So, you’re going to take an Italian class? Great! One of the most popular European countries to travel to, Italy boasts a rich history, beautiful scenery, and of course, exquisite food. But it’s natural to feel a bit nervous when you’re starting to learn a new language, whether you’re walking into a classroom full of new faces or logging into your online course platform for the first time. Here are five useful tips to keep in mind as you set out to learn Italian.
It’s okay if you can’t roll your R’s
If you’ve heard spoken Italian before, you know it has a soft, flowing sound to it. (Hey, they don’t call it a Romance language for nothing!) Many Italian students — particularly adult learners — worry that they won’t be able to get very far in the language if they can’t roll their R’s. Fortunately, there are several hacks that might be able to help you master this technique. One is to try placing the tip of your tongue on the ridge in the roof of your mouth, and repeating a word with a trilling “R” sound — like “correre” (which means “to run” in Italian) — over and over again in quick succession. Doing this can trick your tongue into making the right sound, and with practice, could help you learn to roll your R’s without the extra effort. You can even try this technique using English words that end in a soft “R” (like “butter”) while you get accustomed to the sounds of the Italian language. But even if you can’t quite figure out how to roll your tongue, there’s no need to fret. Every region of Italy speaks a little bit differently, and in some northern areas, rolling the tongue actually isn’t even that common at all. Speaking clearly and correctly will be much more important than mastering every sound!
Italian has two forms of “you”
The two forms of “you” in Italian are “tu” and “Lei.” In general, “tu” is used when speaking to friends, relatives, peers, or those who are younger than you. The formal version, “Lei,” is used to address people older than you or in positions of power, like doctors, police officers, or politicians. If you’re meeting someone for the very first time, it’s typically best to address them using the “Lei” form (and they’ll give you permission to use the “tu” form if it’s appropriate).
Don’t say “um”
While you’re trying to learn Italian, your speech will inevitably be a little clumsy at first. You may find yourself pausing mid-sentence, running through flashcards in your brain as you try to come up with a word on the tip of your tongue. In English, our natural verbal response in those moments is to make a lingering “um” or “uh” sound — which will make your non-nativeness exceedingly obvious to any Italian speaker! But there’s a simple fix: if you need to pause to collect your thoughts, you can use the Italian equivalent, “beh,” as a space filler.
Every part of your sentence has to agree
Nouns, verbs, pronouns, prepositions, verbs… each part of a statement needs to agree in both number and gender when you’re speaking Italian. This may be confusing for beginning learners, but don’t worry. With time and practice, adjusting your speech for agreement will become second nature. During your initial lessons, keep these general guidelines in mind: words that end in -o are usually masculine, while words that end in -a are usually feminine. To make normal masculine words plural, change the ending to an -i, and to make feminine words plural change the ending to an -e. Of course, there are many exceptions to these rules, but memorizing the basic guidelines for agreement will be helpful as you begin to learn Italian.
You can’t learn Italian alone!
No one can master a language entirely on their own. There are plenty of tools, apps, and books to help you along the way, but continued speaking practice with others is essential to improving your language skills as you learn Italian. Be sure to speak up in class, even when you’re nervous, and take advantage of opportunities to work one on one with your instructor or to practice speaking in your spare time with classmates and friends. Buona fortuna!
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