Variations on Learning Italian

Variations on Learning Italian

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

After resuming the study of Italian sometime last spring I have done a number of things. I found my old textbook (Da Capo), my Italian/English dictionary and the indispensable “201 Italian Verbs” and started self study. Of course I was inspired to do this after attending the biweekly Gruppo Italiano meetings at which coffee is drunk and the language is spoken. Alas, the lovely Mira is off to Argentina for some unknown period of time. Whether she is overcome with the desire to Tango, is yearning to dramatically improve her Spanish language skills or just has itchy feet may remain a mystery. In any case without her guidance I have fears that the Gruppo may become dormant until (and if) she returns. There is nothing like actually talking with people to improve your skills and especially your confidence to speak the new language. That confidence is important. I have found that the thought of sounding like a 3 year old because of my poor language skills can hold me back from speaking and therefore learning more quickly.

If not talking to people, then exchanging emails certainly helps as well. It can expand your vocabulary, sharpen your grammar and give you a better feel for how people actually use the language. On Facebook I found the Tandem Language Learning BOLOGNA that led me to my first correspondent. Paolo is an orthodontist from Bologna and, like me, is studying a different language in this case English of course. The formula for this kind of exercise is for each of us to write in both English and Italian. Then when responding, I correct his English and he corrects my Italian. It is a tad painstaking but I thought worth the effort. Not, however, for Paolo since he stopped responding after two or three weeks.

Next,  just by chance, I met Rita when playing bridge (you know, the card game) online. She is Sicilian and speaks no English. She is an attractive widow of 74 and nonna of the year 2000 according to her Facebook page!  We corresponded via Facebook for quite a while and may do more yet when she returns from her extended vacation. That has certainly been a different experience and I enjoyed the exchanges. Then there was Sandra who is 25, lives in Bologna and only wrote for about 2 weeks. Finally I have a fairly long correspondence going with Massimiliano who is 39, lives in Turin and works for Fiat and was not offended when I told him the American experience with Fiat (when they were still sold in this country) was summarized by saying that F.I.A.T.  meant Fix It Again Tony. He said that he bleeds black and white, the colors of Juventus, the famous soccer team from Turin. It’s this kind of stuff that makes the interaction fun. I like Massimiliano and hope that our conversations continue for a long time. The photos below are in honor of Massimiliano!

Recently I met Antonio, a chef from Naples. He married a woman from this area who was living in Italy for, I think, 6 years. They moved back here some time ago and his English is still a bit weak. We are trying to get together at least weekly and talk some in both languages. How does he live here without knowing the language as well as he’d like? He is very busy with his work and apparently has little trouble in the kitchens because so many of the staffers in the kitchens speak Spanish and it is not all that difficult for Spanish and Italian speakers to communicate. Of course he is also married to a woman that speaks Italian well. I want to help him with his English and really like being able to talk to him in Italian and get corrections in the process.

Of course most people, including me, take classes and I just started a new one now. The teacher is great, a Roman to her toes. She’s a real kick and keeps the class moving. It’s just about the right level and I can hardly wait for the weekly give and take of her class.

One last item. I mentioned above the the Tandem Language Learning BOLOGNA Facebook page. If anyone reading this has stumbled across anything similar to connect with Italians who want to work on their English I’d love to know about it in a comment. What ways have you found helpful in learning another language?

8 Responses to “Variations on Learning Italian”

  1. Dana Says:


    Try and I have found great Italian language partners from both of these sites, though, like you, there have been a few that lost interest after the first few times. I have some that I communicate with by e-mail, and others that I talk to weekly by Skype. I hope these suggestions help!

  2. Joe Says:


    Thank so much for mentioning those. I think that I saw something about Live Mocha (or something like it) in the NY Times not long ago. There are also some blogs that I have found interesting for language learning that I plan to write a post about in the not too distant future. I wonder if you’ve found some that you’d particularly recommend. Regarding your Skype conversations, did you find them through these websites. Was there any money involved or was it just trading training in the other person’s language?


  3. Mira Says:

    Yes, I have itchy feet for dancing, for new places, and to speak a language other than English most of the time! Perhaps there will be some possibilities to continue the Gruppo Italian Thursday afternoons when I’m gone. We’ll see if anything shapes up. What a nice group it was yesterday. It’s fun to read about the people you meet online and in person to practice Italian. You seem to have a talent for that!



  4. Joe Says:


    Ci Mancherai (I hope that’s correct for “We will miss you”). Have fun in Buenos Aires and let us know how it all is. I’m sure that you’ll have some good stories to tell.


  5. Dana Says:

    Hi Joe,

    Yes, I have Skype partners from both Livemocha and My Language Exchange. No money was involved on my part. That said, on My Language Exchange you cannot contact anyone directly unless you pay for a subscription, but it is free to list your profile and have others contact you. This is what I did, and 2 very good partners contacted me (You will want to log into the site daily to keep your profile close to the top of the profile searches). Livemocha has a chat room for the purpose of practicing, but I have never used it as my partners seem to prefer Skype (as I do). I have one other friend that I met in Sienna last year who isn’t on any of these programs. We email alot and talk by phone occasionally. All of these people are now online friends which I look forward to visiting when I come to Italy in the Fall.

    I am always looking for good blogs regarding Italian language, Italian culture and expats living in Italy. Besides yours, these are the ones I watch most often:

    I’m also watching the blogs you have on your blog side panel.

    Feel free to contact me if you would like more info on any of this. I always enjoy contact from people who love Italy as much as I do!

  6. Joe Says:


    This is really great. I will need to check out Livemocha and My language Exchange. I know some of the blogs that you mentioned. I used Transparent Language learning tools earlier in my study and have been getting the Italian Word of the Day for years now. I like their blog also. I know 2 Baci of course and found her July 22 post hilarious. The other 3 are new to me and I will check them out. I’d love to exchange emails with you and will email you separately.


  7. Dana Says:


    Glad you like my suggestions. Yes, I enjoy 2 Baci as well, and I agree that her July 22nd post was wonderful. Burnt by the Tuscan Sun has had some good posts regarding “real life” in Italy. They are usually witty and fun.

    I look forward to your e-mail!


  8. Joe Says:

    Thanks again. I’ll send an email soon. I just had some help from a friend of mine to make a minor modification to the look of the blog. I really have liked the theme but it bothered me that the date was displayed prominently and it really never displayed the title. I had to put the title into the body of the blog. So Spence rooted around in the code and figured out how to do it. It’s not a big deal but I like it better now.


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