I’m ready to speak Italian! This is what you say to yourself after memorizing the long list of sentences you’ve carefully written for your trip. You’ve spent the last weeks before your trip is due by planning and organizing everything .
You’ve looked for the sentences you will need and written them in a notebook with an English translation on the right. Then, you’ve repeated them over and over again, maybe by using flashcards or even by recording them on your phone.
Finally, you land in Italy, ready and ethusiastic that you’re going to practice what you’ve learned and speak Italian with the locals.
You approach the first person and… hold on a second, what is going on here?
This is not what I expected! What is this person talking about? What are they saying?
And what DO I have to say?
Moment of embarassing silcence and…
Excuse me, can you speak in English, please?
Dear Lord, why? All this time spent practicing, writing and repeating to the point that you got sick of Italian. What could have possibly gone wrong?
Let’s see what might have happened.
To start with, being a beginner and speaking with a native speaker is an extremely stressful situation. Italian people tend to speak really fast sometimes, and it takes time to get to understand a fast speech. The best thing to do in these situation is to ask people “può ripetere, per favore?“ (can you repeat, please?). It’s going to give the other person a sign that they have to talk at a reasonable pace.
Then, when you’re trying to learn to speak, memorizing lists of sentences is, sadly, not enough. You need a key ingredient in order to succeed, and this key ingredient is
If you want to overcome fear and overwhelm when speaking Italian, you need to prepare yourself in advance. It is absolutely possible to listen and speak Italian as a beginner, but never forget that a good preparation will help you avoid those long and exhausting I-don’t-know-what-to-say moments and take a lot of pressure away from you.
Now, there are a couple of situations you might be facing:
1. You can’t understand what people say, therefore you don’t know how to answer.
2. You do understand, you know how you could reply, but can’t find the words to say.
If you experiene the first situation and you have a hard time understanding what Italians say, here is how you can make the most out of your preparation phase:
Choose something to listen to that is not too hard for you, nor to easy
The audio track should be not too slow, not too fast. And, of course, not too long. It should also have an accessible vocabulary. In other words, make sure that the topic is something you can understand. Sure, there will be words that you won’t know at first, it’s part of the “game”. But in general, make sure you choose a topic that it’s accessible to you. In conclusion, you should feel challenged, but not threatened by the listening task.
Find something which comes with a transcription
It is important to have a written version of the spoken words. Our brain needs to match the sounds with the signs. Sometimes, we have our idea in our mind of how a word is pronounced… but we might be wrong (been there, of course). So, combining an audio track with its transcript is a good way to create this connection and get used to how new (or old) words are pronounced.
Follow this tasks sequence
> Listen to the audio track two or three times
> Focus on the general meaning first. Big picture before tiny details.
> Take notes on the second or third time that you listen to the audio track
> Compare your notes with the transcritp to check what you understood, and find out some new words
> Listen to the audio track again while reading the transcript
> Listen to the audio track again without the transcript
If, on the other hand, you’re going through the second situation and you can understand what Italians say, but you freeze when you speak, here is how you can overcome fear and overwhelm when speaking Italian.
Chances are you are already familiar with a lot of words and verb tensens. You might be asking now: “Then, why can’t I say them?”
You see, it’s not that you can’t say them. It’s just that, maybe, you’ve never tried to say them and combine them into a sentence. So, it is no surprise if you’re having a hard time taking those words out when you’ve got less then a few seconds to think of an answer and then reply.
In this case, what you can use is a big dose of creativity. Here is how:
1. Think of a situation in your life where you find yourself talking the most
2. Find a quiet place to think, with no distractions
3. Take all the time you need to think about what you would say in that situation. If somebody asked you “that particular question” or if you had to talk about “that topic you love so much”.
4. Write down some words, expressions, or even full sentences that you would use in that specific situation. Help yourself with a dictionary, if you need to do so.
5. Practice what you’ve written down and say it oud loud.
This last point is extremeley important. You need to listen to yourself speaking in order to feel confident the next time that you speak Italian with someone.
If you only repeat your sentences in your mind, you will never hear yourself, and you will create a false expectation of how your speaking production is going to be.
On the other hand, if you take your practice as a rehearsal, you will have a much clearer expectation of your next conversation. This, ultimately, will help you overcome fear and overwhelm when speaking Italian.
Have you tried these tips before? How about starting now? 😉
Let me know how it goes. 🙂