I looked at the waiter with utter confusion- I had no idea what he just said to me. Was he telling me the specials? Or that they were out of the chicken? Maybe that they only took cash? I had a pretty decent handle on a couple of languages…but Italian wasn’t one of them. And as this was my first trip to Italy a number of years ago, I vowed that the next time I came back, I’d at least be able to say something important like,”vorrei un bicchiere di vino rosso per favore” (I’d like a glass of red wine please).
And so my quest to learn Italian began… But what was the best way to learn? A class? Tapes and CD’s? Books? Private Tutor? Maybe I should go to a language school in Italy? My journey to learn Italian over several years has been a combination of all of the above. Upon my return from my first trip where it was love at first sight, I dug right in. I heard about a local woman originally from Bologna who taught private clients. So one day, Maria Rosa pulled up to the house in a big, gold Cadillac – and as she got out of the car, I knew she would be perfect before she even said “buongiorno”. In her 60’s with fashionably large Italian sunglasses, she was dressed completely in vogue with beautiful black wool slacks, the softest cashmere sweater and a brilliantly colored silk scarf. She came armed with textbooks, workbooks and a love for teaching Italian. We’d meet over the years for an hour and a half session and each time she left, I was exhausted from verb conjugations, learning new words and trying to figure out if there was rhyme or reason as to masculine and feminine words (there isn’t that I could determine).
I was also fortunate that my local library had a terrific selection of language tapes and CD’s. So I also listened to tapes on my Walkman (remember those?) and later on downloaded CD’s to my IPod. I bought any text book and workbook Maria Rosa suggested, had several dictionaries and phrase books, would watch Italian movies on DVD’s and tried to follow along with Italian TV broadcast Sunday mornings on cable. Considering I didn’t know any Italian when I started with Maria Rosa I came a long way. (Rosetta Stone didn’t exist when I started, but I’ve been using it recently to learn German and think it’s a great way to learn).
A few years ago, a friend told me about a wonderful language school in Montepulciano called Il Sasso. Dedicated teachers and a lovely hill town in Tuscany? Okay…sign me up! The students were from all over the world, the class size was small and we would take our breaks at the local bar to further converse in Italian. And with classes until 1:00, the afternoons were free for eating, touring and…speaking Italian.
On each trip to Italy I learned a little more and everyone I met was always so encouraging – I only needed to speak just a few words and they would continue on at lightening speed (at least to my ears) which gave me a bit more confidence to keep speaking. The internet has made it even easier with online courses, Italian newspapers online, blogs written in Italian, Google Translate, and some terrific informational blogs-Michael San Filippo’s About.com Italian Language and Diane Hales’ Becoming Italian Word by Word, are two that I always learn something from.
So how’s my Italian? Let me put it to you this way…I can order a glass of red wine and more. But it comes down to the best way to learn Italian is sort of like the way to get to Carnegie Hall…practice, practice, practice. And Italy is only a plane ride away…