This timely guest post by Cher Hale is a life- and language-saver for all of us lucky enough to be heading for Italy this summer:
by Cher Hale
Many of us like to procrastinate and not study Italian until three weeks or so before a trip to Italy. If that’s you, here are nine ideas for how to get your Italian back into shape--fast:
1. Be 100% honest with yourself. While it may be tempting to fall into daydream land where you magically reach a conversational level in weeks even though you’re currently a beginner, it’s not very useful when you land in Italy and are kicking yourself for not being ambitious enough, or studious enough, or whatever enough. Instead of falling down that rabbit hole, here’s what you can do:
*Look at your upcoming schedule for the upcoming weeks and see how much time you have to study Italian. If you do the math and find out that it’s an hour a day, take it down just a notch to 40 minutes a day. You want it to be realistic and achievable right from the start.
*Write down a few topics that you really want to be able to talk about. That could be making small talk about weather, ordering food in a restaurant or shopping for clothes. Choose three -- one for each week -- and know that learning how to express yourself in those situations is the priority.
*At this point, learning grammar needs to be your support system and NOT your entire goal. Communication first, grammar second.
2. Get yourself an audio program that you’ll stick to. This doesn’t mean that you have to pay for a program. It could just mean that you compile some podcast episodes in Italian or that you do some of the free trials for News in Slow Italian or ItalianPod101. My personal favorite is making a list of podcast episodes that I want to hear from the show Al Dente on Podclub.ch.
3. Doubletask! Doubletasking means that you listen to an audio lesson while ironing, and it’s different from multitasking because the resources you need to accomplish a task aren’t being competed for. For example, listening to audio lessons while working is a big DON’T because work and Italian are competing for the same mental resources.
4. Find a friend who can hold you accountable. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend who is interested in Italian or learning some other language, you can ask her or him to keep you accountable for the next three weeks. Give this person your milestones and instructions to check in with you every Friday. This way you know that you have someone to answer to and you’re less likely to flake.
5. Schedule a few tutoring sessions. You won’t have time to go through an entire textbook, but you can tell your tutor that you want to focus on your priority speaking topics. Then you’ll be able to practice these situations with a native speaker before you have to do them in person. This will lower your anxiety and give you confidence going into a store to buy that dress or order tiramisù. You can use Italki or L’Italiano da Lontano for tutoring sessions online.
6. Gift yourself with an Italian travel workbook. You can add some variety to your studying by doing a few exercises a day.
For intermediate and advanced learners:
7. Read that book you got in Italy NOW.
8. Set up a chat with a few of your Italian friends on Skype. Get back into the groove of the language before you’re thrown back into the culture.
9. Identify a piece of the language you’re struggling with and take care of it. These are usually the things that stop you when you’re trying to speak, like pronouns, prepositions or complex verb tenses. If you know what your problem areas are, do what you can to address them now.
Cher Hale describes herself as a relationship counselor between humans and the Italian language. Once they’ve fallen in love with the language and the honeymoon period ends, she helps them stay committed until they’re conversational. You can read her vocabulary speed-dates, grammatical musings and cultural cocktail party facts at The Iceberg Project. Click here to listen to her engaging podcasts.
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.