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:
- sciatto (shyacht-toe) = unkempt, slovenly (reminds me of “shot to hell”)
- sgualcire (zgwal-chee-ray) = to crumple up (as in clothes)
- sfarzoso (sfarts-oh-zoe) = magnificent (heh, farts)
- 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”)
- sgorbio (zgorb-yo) = ugly (like, in an unfortunate way)
- 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.