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When you decided to learn Italian, you knew you would have to spend time learning vocabulary and grammar.
Like me, I bet you even bought some Post-It notes and labeled everything in your house with the Italian word.
What you probably didn’t realize was that learning a language is hard, not just because of the grammar and the vocabulary, but for a blizzard of other reasons, like learning how to manage your limited time or the fear you have of looking stupid.
Learning a language is challenging because you hit the edges of yourself and despite what you’ve thought, they aren’t set in stone.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, it’s likely you’ve hit up against one of your edges and aren’t sure what to do next.
Below you’ll find seven reasons that may be keeping you from fluency and nineteen solutions so you overcome them.
1.) You’re relying on other people to teach you instead of taking command yourself.
Going to class or attending a language school is a wonderful experience, but many people depend solely on that experience to help them learn the language. Like many other things available to learn, school should be seen another resource and NOT the main show.
YOU’RE the main show.
As Luca Lampariello, founder of The Polyglot Dream, told me once in an interview, “When one learns a language, one should realize that the principal actor of the movie is you and, in this sense…if one goes to school and listens to lessons, one should then return home and study or learn on one’s own.”
How can you take command of learning Italian?
// Dive deeper by creating extra assignments based on the material provided by your teacher. For example, if you learned about the names of animals that day, go home and write sample sentences all about animals. Then, return to your teacher and ask him or her to correct them.
// Find self-study resources (like this site!) and commit to reading an article or listening to a podcast episode every other day.
// Choose 2-3 topics that you’re really interested in speaking about in Italian, and use your online resources and your school resources to learn how to have conversations about them.
2.) You’ve sucked all of the joy out of learning Italian.
There is this preconceived notion that learning a language is difficult and that difficult things require seriousness. I see a lot of laid back, fun people approach language learning as a dictatorship. (I know I did.)
But when you learn Italian with this mindset, it’s less likely that you’ll want to willingly return to studying. You might also avoid the activities that are more fun because you think they’ll be less effective or less efficient.
How can you add a dosage of joy back into learning Italian?
// At least once a week do an activity to learn Italian that truly lights you up or gets you excited about learning the language. For me, that was watching Sgrammaticando videos and cooking food with Italian recipes.
// Be open to changing your mind about what learning a language “should” look like. Just by reminding yourself that the ways you learn Italian can be fun and be a break from a busy schedule is enough.
3.) You haven’t learned how to learn.
When I started learning Italian, I began with what I knew.
I took classes at university, and then I studied abroad. When I learned it on my own, I did all of the traditional things, like read textbooks and do workbook exercises.
This is one of the least effective ways to learn a language.
Sure, you’ll learn grammar and vocabulary, but it may take you ten years to become fluent and you might sound like a walking & talking textbook (which isn’t exactly the easiest way to make friends).
Learning how to be an independent language learner is a HUGE field with lots to learn.
There are principles for enhancing your memory (which, by the way, is more capable than you give it credit for), techniques for improving your pronunciation, mindset shifts that will keep you from getting in your own way, and strategies for helping you be more fluid in conversation.
The list goes on and on.
The amount of stuff to learn is intimidating, especially since you’re already trying to learn a foreign language, but it’s SO worth it.
You’ll shave years off your learning and be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of having conversations in Italian sooner than you ever thought possible.
How can you learn how to learn?
// Read books on how to learn. Some of my favorites are: How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Polyglot: How I Learn Languages, and Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It.
// Consider working with a language coach as they could help you learn exactly what you need in order to be more effective. So instead of reading lots of information about a variety of learning strategies, they can pinpoint the ones that are best for your learning style and goals.
4.) You aren’t making enough mistakes.
A lot of us (myself included) are afraid of looking stupid.
We feel ultra-comfortable in our native language, and we’re able to express ourselves fully. Any of the mistakes we make in our own language are a result of being spacey or not focusing, but when it happens in another language, it looks like we just aren’t knowledgeable enough.
But here’s the thing.
We have to want to be fluent in Italian MORE than we care about looking stupid.
This is the only way we’ll be able to sound natural in Italian one day. It’s the only way we’ll start to have conversations in Italian. It’s the only way we can get beyond our current level and make progress to a point where speaking in Italian is comfortable.
How can you start making more mistakes?
// Try instant messaging with a native speaker on SharedTalk.com. If you feel more confident, you can try voice or video chat, too.
// Find a language partner on Italki.com or SharedTalk.com. If your personalities mesh well, set up a weekly or biweekly time to chat where you speak together 30 minutes in Italian and 30 minutes in English.
5.) Your expectations aren’t realistic.
Sometimes our optimism (or our pessimism) gets the best of us, and we tell ourselves grand things like “You know, this Italian thing is going pretty well. I bet I can learn it in 3 months just like Benny Lewis!”
And then work and love and dishes get in the way and you’re sitting on your couch six months later thoroughly disappointed in yourself.
If you ask anybody close to me, they’ll tell you that I am the biggest proponent of reaching for the stars, but when it comes to building a new skill, like speaking Italian, I put a heavy emphasis on small, attainable milestones.
This way, you build up your confidence, get your hits of dopamine in, and keep trekking along for the long haul.
After all, we don’t learn a language for a series of exams. We learn it for life.
How can you have more realistic expectations?
// Be real about how much time you have available to study Italian. If you only have six hours a week, becoming conversational in three months isn’t realistic. If you have 14-15 hours a week to become conversational, three months is a worthy goal.
// Embrace and prepare for roadblocks. Life is going to happen while you try to acquire this new skill, so you better get used to it. What’s more, it will be so much easier if you just embrace it for what it is and stop trying to rush to an imaginary finish line.
// Set goals. Once you know how much time you have available to you, you can set goals for where you want to be 1 month from now, 2 months from now, 3 months from now and so on. When you write things down in a timeline, the entire process feels more tangible and you become aware that it may take longer than you originally anticipated.
6.) You aren’t spending enough time tinkering with the language.
Even after you learn how to be effective with learning, it still takes a hefty chunk of time to learn it.
Studying Italian for one hour a week is great because it keeps you moving forward, but it’s difficult to make the progress that you most likely want to see at that rate.
I know that you have a lot of things to do, so I’m not asking you to drop everything and just study Italian (although, wouldn’t that be lovely?).
I am asking you to find creative ways to find more time in your day.
How can you find more time in your day?
// If you find yourself spending a lot of time cleaning or doing chores around the house, enlist help from family members to save yourself an extra twenty minutes that can go to studying. If there’s no one else to help, consider spending a little to hire a cleaner to come once every two weeks.
// Make use of the time you have while exercising, doing chores, or driving. While double tasking might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it can help you carve out that extra 30 minutes in your day for Italian, which over time makes all the difference.
7.) You aren’t working toward a goal.
This is by far the biggest roadblock that Italian language learners run into. They start learning with the best of intentions and then fall off the wagon after feeling scattered, frustrated, and like they’re making zero progress.
That feeling of scatteredness could be completely eliminated if they sat down and wrote out their goals.
This not only helps you see where you’re going, but it also helps you eliminate doing random things and using random resources that don’t serve your goals.
How can you work towards a goal?
// Write out your goals, based on topics for communication, for specific time intervals, like 2 weeks from now, 1-month from now, or three months from now.
// For each goal, write out three different activities you’re going to do to reach that goal.
// Put the dates in your calendar so they’re set in stone. (Well, digital stone.)
Which reason has been holding you back from making progress in Italian? Let me know in the comments below!