Resuscitating my Italian

How do you review a language that’s rusty? For me, the best way is to dive right back in, usually with reading or listening. I thought I’d write about how I’m going about doing this with Italian right now.

Italian is the weakest of the languages I’d say I “know” (in addition to French and Spanish). Because I already knew French and Spanish, reading Italian wasn’t too hard, so last spring, I decided to spend a little time on it. I read a lot and used Duolingo to learn basic vocabulary and grammar. After a couple of months of this, I was pretty comfortable understanding written and spoken Italian, so I took a break to focus on other things. In August, I spent a couple of weeks reading the first book of an Italian fantasy series called La ragazza drago. This was, again, followed by a bit of break, and then at the end of September I read an easy kids’ book on Cleopatra (I’m lucky to have family members who travel to Italy and bring me back books!).

Since then, I’ve really done nothing with Italian; my focus has mainly been on Spanish and Dutch. However, I would really like to keep Italian going– I definitely don’t want to lose it, and I would like to learn more vocabulary. Still, I’m happy with passive knowledge of Italian, and I don’t have too much of an interest in gaining speaking or writing skills.

My solution was to pick up the Easy Italian Reader from McGraw Hill. I’ve looked at this book so many times, but I always passed it up because I have real Italian novels I could read instead. Finally, though, I realized that a textbook would be helpful in patching up some of the holes in my Italian. This book contains short readings, ranging, it seems, from low to high-intermediate level. After each reading, the book defines difficult words and includes some exercises.

I really like the vocab sections– it’s nice sometimes to have a textbook do the legwork so you don’t have to keep looking up words in a dictionary. Even more helpful, much of the defined vocabulary includes words that don’t have easy Spanish/French cognates, so these are definitely my weak points. And finally, the vocab sections include a lot of everyday words that I can use right away.

So far, I’ve been skipping the exercises (mostly because I’m lazy, and they remind me of school). I don’t think they’ll help me much in reaching my goal, which is just to put aside a little time each day to read Italian.

I don’t know how long I’ll be sticking to this, but it’s nice to have an enjoyable way to keep my Italian going without a lot of effort or time (I’m probably putting 15 minutes in each day). Graded readers are a lot more helpful than I thought they would be, so this is a pleasant surprise and a fun way to study!

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4 thoughts on “Resuscitating my Italian

  1. I have checked the first pages of that Easy Italian Reader and if you can read in French and Spanish you should already know more than 50% of the vocabulary help provided by the book. I think it is too easy and you should be bolder. Reading Italian newspapers shouldn’t be too hard for you. By the way, have you tried Portuguese? I haven’t read statistics about it but I feel Spanish people can understand more than 90% of a newspaper without studying it or just checking the meaning of a few words. The Spanish newspaper El Pais has a Brazilian version and you can find in its web lots of bilingual texts to check the differences. You can also find many texts (mainly about geopolitics and economy) translated into many other languages in http://www.project-syndicate.org/

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    1. I can read newspapers in Italian, and I do, but I wanted to work through a textbook. The first few pages are easy, but it does pick up. Later chapters cover Italian history and other subjects. I also wanted to use it to memorize new vocabulary because, while I’m good at recognizing words, I sometimes can’t think of them off the top of my head.

      It’s funny you mention Portuguese because I actually really like it! I’m interested in Brazil, and I’ve looked at the El País Brazilian edition a lot, and yes, I definitely understand written Portuguese. However, Spanish is very important to me and I don’t feel like it’s strong enough yet to bring in something so close– I really don’t want to mix up words and such, because I live in a place where Spanish knowledge is useful. So, I think I will definitely study Portuguese one day, but maybe after a couple more unrelated languages 🙂

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      1. I studied Italian for one year in the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, a public institution paid by the Spanish government (I don’t know right now the price but I think you pay around 100 euros for one year. It is a kind of blessing for people who want to learn languages. The competition to work as a teacher in that institution is very hard and the teaching is, in general, very good) but I left because it was too easy. Supposedly you need 5 years till you are proficient but for Spanish people that’s true only for English or German (only in big cities you can learn there other languges), not Italian. Spanish and Portuguese similarities are an advantage but it may also be a problem. Anyway, if you know a couple of “Latin” languages (Spanish-Italian, French-Portuguese…) I guess you can already read in every language derived from Latin (well… maybe Romanian is still difficult) and this puts you in contact with 600? 800? million people. Not bad, isn’t it?

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