It’s one of the most common problems among independent Italian learners: knowing words, a lot of them, but not being able to hear them, put them together, and have a spontaneous conversation in Italian. How is that even possible? And what can you do about it?
I know, I’ve said it many times, but this is really important: words are the most important thing that you need to know.
The more words you know, the more you can do in another language. You can say more and understand more.
So, if you already know a lot of words, how to write them, and what they mean… you’re at a good starting point.
Starting to understand Italian sentences
What you need so that you can start to understand full sentences and speak in a natural conversation is to learn how words combine together and sound in spontaneous talk.
A great tool that can come to your rescue is reading something at the right level for you. Reading helps you learn words, word groups, and grammar features. And because you will find these items a few times within the same text, you’ll get more chances of learning them.
Not only does reading improve your reading skills, but it also improves your language skills and knowledge. Pretty nice, eh?
The thing with reading is that you need to do a lot of it if you want to start to see your first results. And again, by “a lot”, I mean something around 10 minutes a day for a few months. It’s a long-term investment but it’s really worth the effort. It does pay you back in the end.
Another tool that can show you how words flow is listening to the audio recording of what you’re reading.
I’ve talked about it in a previous article but it’s surely worth repeating: in order to understand words, even the words that you know, you need to build aural decoding, which is the ability to match spoken words with their written form; and listening fluency, which is the ability to listen at a fast rate.
Again, if you listen a lot, you’ll get more chances of understanding what people say.
Starting to make Italian sentences
If you’ve never ever made a sentence in Italian in your life, you might feel scared at first. Where do you start? How do you know if you’re saying the right thing?
Don’t panic! There are some techniques that can help you. The first one is memorizing sentences and dialogues.
I know that people have often looked at memorization as something mechanical and meaningless, but it comes with a great advantage, trust me. If you memorize something, anything, you make it more easily accessible to you. In other words, it will be easier for you to say your Italian sentences during a conversation if you memorize them. Make sure you know how your sentences are pronounced first.
You can then imagine some mental conversations with a real person that you can picture in your mind. This activity is great because it allows you the time to think about your sentences and polish them until you’re happy with your result. Oh, and it’s totally risk-free. Perfect if you’re shy like me.
When you feel more confident about what you can say, you can start preparing some talks about something that you would like to talk about. You can write down your talk and say it out loud.
And speaking of writing, you can also begin to make sentences by writing as well. Simply choose a topic that you know or that you’re interested in. Read about it, listen to something about it or watch a video about it and then write about it using the information that you have learned.
To sum up
- Knowing words helps you understand and speak more. The more words you know, the more you can do.
- In order to understand words that you know in a conversation, you need to know how they’re pronounced too.
- To understand how words combine in a sentence, you can read to something at your level.
- In order to see some benefits from reading, you need to read around 10 minutes a day and for a few months.
- If you listen to the audio recording of what you’re reading, you can build aural decoding, which helps you understand words that pop up in a conversation.
- To start making sentences in Italian and play safe, you can memorize sentences and dialogues. Memorization will help you access these sentences more quickly when you have to speak.
- Another technique to make sentences while staying “safe” is imagining a conversation with a real person.
- When you’re confident about what you can say, you can prepare a talk about something that interests you.
- You can also write about a topic that you’ve learned about. it’s a good way to make sentences using the information that you have learned.
Ke, Zh. & Wang, Y. (2022). Exploring the relationship between aural decoding and listening comprehension among L2 learners of English. OASIS Summary of Ke, Zh. & Wang, Y. (2021) in Language Teaching Research. https://oasis-database.org/concern/summaries/2r36tz00n?locale=en
Nation Paul, What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand, 2014