Since the publication of LA BELLA LINGUA in 2009, many readers have written to tell me that they've been inspired to study Italian. Yet while Italian is easy to love, it can be hard to learn. In honor of the eleventh annual "Settimana della Lingua Italiana" (Italian Language Week), I am re-posting some secrets for acquiring l’italiano. Here are the first five, with five more to come in my next blog:
1. Fill your ears. Modern Italian sprang from the volgare, the rough-and-ready street Latin of ancient Rome. Spoken for centuries before the vernacular was captured on paper, Italian remains a language for the ear. Listening primes the brain for understanding. I started listening to beginner Living Language CDs in my car years ago and drove my way through the entire series. You also can download podcasts to your iPod, MP3 player, or cell phone, and listen on planes, trains, buses, and places in between.
2. See it, say it, stick it. Train yourself to say the Italian word (if only to yourself) for things you look at every day: il cielo for sky, la sedia for chair; il pane for bread. (It’s always best to memorize the masculine or feminine article along with a word.) Put a post-it note with the Italian name on objects, such as il tavolo (table) or lo specchio (mirror), around the house. Don’t remove one until you’ve memorized the term.
3. Read. Go to onlinenewspapers.com for a sampling of Italian language papers. Just scanning the headlines will give you a sense of common words and names in the news. Try to get your hands on Italian comics (seriously). If you’re young or young at heart, you’ll delight in the adventures of Topolino (Mickey Mouse). Italian action comics, with heroes such as Tex, a time-traveling cowboy, and the sauve jewel thief Diabolik, “king of terror,” provide a fun way to improve your vocabulary and reading skills.
4. Watch. Movies allow you to see and hear Italian in action. Rent classics such as Roma, città aperta or La dolce vita. By all means, read the English subtitles but leave the sound on so you can absorb the rhythm of the language. Among the movies I watch time and again are: Fellini’s Amarcord and E la nave va, Il Postino, Pane e tulipani, and anything with Marcello Mastroianni, particularly the biography "Si, mi ricordo" ("Yes, I Remember"), made by the woman who shared the last decades of his life.
5. Sing. Even if you can’t carry a tune, singing along with popular Italian songs can introduce you to everyday vocabulary and improve your pronunciation. At www.youtube.com you’ll find everything from charming ninnenanne (lullabies) such as Stella stellina to pop tunes like Volare (below) and famous operatic arias.
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.