General Question

elchoopanebre's avatar

What is the best way to learn a language?

Asked by elchoopanebre (3074points) July 16th, 2008

I am currently taking Italian and am struggling through it. I just don’t feel like I’m getting hte language. Mainly, I don’t like the way the class is taught; there isn’t much speaking required on the students’ part, we just sit there and listen to the professor (who mostly lectures in English!).

Can anyone who has a success story in going from not knowing a language at all to becoming semi/fully fluent give me advice?

I’ve been thinking of getting some software to supplement my learning and I’m trying to work out a study abroad in Italy next summer but I’m nervous about trying to learn things in Italian if I don’t know how to speak it very well yet at all. I do well on the tests in the class but it’s mainly because I can memorize all the charts.

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16 Answers

ariwriter's avatar

The only way you will learn anything is practice, practice, practice. You didn’t ride a bike without falling the first time you saddled. You didn’t tie your shoelaces until many trips. And so forth.

For foreign language, listen to what your professor suggests. He/she is a professor for a reason, so use that expertise for a reason. Ask him/her to have lunch with you and ask for personalized advice in a non-classroom setting. Use craigslist and other social networking sites to meet your peers who want to practice speaking Italian together. Maybe there are some Sons of Italy lodges in your town that have spaghetti dinners and would be very willing to mentor you. Immerse yourself. Don’t give up. Practice!

wildflower's avatar

Immerse yourself in it. Take a trip to Italy – or at least watch Italian movies, listen to Italian music, before you know it, you start picking up more and more.

I learned both Danish and English in school, taught by Faroese teachers and although I had a very good grasp on both languages, it wasn’t until I lived in Denmark and Ireland that I can say I became truly fluent.

2late2be's avatar

like me! Talking with English speakers have helped me a lot more than read…

Wine3213's avatar

As states already, you should try to be around speakers of the language you want to learn to speak. I took Japanese classes, but didn’t really get the language until I went there and interacted with the people.

nina's avatar

I have a proven method of starting to learn a language:
Get a book that would have:
Texts, grammar in the texts, and the words in the texts explained, some exercises to help you master the grammar and the words, and a cd with a native speaker reading the texts.

After you have understood the grammar and learned the words – learn the texts BY HEART.
After you have done at least 10 texts, you will feel some language structures come alive in you.
After that – go out and practice.

BUONA FORTUNA!!! A rividerci!

sarahsugs's avatar

How about talking to your professor and letting him/her know that you feel you need more practice in CONVERSATIONAL Italian, as you will be studying abroad soon and need to be able to be functionally fluent. Ask the professor if s/he would be willing to incorporate more opportunities for conversation during class, and if that is not possible, ask for recommendations on campus (I assume you are part of a university) for where you could get such experience. Maybe there is an Italian club, etc.

Also, consider renting a bunch of movies in Italian with English subtitles. I have found (for Spanish in my case) that if you have a working knowledge of grammar and basic conjugations, the combination of movie dialogue plus subtitles can be very educational. Plus it’s entertaining!

Finally, I’m sure that your learning curve will be at it’s steepest when you are actually in Italy. Everything you do up until then is preparing the canvas (or whatever metaphor would better suit this linguistic situation).

gailcalled's avatar

@elchoop: I would say that the worst way in which to learn Italian is to have a teacher lecture to you in English. If this is a college-level course, you might want to consider discussing this with the chairperson of the Italian or foreign language department.

It is imperative that your teacher be a native speaker and that s/he use only that language; one starts by speaking very slowly and in very simple sentences. Being a good language teacher requires a huge amount of body language and acting skills. This technique was perfected at Dartmouth College decades ago. The French teacher used to sweep into the class wearing his Three Musketeers outfit and brandishing a rapier.

(And there should be language labs where you can listen and speak.

I had five years of French in high school, all native speakers, so I got the grammar and the skeleton. Then I spent the summer in France with native speakers and after an embarrassing first week, suddenly got it. And I’ve had it ever since.

gailcalled's avatar

The genius at Dartmouth was Professor John Rassias. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~rassias/john_rassias/about.html

“The Rassias Method is a way to teach vocabulary in a different language through the use of physical demonstrations. It eliminates the need to translate a new word into its equivalent word in the students’ native tongue. This method uses humor and playfulness to help put students at ease and make them more comfortable with speaking. The goal is to accelerate the students’ ability to communicate orally in a new language.

“Prof. Rassias is the best known foreign language teaching professional in the world today. His dramatic, systematic, and communicative approach to language teaching has provided us with the model upon which the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at ******** University has based its ..... Program.”

gailcalled's avatar

And lastly, elchoop, are you trapped in this terrible course? You’re being cheated. Many tenured professors are dreadful teachers and simply slop along.

elchoopanebre's avatar

Thank you everyone, for your answers.

The class I am in is a summer school Italian 1001. I am a student at a university. I’m not really trapped in the class per se- there is only the remainder of this week and next week left in the class so I see no need in dropping out now. Plus summer school isn’t cheap and is not covered by my scholarship!

@Gailcalled- I see what you mean about using physical demonstrations to teach.

I am taking this summer school course to get me on track to do a study abroad program.

For the fall semester, however, I will have a different professor. I’ve sat in on her class before and she spoke only in Italian and placed a strong emphasis on communication. So, I guess I will be in much better shape come fall.

I think I’ll be fine. I feel encouraged that I just need to stick with it and going to Italy will seal the deal.

gailcalled's avatar

@Elchoop; then just memorize the vocabulary and the grammar and the idioms for now. You will need them, regardless of the teacher. Watch some Italian films, and peek at the subtitles only when necessary. Watch each movie more than once.

When I was first in France, I had the good fortune to live with a family who had an 8 and a 10 year old. I spent a lot of time talking to them. They spoke slowly, correctly and with the proper accent (and I didn’t mind being corrected by them. I was 18).

jacksonRice's avatar

rosetta’s stone is helpful, but may not be financially worth it, especially if you’re taking a class already….

ultimately, of course, the only way to learn a language is to exclusively speak that language.

gailcalled's avatar

Memorize all the basics, then go to Tuscany and fall in love with una bella ragazza. That is a huge incentive to learn a new language.

pathfinder's avatar

Who is latinian language born that one say that is easy to learn english.I don t know haw does it works from the another end.This is question of that haw is the phrase build up becouse if has been learn some foreign language it seem completly diffrend in each from.I know some bits in italyan.What I saying is that when some one actualy want to speak in foreign language he or she has to thing diffrently.I mean forget rules what are using in oun language.Yes,I recomend you the same,visite italy as many times as you can.Italyan does t speak in english much.

elchoopanebre's avatar

Sorry, @Gailcalled but I’m already in love with an Irish American girl…

She knows German very well and that’s one of the main reasons I’m motivated to learn another language because she keeps telling me the score is 1–0 her in the language game. :-)

jamjar's avatar

I would also say Rosetta Stone is a good choice to learn a new language. I found the programme really helpful when I was learning to speak German. Although as someone else pointed out, it can be pricey, but ultimately it was worth it….‘Rosetta Stone’

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