You've started learning Italian. You memorize new vocabulary words, use flashcards, practice conjugating verbs, study new grammar topics, and then comes the moment of truth: you meet a native speaker. Excited and nervous to show off what you've learned, you start to speak and... freeze. You stumble over words.
How do you say that again? Does the adjective come before or after the noun? Am I even speaking? Can they understand me? Who knew a simple conversation could be so difficult?!
If you've ever studied a foreign language before, you're probably no stranger to this situation and to the difficulties of conversations. Reading, listening, and studying vocabulary and grammar is one thing. But when it comes time to actually speak, it's a whole new ball game.
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Fluent, Conversational...Or Both?
When asked what their Italian language goals are, many learners don't even hesitate to respond: "To become fluent, of course!"
What few learners realize, however, is that what we think of as fluency is in reality a very unrealistic goal. After all, to be fluent means to speak perfectly like a native speaker, right?
Not necessarily. There's a few things to keep in mind:
If we take a moment to stop and think about what we really want, it's probably something like this: to be able to speak in Italian comfortably and without hesitation.
With this definition in mind, fluency can actually occur at any language learning level, whether you're a beginner or an advanced speaker. It's simply a matter of practicing what you do know and knowing how to talk around things that you don't know.
This is a very common practice of well-travelled "worldly" people. In order to be able to visit a country without distractions and to better blend in, they learn just enough to be able to get by. Then they practice their new vocabulary, and practice it some more. By the time their trip is over, they're able to trick locals into believing that they're native. In other words: they're fluent, with just basic vocabulary and basic notions of grammar.
Let's call this type of "fluency" being conversational.
Being conversational is a matter of being comfortable in Italian and not needing to search for words when speaking. It's about not letting your insecurity get in the way of your skills. It means focusing on the practical words, phrases and skills that are useful in the majority of interactions and practicing them until you dominate them.
Doesn't that sound like a much better goal than the vague notion of becoming "fluent"?
In order to achieve this goal, there are some great ways to practice and improve your conversational skills and learn to be confident when speaking Italian. Let's take a look at five great tips:
It's no secret that motivation is crucial when learning a new language. This is one of the main reasons why anyone is able to learn a language regardless of age, education and experience. Motivation is more important than any one of the excuses you may have for not learning Italian.
Staying motivated is the number one reason why many have language learning success, and is also the number one reason why some fail. There is no understating how important it is at every step of the learning process, whether you're starting to learn Italian or polishing up your skills.
Stay motivated. Focus on why you want to learn Italian, how it will improve your life, and everything good that can come from it. Learning Italian is always worth it. This mindset is helpful at every stage of the language learning process. It also really helps to fuel your conversation practice.
Make your own Italian dictionary and phrasebook. This could be online, on your phone, or even in a cute little notebook from the Dollar Store.
Every time you hear a new Italian word or phrase that you think will be useful, write it down in you phrasebooks. Later, when you've got some free time or forget a word or phrase, you can turn to your own portable, personalized Italian dictionary for help.
Here's what's so great about this:
It's a great tool for anyone studying Italian at any level, and you can even use it to improve your native language!
So, when we speak in our native language, we fill our conversations with small or seemingly insignificant words. These words help us to form connections between ideas and fill empty spaces. Well, as a matter of fact, these connectors or fillers actually help contribute to our language fluency and keep us from sounding like textbook-reading robots.
That being said, there are ten categories of connectors that I recommend learning in Italian:
Rocket Record lets you perfect your Italian pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
Fillers e.g. Well... Actually... So...
Be', non ne sono molto sicuro.
Well, I'm not really sure.
Elaborations e.g. More specifically... In other words...
In altre parole, devo cancellare l'appuntamento.
In other words, I have to cancel the appointment.
Openers e.g. That's a good question... I was thinking... So...
Pensavo a un'insalata di pomodori con mozzarella.
I was thinking of a tomato salad with mozzarella.
Closers e.g. Overall... Basically, that's it... In the end...
In fin dei conti, abbiamo fatto bene a prendere il treno.
In the end, we did well to take the train.
Apologies e.g. I'm sorry, but... I've got to be honest with you...
