TBT – The Italian love affair begins

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As it is a Thursday I thought I would write a post about how I got into language learning and more specifically Italian. Like most people in the UK, I studied French and German at school for a number of years and even with my B at GCSE, I left with little to no useable knowledge of the language and no desire to remember or learn any more. While at university we were offered free language classes and I attended one intermediate German class and decided that it still wasn’t for me.

The real breakthrough came, as has been the case with the other languages I have learnt since, when I booked a surprise birthday trip to Rome for my girlfriend. In September 2012 I booked a 3 night stay in Rome for the following January. As an extra special surprise, I decided that I would learn Italian in secret and amaze her with my language skills. This gave me 3 months to learn Italian while I wasn’t at home. The goal was set.
I started by downloading the Pimsleur Audiobook course which I found was very good. Each lesson was 30-45 minutes beginning with basic phrases and working through travel situations to develop understanding of grammar and increase vocabulary. At the time this was perfect for me. I could plug my headphones in (having no speakers in my car at the time) and play at least one lesson in my hour commute to and from work. My logic for doing it while driving was “If I can speak Italian while concentrating on driving I should have no trouble when in conversation”. This wasn’t exactly true but I did find the experience enjoyable as I was using my commute for something more productive than listening to the same old songs on the radio.

January rolled by and we were in Rome. I was very nervous that I wouldn’t know what to say and people wouldn’t understand me; as I think is very common with first time language learners going to the country. However, I was pleasantly surprised that I could understand a lot of the conversations that were going on around me. As amazing as the food and architecture in Rome are, this is the main highlight I remember from the trip. It was great to be able to sit on the Metro or in a cafe and not only listen, but also understand, the conversations going on around me. This is why my travel preparation always includes increased time listening to radio and podcasts to tune my ears before arrival.

The problem came when it was my turn to speak. I made the classic mistake of getting very nervous and resorting to English. No matter how many times I had told myself the phrase “Ho prenato una camera per tre notte di nome Signore Grigg” all that came out was “….uhm…. I have a room booked..”. I was deflated. All that time and energy wasted to go and speak in English! I was determined that this feeling wouldn’t last long. As the holiday went on I tried more and more and by the end was happy to have short conversations with people and amazing they understood me; or at least pretended to.
This was what started my inevitable love affair with Italy and the Italian language. We enjoyed it so much that we went to Venice for a week the following October. I am now almost in my fourth year of learning Italian and have reached an intermediate/upper-intermediate level where I can watch TV and films, read books and manga (my personal favourite) and have in-depth conversations with my language partner from Venice.

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