Learning a Language Through Experiences Abroad in Italy

There is obviously no one correct way to learn a language. Some people love the traditional atmosphere of classroom-based learning, while some prefer to teach themselves, and the proliferation of apps and digital teaching software has opened up a whole new world of possibilities. However, while the methods may differ, there is no better way to accelerate the process of learning a foreign language than by immersing yourself in it, by living abroad, experiencing life in another culture, and encountering the language on a day-to-day basis.

Learning Italian in Italy is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a language student. Italy is a wonderful country, with an incredibly rich history, fascinating culture, and some incredible towns and cities to explore, as well as gorgeous landscapes, friendly and welcoming people, and some of the best food in the world. What’s not to love? 

Many people fall in love with Italy at first sight, whether that’s on a hiking trip in the Dolomites, a historical tour of Rome, or on one of the all-inclusive cruises to Italy that visit the stunning coastline of this fascinating country. Whatever the spark or the catalyst for your interest in the country and its language, learning Italian through experiences in Italy is a fantastic idea, one of the most effective ways to get to grips with the language, and something you will treasure forever.

To help you on your path to Italian fluency, we thought we’d take a look at some of the best pieces of advice we’ve seen for learning a language abroad, and immersing yourself in a foreign culture. Read on for a few tips on how to get the best out of your Italian experiences.

Make friends

You’ll obviously need to know a few basic words and phrases to begin with, but a good social circle of native Italian speakers is by far and away the best way to get comfortable and confident in your new language. One of the most important things about learning a new language is developing confidence, and this is where immersion, and friendly faces (and ears!) really come up trumps. Relaxed chats over dinner, sharing likes and dislikes, and just generally being around casual conversation helps your ears adjust to the ebb and flow of the language, learn colloquialisms and local phrases, and build your confidence.

If you have the chance, living with native speakers is an even better option. You’ll be exposed to Italian on a daily basis, and you’ll encounter some of the most important day-to-day vocabulary that you might not otherwise discover. Trust us, knowing what to say when the kitchen floods, or you’ve run out of something urgent will be a lifesaver at some point! Living with locals who don’t speak English might seem daunting at first, but being forced to use your Italian skills to communicate regularly will give a massive boost to your efforts to assimilate.

Explore the culture

One of the best things about learning a language abroad, and in its country of origin, is the chance to explore the rich culture of a country, and get a greater understanding of what lies underneath the words and phrases you are learning. When it comes to Italy, with its incredible history going back to the Roman Empire, the Etruscans, and beyond, this advantage is even more pronounced. Italian culture is world-famous, and the opportunity to visit places like Venice and Rome, explore ancient ruins, historic palazzos and remarkable galleries and museums is too good to pass up.

More than just broadening your cultural horizons, however, immersing yourself in the culture and history of a country can have a really positive impact on your attempts to learn the language. Being a part of the social and cultural make-up of a country gives you a real understanding of how people think, feel and interact with each other, and adds context to your conversations. Being a part of social and cultural life will help you understand local phrases and slang, as well as the way people express themselves. 

Read the news…

…and watch TV, go to the cinema, browse Italian websites, and so on. For starters, a knowledge of current affairs gives you a few things to talk about with any new friends you’ve made, or your housemates, colleagues or host family. Newspapers tend to be written in fairly simple language, and are a great way to get a daily dose of Italian to keep your comprehension ticking over. Watching the news, and Italian TV in general, is another way to train your ear and help you pick up words and phrases.

Even in your leisure time there are things you can do. Head to the movies, and discover the amazing Italian cinema industry. Watch some Italian TV dramas, or even just put Italian subtitles on your favourite Netflix programs. Every little thing you do will have an incremental effect, and can pay off big in the long run. 

Avoid the expat trap

Living abroad can be daunting, and there will be times when things get tough and you get lonely. But don’t be tempted to fall into the classic expat’s trap of hanging out with your fellow countrymen abroad. It is obviously an understandable urge to spend time with people who speak your language and pick up on your cultural touchpoints, but it is a slippery slope, and just hanging out with English speakers will slow down your Italian progress enormously. Plus you’ll miss out on plenty of the reasons and experiences you travelled to Italy for in the first place!

Equally, be firm in resisting requests from Italians to practice their English with you. English is a hugely valuable skill, and many of your new friends will love the opportunity to hone their English skills. While this is obviously great, do try and keep your replies coming in Italian. A linguistic exchange is excellent, but getting lazy and just speaking English ‘to help out’ is a missed opportunity.

Say ‘yes’

Living and learning a language abroad is all about new experiences, and embracing the unexpected. Part of this is having an open mind, and saying ‘yes’ to as many new opportunities, interesting experiences and exciting and unusual offers as you can. Don’t be afraid to explore new hobbies, go to new places or just to end up in situations that you might not have experienced before.

So when your new friends invite you to their daughter’s christening, say ‘yes’! Your colleagues ask you if you’d like to join them at karaoke after work? Of course! Taking advantage of new experiences and trying new things is a huge part of living abroad, and exploring new situations can be a wonderful way of building vocabulary and developing your confidence in your new language.

Don’t worry

Immersing yourself in a new language can be tough, and there will be plenty of times when yesterday’s fluency turns to an inability to conjugate the simplest of verbs today. Whatever you do, and whatever happens, don’t worry.

A little awkwardness when you are learning a new language is completely natural. Mistakes happen, and you’ll need to be prepared for the occasional spot of confusion or miscomprehension. Asking someone for directions to the exhibition (mostra) can easily become a monster (mostro) mistake…but don’t worry. The best way to deal with mistakes and misunderstandings is to embrace them, and learn from them.

Similarly, don’t panic if things take a little time to get going. Learning a new language, even when immersed in it, is a long slow process, and you mustn’t get downhearted if progress feels slow. When you are speaking a language day-in and day-out, it can be immensely frustrating not to by fluent, or to be able to express yourself properly, and you’ll find yourself quickly underestimating your progress. It can be more difficult than traditional learning structures, as people won’t necessarily speak slowly and clearly, or avoid complicated sentences or slang. But it is always important to remember how far you’ve come, and to keep thinking about all the great work you’ve done.

Learning Italian through experiences abroad in Italy is an immensely rewarding thing to do, and one of the best and fastest ways to become fluent in the language. Italy as a country is one of the most beautiful, fascinating and culturally rewarding places in the world, and learning Italian while surrounded by the gorgeous scenery, rich history and wonderful culture of Italy is an absolute treat. Immersing yourself in a language, and moving to a new country can be daunting, and at times a little overwhelming, but the benefits are extraordinary. Not only will you get a far greater grasp of the language, but you’ll develop a fuller, deeper appreciation for the country, its people, and its culture as well.