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Italian or Bust

Updated on December 19, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Language Learning

Ever since I was a child I dreamed of learning a second language. Being born and raised in Texas the most common and most recommended second language for an English speaking person would be Spanish. However, when I was in high school I took two years of Spanish and failed miserably both times. In fact, I was very happy making it out of both classes with a D. It just wasn’t very fun or engaging in any way. I do not necessarily blame my teacher as he himself was fascinated with the language and culture but for some reason he couldn’t explain why we should be. I wasn’t the only one of my classmates that didn’t further build on the foundation we were given as the whole thing was built on shaky ground in the first place.

Years went by and every now and then I would pick up a book or get sucked into those websites that promise to teach you the basics of a language but after a few months of trying I would lose interest as I just wasn’t getting anywhere with my target language. It got to the point where I wondered if something was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I stay focused? Why couldn’t I pick up on basic concepts of the language? Why couldn’t I memorize the vocabulary? The whole experience just felt like one big waste of time. I was tired of failing and I was tired of trying. The whole process was getting me nowhere fast and it appeared that a second language was out of the question. Apparently my brain just wasn’t cut out to fit anymore information into it.

All that changed when I met my wife who come from an Italian-American family from Yonkers, New York. I must admit in the first year of us dating I grew tired of Italian this and Italian that. I hated Italian food and for the most part I wasn’t the least bit interested in Italy or anything from it. Besides the Godfather movies I knew absolutely nothing about Italy or its culture and was perfectly fine with that.

Over the next three years I married the beautiful woman who is now my wife and have actually had the opportunity and pleasure of getting to know her family as well. I soon began to admire the love they had for their ancestral homeland and began to wonder about my own. Luckily for me my aunt had caught the genealogy bug long ago and already had a great deal of information over my father’s side of the family. Turns out I am from a long line of German Mennonites that migrated to Pennsylvania a few years before the Revolutionary War began.

Over the next few months I searched far and near piecing together the parts of my family history that my aunt was unable to discover. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes I wasn’t. When I finally felt content that I had traced back my lineage as far back as I could without travelling to Germany and doing research the old fashioned way by digging through paper trails in courthouses. I then turned my attention to my wife’s family. I gathered every bit of information that my wife’s grandmother could offer and in a matter of days I already had a family tree that differed from what my wife expected. Turns out her great grandfather was Hungarian and had married her Sicilian great grandmother at the turn of the 20th century. She knew quite well about her Italian-Sicilian roots but the Hungarian part was quite a curve. My research led me further into more in-depth study of her family’s native lands, especially that of Italy causing me to grow interested in not only the culture but the language as well. My wife wasn’t fluent in Italian but could speak a few words. Her grandmother was a tad bit more fluent in the language and had visited Italy on a number of occasions to meet some of her family that still resided there. She taught me a few words and I absolutely fell in love with how the words seemed to flow off the tongue. I immediately knew that no matter how long it took I had to learn this language.

Learning the Language of Love

Understanding that my previous attempts were done in vain I began to research not what websites that promised fluency but instead focused my attention on websites that told me how to study not only a foreign language but my own language. The problem that had plagued me for so long was soon evident as I had been studying wrong this entire time. It wasn’t the languages that was the problem but instead it was how I was going about learning them.

It is natural to believe that once you learn 10,000 words in a certain language that you can somehow communicate with native speakers at least to a certain degree but then reality sets in and you soon realize that you sound like a cave man while speaking because you have no idea how to use the present and past tenses of the language. I had made this mistake countless times but I swore that this time would be different. I did manage to find a site online that actually benefited me and helped me understand that it isn’t all about memorization. The site is called Duolingo and from the start of learning your language tree you are forced to learn different tenses of every word and when and how to use them properly. This was much different from language learning sites I had come across in the past which mainly focused on memorization of words and not on how to use those words in a sentence. With the help of Duolingo and a few hours a day of speaking and immersing myself in the language along with learning a few boring grammar rules over time, I have grown more fluent in a second language than ever before. Duolingo has helped but Duolingo alone isn’t necessarily the reason why I have succeeded this time around. Instead, I used a balance of grammar, speaking the language and learning vocabulary. In a matter of months, I was finally able to speak in past and present tenses, ask questions and have basic conversations in Italian. Not to mention being able to read Italian newspapers which was a great thrill to me the first time I did so. Duolingo made language learning fun which in truth is something learning a foreign language rarely is.

The truth of the matter is you do not have to live in a foreign country to learn its language. You don’t even have to leave your house. The main goal is not to learn countless words but instead to focus on words that help you communicate about doing everyday activities. This gives you the chance to use these words more often and in sentences. When you have learned to do this then go from the present tense of that language to the past tense. This way you are learning grammar and words at the same time. Practice, practice, practice all throughout the day if possible. Your neighbors, friends and family might get sick of hearing you speak in foreign sentences when doing everyday choirs but this is vital to do around people as it helps build confidence with human interaction. Of course it helps if you are speaking to someone who understands the language and can correct you if you have made a mistake but even if they do not speak a word of that particular language it is still building your confidence by saying it aloud in front of people.

The main thing is do not give up or get frustrated cause there are words or grammar that you cannot understand. Put it on the shelf and strengthen the parts you understand and then later on go back and try again. You won’t learn a language in months or heck sometimes even years but if you think about it most of us are not even fluent in our native language. We learn new words everyday. So why would your second language be any different?


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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Very helpful information. I am glad you found a strategy that succeeded.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      Thanks for sharing from your experience on learning a new language. It does take time and patience. I like your strategy for tackling the basics. Have a wonderful New Years.