Do you get lost when someone speaks to you in Italian? Does it feel like words change one after the other too soon too fast? Like when you’ve finally caught a word, the other person has already moved on to a different subject?
Trust me when I say you’re not alone in this struggle.
Many students come to me with the same problem:
I can’t understand when people say two words too close to each other.
I never can tell what they’re saying, although I’ve seen and heard that word so many times.
By the time I’ve understood what they’re saying to me, they’ve already changed the subject. And I get lost in the conversation.
In other words…
following a conversation in Italian is a nightmare.
You listen to podcasts and radio programs in Italian and you wish you hadn’t done that. What are these speakers even saying? What is the show about? And is that language really Italian?
Then, you go to your weekly conversation MeetUp, but again it’s like being a fish out of water. You keep repeating “puoi ripetere, per favore?” over and over again, and at the end of the day it’s so frustrating that you’re wondering what am I doing wrong?
You try and watch movies with subtitles and you don’t know where to look at. Shall I read or shall I listen? And the neveredning ping pong begins. Listen – read – listen – read, listen – read… it could go on and on. You turn the subtitles off… and you’re lost. You can barely follow the plot.
Why is it so hard to follow a conversation?
When you learn Italian on your own, you create your own expectations on what words and sentences should sound like. This is true especially at the beginning, when you’re not familiar with pronunciation.
You turn to online dictionaries and search engines to have a grasp of how to pronounce words. This really helps you. You can listen clearly, repeat those words, listen again, repeat again, get used to them… it’s useful after all.
But what happens when you want to understand a full sentence? Ora a full conversation?
Listening to a full sentence is a lot different than listening to single words. You would expect to hear one word after the other, but in reality you hear sounds that blend in together into a confusing and overwhelming mix.
Take for example this sentence:
Andiamo al parco domani?
Shall we go to the park tomorrow?
What you would expect to hear is something like:
Here you can clearly hear every single word. You have pauses, moments of silence and time to process what you’ve heard.
But when you hear the same sentence in a conversation between Italians, you will most likely hear this:
You can cleary see (or hear) that something has happened. You can no longer hear separeted words, but rather interconnected, blent in sounds.
This is typical of the Italian language. Words are pronounced fasters, and sounds get mixed up. As you can see in this picture:
What can you do to not get lost in the conversation?
Fortunately, there is somthing you can do to begin to follow a conversation in Itaian. One important thing to remember is that you have to prepare yourself.
If you want to leave a bit of stress and overwhelm behind, practice is your best friend.
Here are a few things that you can do to prepare yourself and be able to keep up with a conversation in Italian.
Listen to something short understandable
You’re beginning, so don’t overwhelm yourself. Start with something small and understandable, wait before you jump into a 30-minute podcast. Rather begin with a short and slow audio track. If you can’t find any, a small portion of a longer audio track will do. Keep it progressive: begin with 30 seconds, then bring it up to 45, then a minute… and so on. Respect your personal time and don’t force yourself. Move on only when you feel that it’s time to move on. Listen to yourself and allow yourself to follow your personal learning time.
Choose materials that you like
If you love art, listen to a program about art. If you love cooking, there are plently of cooking programs and YouTube channels. If you don’t really enjoy talking politics, then stay away from it. Choose something that you enjoy. Torturing yourself with a topic you’re not even interested in won’t lead you anywhere. It will make you more frustrated. By choosing a topic you like, you will pay more attention to the words, and you will find it easier to concentrate and catch what you’re hearing.
Combine listening and reading
Find audio materials that come with a transcription. Help yourself with it. Listen while reading. Detect the words that you know but you can’t understand and mark the ones that you don’t know yet. Become familiar with the new sounds. Most importantly, use the text as a support and a reference point, not as a reminder of what you can’t do.
Put special attention to the details
Remember those blended sounds I mentioned before? Pay special attention to them. Spot them in the text, listen to them several times, and repeat them out loud. Mark them with a pen, listen carefully to them, and then play the listen and repeat game. Become familiar with them, and you will be able to recognize them next time that you hear them.
One last thing…
Finally, a bonus advice that I would like to give you is: be present. I will never stress the importance of prensece enough. Listening mindfully is the most powerful way to capture what you’re hearing and store it in your brain. Set the intention and make the decision to be there not just with your body, but with your full mind. Stay in the present moment and allow yourself leave any distracting or useless thought outside of your listening practice.
Have you ever tried these tips before? Which one are you willing to try today?
Share your thoughts with me. ❤️