Learn Italian Your Own Way

It occurred to me that I haven’t talked about the Italian language for a while. I was reminded of my amusing Italian pronunciation guides by an old friend who found my blog yesterday; my Beijing “language = funny” post, and recently having had to explain my language learning process, in Italian, to a bunch of half-in-the-bag Italian IBM executives.

But, that’s a story for another time. Today, I’m going to tell you how I learned Italian.

Actually – and this should come as no surprise to my regular readers – I am going to digress by confessing: I love “s” words in Italian. Not all “s” words, obviously. But there are several dozen that are so much fun to get your mouth around, and so utterly descriptive, that I have literally whiled away an afternoon reading this section of the dictionary. Some examples:

  1. sciatto (shyacht-toe) = unkempt, slovenly (reminds me of “shot to hell”)
  2. sgualcire (zgwal-chee-ray) = to crumple up (as in clothes)
  3. sfarzoso (sfarts-oh-zoe) = magnificent (heh, farts)
  4. scazzarsi (scots-czar-see) = to lose interest (as in a cat who becomes distracted by a shiny metal object and leaves you standing there with a cat toy; reminds me of “scatterbrained”)
  5. sgorbio (zgorb-yo) = ugly (like, in an unfortunate way)
  6. sgobbare (zgoh-bar-ray) = to slave away at something (to me, if the act of sighing, wiping sweat from your brow and looking around at all the housework you still have to do had a sound attached to it, it would be this word)

I could seriously read them out all day. You can, too! Roll those r’s, don’t be shy. Use them in an English sentence, like I do sometimes! It’s fun. But, back to how I learned Italian.

I did take private lessons for a month or so, but I didn’t love it. My teacher was wonderful; I just didn’t like that I was not permitted to follow my own line of logic, so in my head I had to keep track of a lot of things that for me didn’t have any connection to each other. I ditched her and bought a vocabulary book, a verb book, a grammar book, and a workbook. I studied 80 minutes a day – to and from work on the train.

  • I made flashcards of verbs.
  • Everything in my house was labeled with their Italian names (a trick my mom did with me when I was learning to read).
  • I listened to Italian talk radio while I worked, to get used to the sound and for listening comprehension (my most difficult area).
  • I found Italian songs I liked, printed out the lyrics, translated them, and then sang them for pronunciation, mimicking the singers as well as I could. (I highly recommend Giorgia.)
  • I bought Italian tabloid magazines and read them with a dictionary by my side.
  • I only did what interested me, so I would never scazzarmi.

And then, of course, I moved to Rome, where I didn’t know anyone and had to speak Italian to survive.  I pestered my new friends with a million questions as we got to know each other – what was that word?  Why do you say this instead of that? How do you say/pronounce this or that? Do you have a phrase for this or that English colloquialism?  I was relentless.

By no means do I recommend this method for everyone.  My point is, if you want to learn Italian, you don’t have to sgobbare in a classroom setting or uncomfortable conversation groups.  Do whatever feels right to you, and only for as long as it interests you.

9 thoughts on “Learn Italian Your Own Way

  1. Very interesting post. This is something that has been on my mind a lot for obvious reasons.
    I’m going to try that labeling house trick.

    I am taking private lessons right now in Serbian (it just kinda worked out that way, was supposed to be a group class but there’s no one there at my level) and I love it. For some reason it just works for me, no one to worry about being better than or screwing up in front of, so I’m not afraid to try new stuff, plus I’m on my toes the entire time, no chance to daydream. Probably next week more students will come and I’ll be in a group again, we’ll see how that goes. For me, immersion is working so much better than trying to learn a language piecemeal. I studied French on and off for 10 years and look how well that went. When I can see progress everyday, I’m more inspired to work harder. Now I’m in a place where language learning is my main task, away from everyday life and distractions, away from guilt about not doing other, “more useful” things…

  2. May I suggest another word for “sfarzoso”? that could translate into “opulento” wich i know in english is opulent but i think it also gives you the idea.
    and “scazzarsi” can also mean falling out with a friend or a work collegue.as -ma fanculo brutto stronzo mi ha rotto le palle! -(f***k you bastard I’ve had enough of you) that also is to scazzarzi.
    at least here in rome in colloquial italian.
    Have I been booring enough? hihihi

  3. I started learning Italian a couple of months ago in a class. It wasn’t very successful and I was feeling a little disheartened. Your post has cheered me up. You’ve got some great suggestions! I can’t wait to try putting post-it notes on everything.

  4. Pingback: Learning Italian my own way… « Our Piece Of It

  5. Hello!

    I think it is really important to study in a way that you feel comfortable, to help you master a language. For example, if you are one who loathes grammar, maybe spend some time practicing vocabulary instead. If you can’t stand memorizing words for an hour by yourself, you might like to try just an open, natural, conversation with someone else.

    Everyone has a unique way in which they learn, so it’s helpful to get suggestions from many different people on how to learn a new language because it takes a lot of time, and practice to learn a new language. You don’t want to be annoyed by your method of learning.

    The fact that you moved to Rome was obviously a tremendous help to speed up the process. I studied in Spain, and learned way more in those 3 months than I had in my high school and college classes!

    Good luck with everything!

  6. che bel post. anch’io sono autodiddatta! (almeno per la maggior parte)

    ecco alcune delle parole che mi piacciono di piu’…scombussolare, zanzara, piombare, sciupare, untuoso, stucchevole (posso continuare, la lista non finisce mai!)

    faccio tanti metodi per imparare la lingua…leggo libri (come Harry Potter in Italiano), riviste (come Oggi e Gente), guardo RAIClick (su internet, sono appassionata dei teleromanzi stupidi come “Un Posto al Sole”), guardo i film, chiacchierare con gli amici in Italia su Skype, partecipo sulle bachece su internet…e faccio tantissime liste delle parole!

    Hai ragione, quando c’e’ voglia, imparare e sempre facile!

  7. Mi piace il tuo blog, ma lo sfondo nero mi sta rubando la mia vista ancora. Si prega di considerare un formato più leggibile.

  8. I just stumbled upon this blog, this is incredible! What grammar and verb book do you read? Do you advise taking group classes?

    • Thanks!

      I went to a bookstore and chose whatever was there that looked doable to me. I’m sorry I don’t have the titles, as they are long gone from my bookshelf, I’m proud to say!

      Group classes can be fun, I suppose; but I liked working at my own pace. Some concepts/rules I got right away, and I could move on. I really did not like when I did have a tutor for a short time, and had to wait to ask questions.

      Maybe a conversation class? Talking and listening is really a great way to make what you’ve learned “stick” in your brain.

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