Mi dispiace, tutti i posti sono occupati.
I'm sorry, all the seats are taken.
(Dis)Agreement e.g. Definitely... I completely agree... I don't really agree...
Non sono molto d'accordo sulla scelta del ristorante.
I don't really agree (with you) on the choice of the restaurant.
Passing e.g. What about you? What do you think?
Che ne pensi?
What do you think of it?
Qualifiers e.g. To be honest... To tell you the truth... Actually... In reality
A dire la verità, quel quadro non mi piace molto.
To tell the truth, I don't like that painting very much.
Quotes e.g. Recently, I heard that... They say that...
Ho sentito che tuo fratello è ammalato.
I heard that your brother is sick.
Switches e.g. By the way... Oh, I forgot to tell you...
A proposito, ti sei ricordato di prenotare l'hotel?
By the way, did you remember to book the hotel?
By learning these connectors and making them a part of your speaking, you accomplish two great things:
Seriously, give it a try! Remember, though: don't try and learn them all at once. Pick the most practical and add them to your speaking little by little. Oh, and don't forget to write them down in your phrasebook!
Once again, we return to the old cliché: "practice makes perfect." Never has it been more true than when learning Italian. Here at Rocket Languages, though, we like to think of it as "practice makes fluent."
Imagine you dedicate two hours a week to studying Italian online, and then you turn off your computer (and brain) and leave your Italian aside until next week. If you're like us (and most normal adults), everything you learned the previous week will either be lost or require a long review. This pattern can be repeated the next week, and the next week, and the next week until... Well, give it a good 10 years and you'll be able to order a second beer on vacation in Sicily.
Just because you have limited time to dedicate to learning Italian doesn't mean that you don't have time for practicing Italian. Here are some ways you can practice:
Overall, there are so many ways that you can make practice a part of your daily life.
If improving your speaking is your goal, try to practice speaking at least 2-3 times per week (although once a day would be ideal!). Before you let this idea scare you, let's take a look at a few excellent ways to practice speaking:
One idea is to invite your native friend for a drink in exchange for practice. It's a cheap way to get great, live practice, and you'll probably end up learning even more than in a classroom! If you're not sure how to find native Italian speakers near you, search for local groups at the library, schools, language centers or online.
Search for others who are learning Italian in your area. Start by checking out the local schools, universities, language academies and libraries and start a study group. Of, if you prefer, search for other Italian learners online and set up weekly Skype, Hangout or phone chats. Meeting and interacting with other people who are also learning Italian can help make your learning more fun, keep you motivated, and provide you with conversation partners who can teach you things you can't teach yourself.
Talk to yourself--either out loud or in your head--in Italian as much as possible. Do it in as many different situations as possible. It'll help you to put your Italian knowledge into use and will better prepare you for conversations with others. It really works!
Before you know it, you'll be speaking with the rhythm and pronunciation of a native and learning new vocabulary and phrases while doing so! The same can be done with singing, which is a great excuse for you vocally gifted people to get out and sing some Italian karaoke... 'O sole mio...Sta 'nfronte a te?
Overall, the key is to practice Italian as much as possible with as many people as possible. This will help you to adapt to a variety of different dialects, accents, and speaking styles. It not only will make it easier to understand different people, but also to communicate with them in a variety of different situations.
Our final tip is another interesting conversation hack: recordings. By using your phone or a recording device (or even a camera for you adventurous types) you give yourself the valuable opportunity to review your Italian conversations and find ways to improve. There's a few ways you can use these recordings:
On another note, recording yourself speaking also helps you to become less nervous when really speaking. After all, very few people enjoy being recorded or filmed, and the very thought of it usually makes us uncomfortable. If we get used to it, however, speaking Italian with a native speaker seems like a piece of cake!
Piano piano, si arriva lontano
Overall, learning Italian and becoming fluent is easier than you think. All you need is to be confident in what you do know and comfortable in using it when speaking. Little by little, you'll be on your way to being conversational in Italian.
There are many ways to improve your fluency and conversational skills in Italian. With motivation, dedication, and plenty of practice, you'll be speaking fluently in no time!
In bocca al lupo!
Maria DiLorenzi: Rocket Italian
Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities!