challenges I faced (and continue to face) is that on some days my brain refuses to function in Italian. There are days when I couldn’t speak in Italian, I didn’t feel the motivation to work even an extra word. It was hard!
2. Another challenge I faced is constantly having to hear the old age myth – that it is impossible to learn a language in late 20s and 30s. People would constantly point that out and in most of my classes I’ve been the eldest of the lot. But I do beg to differ on that subject and would say, learn a language at any age. It’s not about the age but the methods and process you use to study it 🙂
3. The most challenging aspect for me however is 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 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 and challenging.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that everyone has their forte. For many, grammar is easy and manageable while for others it could be speaking.
Personally, my strong suits are vocabulary and culture. 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 more difficulties in constructing grammar together, 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 for my language.
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!
When 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 medium level/ intermediate Italian. The role was to bridge the gap in the business and cultures by bringing a person who knew both languages.
I applied for the job and got selected for the role. At that time I had no idea that an opportunity like that even existed. It has been one of the most revealing yet bizzarre experiences. It was also nothing short of a dream because at that time I didn’t fathom about a career path in Italian.
I took that job and a new world opened for me!! I worked there for more than a year and now I’m working with another client for their Italian project. This 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 also a very fulfilling professional role.
Learning Italian offered me an incredible opportunity to understand the business aspect of things in Italy. So sometimes even in our darkest times we only have to trust the path.
If you are learning Italian (or any foreign language) here are some of my TIPS:
- Take a course/classroom/online training it is very vital for shaping the foundation
- Immerse in the language, make daily efforts
- Understand the culture of the target language, that will lead you places
- Keep a journal in your target language
- Talk to locals through Italki
- Stay motivated by listening to music, radio and podcasts
- Keep your eyes open for any opportunities
After reading my story, don’t you think Italy has shaped me in every way??! 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