Best way to pick up conversational Italian?

Planning a trip to Italy in about 8 months (late May). Know nothing about foreign languages (I took Latin in school but that was focused on reading, not conversation. I think exclusively in English and have little confidence in my ability to adapt to a foreign language, but we would like to try picking up as much Italian as possible before the trip.

My spouse got a package of immersion-type CDs off the Internet. Is that likely to be useful? What other things should we try?

Best way would be to move to Italy now, for six months, and not use any English. That would put you in the best possible position to be conversational prior to your vacation next May.

Otherwise, you are at best going to learn a handful of phrases, such as: hello, goodbye, good morning, bathroom?, one beer please, airport?, thank you, yes, no, etc.

I think the CDs/tapes (“Pimsleur Italian” and similar) are quite reasonable, provided that you keep up the recommended schedule, and of course move on to more advanced media after you complete the basic lessons— do not slack off.

Watch Italian movies with English subtitles.

I hope you mean without the subtitles.

I’m a huge fan of foreign movies, probably watched dozens of Chinese language movies with English subtitles. When you read the subtitles you are not paying attention to the original language.

That depends on the “you”. I generally find it more useful to have the subtitles in the same language as the movie, but that’s once my knowledge of the language has advanced enough to actually understand the subtitles in that language. If I’m still at the ultra-beginner stage, I am doing two things while watching in whatever-with-subtitles-I-understand: pick up some words (I don’t try to understand all the spoken dialogue) and get my ears used to the sounds of the language.

I was going to suggest an Italian lover but I see you are married. :smiley:

If you are somebody who learns by hearing, yes, and even if you aren’t, very useful in learning the cadence and sound. If (like me) you are a visual learner who needs to see it and understand it, a basic grammar book is useful (ie how the language is “put together”.)
Basic conversational classes are good, you aren’t just trying to repeat what’s on tapes, you get the teacher to correct where you are going wrong. If they have Dante Alighieri Society where you live, they do classes. Or a local night-school. Or find an Italian person to speak to. I regularly see ads from tourists offering some language tuition in exchange for english tuition.

Agreed, the OP is better served by watching one of his favorite movies. One that he has seen many times and that already has very familiar dialogue. He’ll watch the scene, know what the characters are saying in spite of the language barrier and make the learning connections that will enable him to pick up the language.

I found Duolingo fun for picking up vocab and pronunciation. There’s lots of language learning apps nowadays. Check your local library to see what they have.

Listening to the news in your target language can be helpful too, because you probably half-know what they’re likely to be discussing. (and you’d pick up a bit of the latest vocabulary)

Special foods don’t really help you speak Italian, but for the way they talk in some places, having a few too many cups of espresso might be beneficial. :slight_smile:

About which are the best methods and styles of learning: You’re likely strongest in one or two of the usual methods, and you’ll naturally gravitate to those, but as time allows, experience all the methods you can. Everything contributes. The fact that one style makes you feel successful while trying to learn from it, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll feel equally successful applying it in Italy.

I’ve been studying Italian on my own for about 5 years, we’ve been to Italy 10 times, and I still don’t feel my conversational Italian is all that great. Maybe I really suck at languages, but dammit if I’m going to stop trying.

I started with the Michel Thomas method. His method will have you speaking simple sentences almost immediately, and you’ll be progressively making more complex sentences in no time. This method gave me the ability to feel comfortable speaking in Italian, but I didn’t feel like it helped my understanding of the spoken language. Use it in conjunction with other methods.

I also use duolingo. Which again, provides a nice progression of learning. However, if you’re going to use it to try understanding Italians in Italy, it won’t work. For me, it reinforces what I’ve learned with Michel Thomas, and it’s also nice for learning the written language.

Italians speak very quickly. You’ll be lucky to pick up a couple words a sentence, and by the time you’ve maybe figured out what they said they’ll be 3 sentences ahead.

I use simple Italian readers that I bought on amazon. I also have a lesson book that has simple stories with questions that I read and reread. I’ve also bought juvenile fiction books in italy(Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes)that because I’ve already read the books in English, help me understand words that I might not have known.

I also watch Italian movies and tv. If you have Netflix, watch Suburra, it amazing.

Eight months is a nice amount of time to get comfortable with speaking the language to whatever level you get to. It will help when asking simple questions, it will make you feel like you’ve made an effort to respect their language and country. It’s worth it.

Keep in mind however, everyone speaks English. If you’re going to be in Rome, or Venice or any popular tourists spots, don’t expect to have to use what you’ve learned. I mean, talk in Italian every chance you get, but they’ll respond in English. Unless they assume you’re Italian and answer back so fast your head spins and you’re reduced to asking them to say that again in English…haha.

I found our last trip to be the most successful one for me with regards to understanding the language. Mostly I just went with it. I spoke only in Italian, I didn’t try to understand everything that they said, just the gist of it, and it helped tremendously. I’d ask for directions, for example, and they’d say something like, left, under, tunnel, and I knew what they were telling me. We stayed in Airbnb’s and all the hosts spoke only Italian, which was amazing, I love that, and I understood all of their instructions.

One night in Salerno we found this restaurant down this alley and the waiter didn’t speak a single word of English, nor did they have a menu, so we simply let him pick our meal with a few instructions, from the sea, from the land, antipasti, primi, secondi, dolce. It was so much fun, and the food was amazing!

Good luck! I’d love to know how you make out with it.

Oh! One more thing. I also listen to italian radio. They don’t speak as quickly as conversational Italian, but fast enough that once you’ve progressed a bit in your learning, you’ll go from picking up words here and there to understanding sentences. I’m really good at understanding traffic reports now.:smiley:

Also listening to songs, and looking up lyrics until you know exactly what they are saying.

You mean in a thread about what the best way to learn a language is, no one has recommended the brand of teaching program that names itself after the word meaning: “to speaking incomprehensibly or in an impossible to understand manner”?! No Babble’ers? So those commercials lied to me?? :frowning:

The CD will be very useful as it will help you to know a number of Italian vocabularies. Then try to think in Italian also. You can start by formulating simple questions to italian language. Hope helps.


Also, I would advice you take some short Italian language lessons online just to be safe

Skyrim in Italian? But I guess you need to be well into “beginner” level of speaking before this kind of method (like watching movies) can help.

Word of caution here - this is very location specific. in the major tourist centres (Florence, Rome, etc), then sure. In restaurants and hotels at least. But stray anywhere off the main drag, and the knowledge of English shrinks dramatically.

In the South, it’s still a rarity, even in restaurants.

I would think about what your interactions with locals are likely to be, and focus your learning on those areas (eg booking restaurant tables, foods, asking for directions, shopping for clothes etc).