Suppose you decide to train to run a marathon for the first time.
Getting to the finish line is going to require a massive physical and mental effort on the day, but more importantly, weeks or months of careful preparation.
Surely, advice from an experienced marathon runner would be helpful as you train. You’ll want tips on getting the best gear, how to optimize the frequency and distance of your training runs, how to get in the right mental state, and so on.
But you’ll also benefit from knowing what not to do: for example, you’ll want to know how to avoid injury early on in your training. There are surely plenty of errors that a more experienced companion could help you avoid making.
As with long-distance running, so with learning Italian, which can also be an arduous process fraught with the risk of demotivation and failure.
Just as running 26 miles and 385 yards might seem like an impossible task when you first start training, so can the idea that one day you’ll be able to speak and understanding Italian fluently.
But the most improbable people manage to stagger across the finish lines of marathons.
And so too could you reach your language-learning goal, as long as you avoid these beginner’s mistakes:
- Don’t start learning Italian on a passing whim. Just as you might run a marathon to raise money for a favorite charity or cause, you should have a sound motivation for wanting to learn Italian. Or you’ll risk giving up early on.
- Don’t expect this to be easy. Learning to speak, understand, read and write Italian, from scratch, will be tough. “No pain, no gain.” It’s true for running, it’s true for language learning.
- Don’t be impatient. If you’re into short-term goals, learning a foreign language is not for you. Don’t think weeks or months, think years or decades. Really.
- Don’t believe the sales literature. No matter what guarantees are offered, no matter how glossy the brochures, charging that expensive course to your credit card doesn’t mean that the learning will be any faster or easier.
- Don’t confuse “native-speaker” and “teacher”. Just because someone is Italian and can speak and understand the language, doesn’t mean that they can teach you to do the same. Teaching’s not rocket science, but it takes knowledge and experience.
- Don’t expect translations into English. Signing up for a course in Italy, or taught in Italian, then expecting translations into English would be missing the point, which is for you to get used to dealing with the difficulties inherent in understanding and expressing yourself in Italian. Yes, we know it would be easier for you if we explained everything in your language. You’d also make less progress over all.
- Don’t assume that Italian works in the same way as your language. There might be similarities, but there are sure to be plenty of differences too. It’s likely you’ll feel lost at times. Get over it.
- Above all, don’t focus only on grammar. Tenses and stuff are what you remember most about foreign languages from school, but ignoring vocabulary, pronunciation, speaking, listening, reading and writing is the sure-fire way to fail to learn Italian.
Agree? Disagree? Got any more “don’t dos” to add to the list?
It would be great to read your ideas! Comment on this article.
P.S. Coming soon the promised “Try a Skype Italian lesson for free” offer (new students only, sorry.) Watch out for details between now and New Year. Spaces will be strictly limited. First come, first served…
P.P.S. John and Ruth have been nagging about the forums, which they miss since I deleted them due to general lack of interest. Does anyone else think it’s a good idea to have a forum or forums again? If so, please say so by commenting on this article.