I’m learning Italian for Actual Legit Reasons, and it’s somehow turning out to be my favourite way of relaxing.
I took it up shortly after the referendum in which the UK (lbr, England and Wales) decided to hack through our moorings to the continent and drift away, flinging human rights legislation into the sea as we go. God knows we’ve all needed some stress relief since.
Back then, Italian was almost completely alien to me, with the exception of obvious words the meaning of which have bled into British culture already, such as dolce or amore. I had nothing.
So I was happily surprised to find out within days that, damn, Italian makes a whole lot of sense. As a native English speaker, my mother tongue is made of a whole lot of Latin by way of Norman French—so in retrospect of course beginning to learn Italian was always going to feel like meeting a stranger you feel like you’ve known forever. In short, it’s delightful.
Because I’m skint, instead of hiring a tutor, I’m using a handful of tools on or from the internet to help me learn. Three cheers for the internet!
If you’re interested in languages and you haven’t yet come across Duolingo, you’ll find it a revelation. Duolingo is a completely free language-learning website (and app) offering a huge number of language courses primarily geared towards English speakers.
Unlike your language classes at school, Duolingo offers no rote memorisation or hours of revision. Language is thrown at you in the short tutorials that make up each ‘skill’, or module, and you either remember it or you don’t. Sounds intimidating, but the site’s bright, simple design and friendly voice, as well as the gamification aspects such as the XP you earn, keep it fun.
Any serious language-learner I’ve heard on the subject says that you can’t learn a language from Duolingo alone. However it can be a good tool in your belt to keep up with what you’ve learned or introduce you to new vocab.
Unlike Duolingo, Anki hasn’t enjoyed widespread fame, despite being arguably one of the most powerful, as well as beloved of those language and medical students in the know.
Anki is a flashcard software, designed to emulate a paper flashcard experience but with the benefit of an algorithm to make sure you’re revising the cards you need to be revising.
Hopelessly intimidating at first glance, Anki comes with documentation as long as your arm that you really ought to read at least a little bit of before you begin. Even now, I’m not sure I’m using it to its fullest potential. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s both flexible and powerful.
Of all the tools here, Anki is the one I use every day, and which makes up the backbone of my learning.
NB, though—this is down to the Android app.
Anki is available in app form for both iOS and Android—however, the iOS app, AnkiMobile, is created and maintained by Anki, and costs £18.99. The Android app, AnkiDroid, on the other hand is developed by a third party volunteer group, and is free. I use AnkiDroid for the vast majority of my Anki studying.
WordReference is an online English to French, German, Italian and Spanish dictionary. It’s a fathomless well of information that I use as my primary tool for creating my Anki cards. Vocab, it’s got it in spades. Verb conjugations? All there, with irregular forms and exceptions highlighted. An invaluable resource.
30 Minute Italian
Heaven knows I love a podcast, so as soon as I started learning Italian I went on the hunt for something I could put in my ears. I quickly found 30 Minute Italian by Cher Hale, a podcast designed to help teach conversational Italian.
While Cher Hale is an American with no Italian heritage, she’s pretty much a language genius, and has spent plenty of time in Italy speaking Italian with Italians, not to mention reading on linguistics and language-learning theory.
Plus: she’s so damn cute. Cher is the brightest, perkiest teacher I’ve ever known, and listening to her never fails to make me smile.
Italian For My Girlfriend
It was Cher Hale of 30 Minute Italian who turned me onto this adorable Tumblr. Italian illustrator Rosangela wanted to help her girlfriend Denise learn Italian. So every week or so, Rosangela posts a scan of a doodle of an Italian word she made for Denise. That’s it!
Of course you can’t learn Italian from this Tumblr alone, but it’s a cute, fun little thing that I enjoy having in my life, and I’ve gathered interesting vocab from browsing the archives.