Learning Italian and the power of listening

Author: Inês Carvalho

This person here has always been a grammar addict.

Pantheon (Rome)

Someone who has always wanted to know all grammar details when learning a language, and someone who was utterly convinced that her favourite way of learning a language involved quite a lot of rationalisation and methodical grammar study. This did not involve learning grammar per se, but learning and then trying to apply this new structure when speaking or writing. This was not a bad method, and the said person managed to learn quite a few languages following it. Of course, this person is me, and notice that I wrote the last sentences in the past.

I had always been suspicious about those methods that claim to make you learn a language without making you learn grammar (e.g. Duolingo and Memrise), because I have always felt that rationalisation only improves the learning process. While I haven’t totally discarded my previous theories and beliefs, I have recently started to think somewhat differently (though I’m still not a fan of either Memrise or Duolingo).

I  started learning Italian two years ago (a short course of about 20 hours), but I had never been really able to say more than a couple of sentences. However, it was my New Year’s decision to reach B1 level in Italian in 2017, and at the beginning of April I decided to spend Easter in Rome. So about ten days before travelling, I started to learn Italian. First, I used a YouTube channel that I found really useful (One World Italiano) and I must have carefully watched about 15 lessons before going to Italy. I took some notes, but not too many.

To my surprise, I could communicate in Italian from the beginning. Of course, with some Spanish words whenever I didn’t know how to say something in Italian, but I was really happy that I could have a conversation with elderly ladies on the bus stop! Check the video to see how I was speaking right after I came back.

When I got back, I decided that I would return to Italy for an extended period in August, and I continued watching videos on YouTube. This time I found Alberto from Learn Italian with Italiano Automatico. He emanates a very positive vibe, but at first I wasn’t quite buying into his theory that you can learn a language practically only by listening to the same text repeatedly, without studying any grammar. I had serious doubts about it, but I liked his videos, so I kept on watching and listening to them. I was so tired at the time, that I was too lazy for studying grammar at the end of a working day, but it was quite pleasant to listen/watch his videos at least 30 minutes every day, while cleaning, eating, or right before going to bed. I didn’t follow Alberto’s advice of listening to the same audio file several times, because I liked his videos so much, that I was curious to watch the next one. He talks about interesting and varied topics and, on top of that, he is a solar, positive and inspiring person. He practically never talks about grammar, but he does explain some typical Italian expressions (“porco cane”, “essere fuori come un balcone” or “oca giuliva” :-D).

At the end of May I found someone who I could practise Italian with (my dear Valentina!), and although I make a lot of mistakes and still have so much to learn, I was impressed that I could actually say a lot in Italian! I think that it’s quite interesting that, to some extent, I could  use verb tenses that I had never formally learnt. By listening to Alberto using them naturally in his videos, I was able to develop a feel for them.

In the meanwhile, I’ve started to learn grammar, although I don’t do any grammar exercises. I go to the website One World Italiano, and they have a lot of information on grammar. I copy the rules to a notebook, and sometimes I have a look at them, especially when I feel that I’m failing to correctly use a certain structure. Besides, now that I’m aware of grammar, I pay so much more attention to linguistic structures when someone is speaking Italian! It has improved the learning process for me.

To conclude, I had never thought that simply listening could have such an impact on fluency. Still, I think that learning some grammar can be quite useful for a lot of people. I think that a good amount of listening coupled with some grammar-awareness may be the ideal approach for me.

Here is my list of resources: (not so many!)

– One World Italiano: website and YouTube

Alberto Italiano Automatico (he also has a podcast!)

ItalyGuides.it on YouTube (since I’ll be travelling in Italy in the summer, I get to know more about what I’ll be visiting while improving my Italian at the same time. I found it a couple of hours ago, so I’m not sure how good the channel is linguisic purposes)

– A nice Italian with whom I can practise the language on a weekly basis (Valentinaaaa <3).

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