So you want to travel to Italy to improve your Italian? You’re going to have fun! I spent three weeks in Italy this August and I went from Venice to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. I saw a handful of wonderful cities and came back three kilos heavier and with a big smile on my face 🙂
In April I decided to start learning Italian for real (see how) and I travelled to Rome for five days. I was so motivated with Italian (and loved Rome so much), that I decided to return to Italy in August. Before my second departure (after learning Italian for four months) I had attained an intermediate level of proficiency (check here). It was enough to get along in Italy, but how much could I improve it?
Well, actually I think I improved quite a bit, but I was also improving a lot each month only by listening to YouTube videos and meeting up with my Italian friend. In Italy I got exposed to a lot of other languages because I was sleeping at hostels (which was also quite cool, my French and even my English benefitted from that… I use English a lot, but seldom with natives). However cool it was, it shifted my focus a bit from Italian.
In addition, in the first cities I visited, I barely met any Italians apart from the shop assistants or waiters. While this would provide an exciting opportunity for practising Italian if I was a beginner, at my current level it’s not really challenging or motivating anymore to simply order some pizza. In fact, in some of the days I was travelling, I actually had less contact with Italian than when I was listening to YouTube videos at home. Fortunately, there were also days when I used Italian a lot.
Therefore, I’d like to give some advice if you want to travel for improving a language:
- Solo-travelling is the best option, unless your travel buddies also have the same language goals as you. Imagine meeting some cool Italians and you want to hang out with them but then you feel bad for your friend who doesn’t speak Italian and switch to English. Or that you come off as totally impolite to your friend by not switching to English. Solo-travelling probably also makes you more open to meet new people.
2. Hostels are the best place to easily meet cool people when you’re travelling solo (especially if you’re young), and they’re an awesome place if you want to practise languages in general. However, from my experience, hostels (and hotels) aren’t that good when you want to meet natives. I met very few Italians at hostels, the only exception being Peschiera del Garda (I only met one).
3. AirBnB may provide a better experience for avid language learners than hostels. Though I didn’t book anything on AirBnB, I spent three nights at a small guesthouse in Sorrento, hosted by a lovely Italian family. That’s when it occurred to me that booking rooms in guesthouses and private houses (instead of hostels) would have been much better for my Italian. This family in Sorrento was really awesome, they took me to a lot of places, and the fact that I spoke Italian made my experience so much better there. While they would only communicate basic things to other non-Italian speaking tourists (“what time should I pick you up?”), I was able to get to know them a bit and socialize with them. The most amazing thing was that the host’s dad was a tour guide and he took me on a tour to Capri for free just because we talked in Italian quite a bit and he loved Portugal (he is very religious and wanted to visit the Fátima sanctuary in Portugal). How cool is that??
4. You’re going to find (or not find) Italians in different places depending on when you decide to go to Italy. Let me explain! This time I had quite a different experience from when I travelled to Rome in April, since it was so easy to meet Italians then. They were everywhere. A completely different experience from my experience in August. This time, at some point I just asked someone: “where the hell are all the Italians?”, they answered “They’re on holidays, they’re away, most of them went to the coast. But after mid-August some should already start coming back to their cities”. I travelled mostly to the big famous cities (Venice, Florence etc.) and therefore I met mostly other tourists in these places. In other cases, I travelled to less touristic places (e.g. Mantova), where there were neither tourists nor locals. However, when I went to the beautiful Amalfi Coast I saw more Italians there. I even hung out a bit with a group at the beach. Conclusion: August is not the best month to get to travel to Italy if your goal is to improve your Italian. Maybe if you travel to the coast, but I can’t attest to that since I didn’t do it.
5. CouchSurfing could have been a wonderful option, and I actually looked for it at the beginning, but it was not very easy. As seen in the previous point, Italians were not in the places I wanted to visit, so of course they couldn’t host me. I met other girls who tried to couch-surf and they had no luck either. It could have worked well in another month of the year, but not August. Still, I tried to use the option “hangout” to meet other people, but it never worked, except in Bologna, where we (me and two other Italian learners) found an Italian guy, and we were hanging out the whole day. It was a lot of fun and I was speaking Italian for hours!
6. Some Facebook groups might also be good to meet locals. I was in an Italian group of Italian women solo-travellers and I ended up meeting one of them in Venice. It was such a cool afternoon! She took me to an incredible library and I learnt so much from her! I thought I’d be as lucky with meeting other people from the group in other cities, but it didn’t happen at all.
7. If you have Italian friends, visit them. I have a friend from Rome and I was so happy to meet him after three years! It was also the first time we spoke Italian, and it was interesting to listen to him speaking his own language. We usually speak English/ Spanish/ Swedish/ Portuguese with each other. This time I tried to stick to Italian, no matter what language Francesco was speaking (he usually changes to another language after about 40 seconds: “Do you know movie X? Har du tittat på filmen? Mi piace tanto! Es la major película de siempre. O que você acha?”).
8. Finally, don’t forget to buy some books before you go. Cheap second-hand literature is my favourite option, but this time I also fell in love with the language books and grammars at Feltrinelli! There was such a variety of types of books and languages in the language department of one of Feltrinelli libraries in Rome, that I felt like I was in paradise. I bought four books, would have brought more had I had more room for them. Still, I had to throw some clothes away to make room just for these four… (I made super-short reviews of these books on Instagram).
Good luck for improving your Italian in Italy! If it doesn’t work, you still have pizza and ice cream so it’s still worth it and you definitely won’t regret it 🙂
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