So how can you learn fluent Italian in just two months? Though I would have thought it to be mission impossible, I was surprised at how much Italian I was able to learn to use effectively in just two months. What you need are clear ideas about what and how you want to learn and to free yourself from old study habits and forget old fashioned methods of studying a language. Being open to new dynamic, interactive ways of learning that allow you to use Italian without studying tedious lists of vocabulary and grammar rules, will soon put you on the road to success in learning Italian.
1. General listening
Your ability to listen is the first and most important key to opening the door to dynamic and effective language learning. Concentrating on your listening skills and dedicating the appropriate time to them, will allow you to achieve excellent results that you would never reach just by studying grammar and vocabulary lists.
So what’s the best way to listen? What should you concentrate on ? What should you listen to? These are the questions I found myself asking. Firstly, I should distinguish between two types of listening, or rather two techniques, that are both important to do separately and simultaneously while having clear aims and alternating the days in which you practise them.
The so called general listening is the first of these techniques. Choose an extract of around 3 minutes (minimum two, maximum four) that is based on a familiar or interesting topic, for example a hobby of yours. Listen to it 7 times, without taking notes or writing anything, simply emerging yourself in the story and trying to grasp the sense of the conversation. You will see that with every additional listening you will be able to clarify more details (who is speaking, with whom and why).
It is important not to write anything in this phase at least for the first five listenings (seven would be even better if you can resist the temptation…) to train your mind to adapt to a real life listening situation in which it would be absurd to stop and take notes while someone was speaking to you.
Getting used to not using a pen from the start during listening practice is fundamental in helping yourself to understand the sense of a discussion and getting your brain ready to take on authentic situations of linguistic exchange. If you get used to this from the start, you will find you are better prepared to manage a real life conversation where you will also tie in all of the other language skills. Another reason for which I suggest not writing anything during this phase is to not miss the opportunity to pick up on some aspects of the language that could be lost if you were writing. Taking notes requires concentration and a certain level of energy that would be unfairly taken from the listening to which you should dedicate 100% of your attention.
Then at the end of each listening you should ask yourself how much you have understood and take note of the approximate percentage (and yes, for this you can use your pen). After the first time how much did you understand? 1%? 5%? Good, let’s make a note of it. Did you understand anything extra on the second listening? A little more or a lot more is not important for now. Let’s just note that from the first to the second we’ve gone from 5% to 7% or even from 10% to 20%. And so on and so forth, from listening to listening I ask myself how much I have increased my understanding of this particular text. Some people may reach 30%, others 60% or more. It isn’t really important if the number is high or low but whether you’ve improved from the start to the end.
2. Focused listening
So here is the second listening technique, this time with your beloved pen at the ready. Even though I am still speaking about listening, here you enter into a different situation and adifferent approach. As suggested by the above title, here you work more on the details of the listening that you have now heard around 7 times.
So at this point your general understanding should be good, with a comprehension that can vary from between 20 and 70%. Now is the moment to continue to the analytical phase.
The first thing to do is to extract a fraction of dialogue from your original listening material of around 30 seconds.
It doesn’t matter if you choose the start, middle or end of the text, you just need half a minute of material to work on.
These days with the help of any computer or audio programme, you can easily select the part of the listening that you need at exactly the right place and listen to it an unlimited number of times.
A blank page
With the necessary preparation done for the audio, take a blank piece of paper. You are now ready to write everything down, word for word, everything from those 30 seconds of dialogue, listening to the extract again and again without stopping.
How many times exactly ? There’s no exact number, just keep going until you cease to make any further progress, that is to say until you are unable to add anything extra to your transcription to make it more complete.
For every word that you don’t understand or have doubts about, you can underline it, mark it out and leave it for the moment, allowing you to go ahead to the other words. In the end you should have a semi complete text in which just some parts will be missing. If on the other hand you’ve managed to grasp 100% it means either you have reached a high level of Italian or maybe you’ve chosen a dialogue that is too easy or simple.
To make this activity work well, it is essential that you choose authentic Italian material those made for native Italian speakers. Not recorded materials that are intentionally slowed down to help students.
Using simplified material won’t guarantee you learn a lot as real language, the language that Italian speakers use, has a natural speed.
If you get used to listening to slowed down versions of conversations, you are just wasting time, learning a language that doesn’t exist, because no Italian would ever speak that slowly. Therefore you are better off exposing yourself straight away to fast material that in reality is not fast but just authentic and natural.
Accept your initial limits of comprehension. Understanding everything form a ‘false’ audio, will never improve your linguistic level.
3. Free speaking
Now let’s look at a second skill, that will be the second key with which I got on the road to learning Italian in two months – speaking.
The biggest difference for this skill is that now you need a second person with whom to converse. Ideally you should find another Italian student of a similar level to your own in order to really practise conversation. Whilst it is possible to speak to yourself, it is unlikely to produce any real results as it is not a real situation and only a second person can put you in the situation of an authentic interaction allowing you to freely speak without knowing the questions and answers that you will be required to use
As with listening, here the skills can be divided into two techniques, distinguishing two phases and using them separately without confusing the aims.
The first technique can be called Free or Fluent Speaking. In this phase the aim is not grammatical perfection of what you say, but rather the fluency and natural way in which you express what you say. You are bound to make grammatical errors while you speak, but you shouldn’t worry about it because the aim is only to freely use the language you’ve learnt. If you were asked to speak freely and fluently at the same time as worrying about grammar and accuracy, it would be asking the impossible. It would be better to divide your attention between grammatical forms (how you say things) and the content (what you want to say) .
4. Controlled Speaking
This technique you can call controlled speaking practice, as in this phase you can check and analyse the grammatical forms that you wish to use. Your attention should now be concentrated on the details of the sentence in front of you, paying attention to articles, to prepositions, to the coherence of the verb tenses and the position of pronouns.
Here, you must necessarily forego the fluency and speed with which you spoke in the first phase. This is fine, as you will be sacrificing one aspect of your speaking in order to improve another. In time both aspects will come into line and the day in which you no longer need to make this distinction will be the day that you will have reached your advanced level of Italian.
In conclusion, combining these techniques will allow you to reach a good level of Italian in just two months, just as I did. You can organise your week, dedicating each day to one of the skills we have mentioned and remembering to alternate the phases day by day.
Ideally you can devote a morning to general listening and your afternoon to controlled speaking, and the day after you can invert the two phases. This will allow you to effectively alternate both skills and both techniques.
All of this will make learning Italian in two months not only possible but very much a wonderful reality!