Yesterday’s article covered why you might feel anxious when speaking Italian.
So today, let’s take a look at a few techniques which could help you feel more confident.
Obviously, if you go into any conversation expecting to be as able as you would be when speaking your own language, you’re likely to be disappointed.
Accept that you’re not going to understand everything that’s said.
And that expressing yourself in Italian will be harder and more limiting than in your mother tongue.
Try to consciously take a different approach to a conversation in Italian than to one in your mother-tongue. For example…
I’m one of life’s talkers. Some might say I like to rant…
But that’s a lot harder to do in Italian.
One easy way to handle conversations in a foreign language, if you know that you’re not going to be able to ‘be yourself’, is to to listen more.
Start conversations by asking open questions (questions which don’t have a yes/no answer): ‘What do you like/dislike about your job? ‘What’s your home town like?’
Then encourage other people to do more of the talking with comments like: “That’s really interesting”, “Why is that, do you think?”, or “Tell me more about that…”
The more they talk, the less you have to.
And everyone loves a good listener!
Keep it short and simple
Conversations work best when participants take turns to speak.
If you’re struggling to conjugate something complicated, it’s possible you might hold things up and thus begin to try people’s patience.
One solution is to ‘break up’ what you want to say into smaller, more manageable chunks.
For instance, instead of:
“One of the main reasons I started to study Italian was the fact that I’ve been an opera fan for decades”
you might try:
“I like opera.”
“I’m studying Italian”
“To understand operas”.
If you listen carefully to conversations in your own language, you’ll find they tend to be rather like that anyway.
People don’t always speak in perfectly articulated sentences, so why complicate things by trying to?
Smile and nod
But the main problem with speaking Italian is not the speaking.
Learn to ask “Excuse me, can you tell me the way to the station?” and you’ll then be faced with the problem of understanding the reply.
Which can be a hell of a lot harder.
What the other person says is completely out of your power to control.
Have you noticed that some Italians are easier to understand than others?
We often assume that the problem is accent, or dialect, but in reality it’s more to do with the speaker’s attitude.
There’s a knack to talking to someone who’s using a foreign language.
And if your interlocutor hasn’t had much experience talking to foreigners, they probably don’t have it.
With the best will in the world, they may complicate things by using idiomatic expressions, or by trying to help you with long explanations, which often just make things worse.
Things can quickly get out of hand…
The thing to remember though, is that much of what is said is not likely to be of any real importance.
In conversations, people say all sorts of nonsense.
So if you just smile and nod encouragingly, you’ll probably be fine.
(Anything that’s really important will probably be repeated anyway.)
Try this ‘smile and nod’ technique: you’ll be surprised how effective it can be!
Practice makes perfect
In the end, making conversation is something that you learn to do in your own language only after many years of practice.
So, why would speaking Italian be different?
You’ve got to put in the hours. Start at the bottom, then work your way up.
But don’t worry!
The more practice you get, the easier it will become.
You need to give it time.
P.S. Watch out for the launch of our new online Italian conversation groups. Enrollments open on Monday. More details tomorrow.