illustration by Annemarie Gorissen

5 ways of learning a new language

There are probably many more, but this is my personal list of how I’m learning a new language. I keep discovering more and more options along the way. Google is your best friend. The underlying thought is the same for everyone, I think. Submerge yourself: listen to it, read it – even if you don’t understand half of what is said – and write it. And then repeat that every single day. Dive in!

1 >> GRAMMAR. I started at the beginning, with a beginners course Italian. Taking live classes is in my honest opinion not really necessary at this point. But the books will give you a good idea of the basic grammar and will get you started. I haven’t tried any other books to compare mine to, but I am using ‘Con Piacere’ by Intertaal (obviously this is Italian – Dutch). There must be better (looking) books out there with less strange ‘games’, unclear questions and even mistakes. But even so, it’ll get you started.

You’ll surprise yourself how quickly you understand so much more.

2 >> READ. Pretty quickly after we enrolled ourselves in the Italian beginners class, I came across ‘Storie della buona notte per bambine ribelli’ (links to my blogpost on that one) at an Italian airport. I can’t say enough good stuff about this book: it’s beautifully illustrated by lots of illustrators, the stories are all about cool, smart, strong and special women and each story is only one page long. Short stories is a big plus if you’re reading in a foreign language you do not know at all. I started the first few stories google-translating (is that a word?) everything and it took me forever. But I learned a lot. About ten stories in I understood the main storyline without translating everything. Progress! So pick up an Italian book, even if you have no clue what it says. You’ll surprise yourself how quickly you understand so much more.

I recently started in ‘La solitude dei numeri primi‘ by Paolo Giordano. I thought it would be way out of my league, but it’s not that bad actually. I have the Dutch version of the book on my e-reader (‘De eenzaamheid van de priemgetallen’). So I have them both side by side. This way I can easily go back to the Dutch version and check what it says. The most difficult part for me with this book is that nearly everything is written in the past tense. I didn’t really cover that yet and Italian conjugations are quite… uh let’s say… diverse. The past tense of a verb can be completely unrecognizable. To me now anyway. But again, I’m picking up so much new stuff now that will pay off later.

Learning a new language means you need to dive in // illustration by Annemarie Gorissen
Learning a new language means you need to dive in // illustration by Annemarie Gorissen

3 >> DAILY ROUTINE. I must admit I don’t do this enough, but I should. And so should you. Do something in your new language everyday – even if it’s just for 5 minutes. It can be studying grammar or vocabulary, but also reading a newspaper article, listening to a podcast, foreign TV or just put on some music. In my case that is Eros Ramazotti. I know. And even worse: I can’t get that ‘dedicato a tutti quelli che…. ‘ out of my head – or out of my mouth for that matter. But his pronunciation is perfectly clear. You’ll get familiar with the sounds and the rhythm of the language without consciously studying it.

I recently found Quizlet, a website that allows you to make your own flash cards and let’s you browse others’. It’s nice to have a digital version of your own flash cards – less stuff! – but Quizlet also turns your input into little games and quizzes. Writing them is a great way to memorize words and phrases and you can grow your pile of flash cards as you learn more and more.

I can’t get that ‘dedicato a tutti quelli che…. ‘ out of my head – or out of my mouth for that matter.

4 >> LISTEN. Find a good podcast/online teacher. I am a big fan of Coffee Break Italian. This podcast really feels like a proper class and I find it extremely useful. They start at the beginners level and you listen and learn along with Katie and her teachers Mark and Francesca. I believe there are about 80 (!) classes for you to listen to. For free. The free version doesn’t include grammar notes and transcripts, but if you’re willing to look things up that raise questions, you’ll learn so much. It’s fun to listen to and very inspiring. I always feel like ‘I got this’ after listening to another episode of Coffee Break Italian. It’s English (well, Scottish actually) to Italian.

Another one I like is italymadeeasy.com. Manu Venditti helps you understand his language by answering questions from his students and just chatting away for listening comprehension. There’s also a paid version of this, but I’m satisfied with the free one for now. There’s lots of video material on the website and I also found his podcast where he chats about anything and everything. Also a great listening exercise. This is also English to Italian, but I find the videos where he speaks only Italian the most useful. There’s usually a full transcript below the videos as well, so you can read along.

You don’t always have the opportunity to speak to someone in your new language and it also takes courage to do so.

5 >> SPEAK. This is the most difficult one. You don’t always have the opportunity to speak to someone in your new language and it also takes courage to do so. That’s where a live class with a teacher comes in handy. Although we didn’t even speak that much either in our Italian course at the Volksuniversiteit. But it also even helps to just read out loud, repeat words and get familiar with the sounds that way. We found ourselves an Italian student whom we’ll be having weekly conversations with (I found him via Superprof.com). And of course we’ll be in Italy next year, so there will be enough opportunities for us to speak to the locals and see how far we’ve come.

For now we can practice our new language in Sardegna, because that is where we are heading tomorrow. A 3-week trip in search of the perfect spot to start our new lives. But of course also to relax and enjoy the nature, the food and the wine ánd practice our Italian skills. Ciao!

PS. If you have any additional tips & tricks, please share them in the comments!

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