The process of learning Italian

Ciao a tutti!

When living, working and volunteering in Italy and as part of this comprehensive experience called long term ESC-volunteering,  learning Italian language, at least to some extent, is highly necessary. I have written a blog post before about the OLS-platform (Online Linguistic Support), where all the Erasmus+ program participants (whether they are students, volunteers, interns or in any other position in the frame of the Erasmus+) can learn the language of the country they currently are doing the Erasmus+. This is an amazing tool to enlarge your vocabulary, to hear some authentic language use with a visual support and you also benefit from a small, basic grammar go-through. 

Although, as a linguist with a degree in French studies, I believe this is not enough to fully learn the language. Fortunately, we all are emerged in the Italian soundscape in our everyday life. When we go to the market, we speak in Italian; when we go to the pharmacy, we speak Italian; when we sit in a bar, we hear and speak Italian. This is something inevitable, often unconscious but very helpful. For some of us, the organization has provided a “linguistic exchange partner”. This means basically that they put us in contact with a local person with whom we (irregularly) spend time together doing casual things; going for a coffee, cooking, going to a museum etc. During these meetings we can practise Italian or any other language the two persons wish to speak. Some of these contacts have even become real friends who we like to invite to different events or just hang out and have a good time. 

I am lucky in the way that I have also made other local friends with whom I can speak in Italian. Some of them I have even met through our volunteering activities. Some of them also speak English which makes it harder to stick to Italian, it is tempting to resort to the language you know better, in order to express yourself more easily and clearly. It can be so frustrating not to find the right word or not even the detour to say what you want to say; to spend 4 seconds during a conversation thinking of the right conjugation of the verb (which seems an eternity every time), but luckily I have very patient friends willing to give me hand every now and then and boost my confidence in speaking. And yes, with those with fewer skills in English, well, it’s always a corso intensivo d’italiano for a few hours…

As part of our project, Györgyi – our Hungarian volunteer, together with our new Greek volunteer Kyriakos, organizes an event called aperitivi linguistici. This is based on aperitivo-time but with a twist of several languages. We have different tables for different languages, and in the beginning we usually play an icebreaker game to get to know each other a little bit more. The event is free and open for everyone who wants to practice English, Italian, Spanish, French or other languages. We have the great possibility to collaborate with Rione verde of Faenza and thanks to them the event can take place in a nice garden quite centrally located and with easy access (and with affordable prices for us volunteers). Find more about the event here.

Then obviously, depending on one’s willingness and motivation, you can also choose to do a bit more listening exercise. The world wide web is full of different podcasts; precisely for language learning or then, if your language level is good enough, you can also try some “normal” podcasts in Italian. On Spotify I discovered that the list is endless… I never was a real fan of podcasts, I can’t concentrate on listening if I am doing something else but I cannot just lay down and listen without doing anything either, but! the few times I’ve listened to these podcasts in Italian, I realized how amazing support is for learning to understand the spoken language.

Lately I have also started to read novels in Italian. I need to choose the book really carefully in order not to grab one that is too hard to understand, with a subject with strange vocabulary etc… For example Fabio Volo is an Italian author who uses quite simple language that’s easy to understand even if you are still learning. I really like the library we have here in Faenza, but my problem is that I like to take notes while reading and obviously, it is impossible to write on the library books. I find it really useful when reading a book in a foreign language to write the translation next to the word I didn’t know, after all I learn best by writing by hand. Therefore I have slipped to buying books (also second hand) rather than going to the library…

And then, the classical one: watching films and tv series in Italian. The benefits of this are indisputable. I have already talked about this in my previous blogs so I will not dedicate more time to the seventh art. 

We have also had the chance to go to Italian lessons in a school in Faenza, called CPIA. During lockdown we either had everything online or every other week in presence and every other online. Our teacher Anna was amazing, so supportive and good humour, always with clear explanations and nice exercises. The B1-course was quite heavy; 3 hours 2 times a week. But it was also efficient: with 6 hours of class plus the living in the country has given real results! The course finished with a facultativ B1 exam with an official certificate from the state. I definitely wanted to take the test so, almost two weeks ago, I went to the CPIA of Lugo (a little town nearby), a bit nervous but confident. After the 4-hour written part I had to wait another almost 4 hours to be called for the oral exam (that took 5 minutes), unexpectedly of course… Therefore, I got the chance to visit Lugo ex tempore and to worry a bit more about the oral exam. I found a nice little trattoria with an inner garden, ate pasta with a glass of beer and hop! I was ready for the test. At this point I can only speculate the results (I think the exam went alright), because not only did I learn the Italian language but something also about the culture: the results will be available after 3 months. So I will get back to you about it once I know if I passed it or not. Till then, I wish you all a motivating summer for language learning and in bocca al lupo! 

Yours truly,
The cold and tanned Finnish volunteer Laura

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