A guide to overcoming the intermediate learning plateau in Italian

My students often ask the best way to break the intermediate plateau and bridge the gap between what they know and what they speak when you have little time to spend learning a language, and you can’t attend lessons regularly.

There is no secret recipe, and there is not a single solution for everyone. However, some powerful techniques have proved to work well in my experience as a polyglot and avid language learner.

In this article, I am putting together five ideas I like to share with my students in my sessions and received very positive feedback.

I promise you these “secrets” will work, if you form a tiny little habit, to spend time with Italian, in a consistent and fun way.

What the “secrets” are about

  • Focus on listening through authentic conversation material
  • Combine Italian learning with hobbies
  • Learn grammar on your own
  • Immerse yourself in the culture
Which one is best for you?

Try all of them and stick to one for a while. Once you feel like you have learned enough by using that technique, pick another one

 

1. IMPROVE YOUR ITALIAN LISTENING WITH LYRICSTRAINING

Improve your listening skills dramatically by active listening. Listening to Italian songs can be an enjoyable pastime, but you don’t internalize the new combinations of words until you listen to them actively.

How can you do it?

Go to www.lyricstraining.com

How does it work?

  1. You pick an Italian song
  2. You set your level of Italian (beginner, intermediate or advanced)
  3. As you watch the music video that you have chosen, the lyrics are presented below

You can listen to the song and read the lyrics. Nice…and boring. The most fun and productive approach is to fill the gaps with the missing words in the lyrics.

This is a killer method, that other than helping you reinforce your Italian grammar and learn new expressions will help you better your ability to recognize sounds.

 

2. IMPROVE YOUR ITALIAN LISTENING WITH ITALIAN PODCASTS

I know becoming conversational in Italian is your goal. It is beautiful when you enter a local coffee shop in Naples and can strike up a conversation with the barista.

Overcoming that language barrier is not for the faint of heart. It takes work and dedication. But wait, the reward is great!

Conversation is a combination of speaking and listening skills. Training your Italian listening is as vital as training your speaking.

Listening to authentic Italian interviews or podcasts will give you a better idea of how the real conversation flows, Italian filler words, and the most frequent interactions in the natural spoken language.

Using Italian podcasts is the best way to get acquainted with the real language and passively catapult you towards Italian fluency.

How to use a Podcast as a learning tool?

  1. Browse iTunes and pick a podcast on a topic of your interest in Italian.
  2. Listen to an episode at least three times. You will understand more and more as you listen to the episodes repeatedly.
  3. Start a Google Doc where you write down new Italian words or combinations of words.
  4. Talk about the episode with your Italian tutor or coach by using the new words and expressions.

Tip for beginner learners!!

If you don’t yet have a level allowing you to catch an entire conversation, I recommend you to use Yabla or Podcast 1o1, where you can find plenty of beginner dialogues with translations, grammar explanations and the option to slow down the pace of the audio.

3. VISIT ONCE A WEEK CAFEBABEL.COM

Cafebabel is a European news magazine translated into six different languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. What makes it a perfect learning tool for every language learner? You can read on a specific Italian topic first and then in English (or other languages of choice) or vice-versa.

How to get the most out of it?

  1. Pick an article that sounds interesting to you or about a topic that you want to learn about.
  2. Go through the article in Italian
  3. Look for the article in your native language or English
  4. Do a back translation*

Back translation is one of the most powerful methods to transform passive vocabulary into active usage.

When you translate from a different language into Italian, you are forcing your brain to look for the right words and put them together in a harmonic way in a sentence.

By repeating these exercises regularly, you will come to the point where you won’t need to translate anymore, but words will come naturally.

 

4.LEARN THE GRAMMAR ON YOUR OWN

Do you dream of speaking Italian well, or do you mumble? Can you engage in a conversation with locals without putting a burden on your conversation partner?

Stringing correct sentences together will improve the quality of your overall Italian conversation experience.

Make sure you learn the pillars of Italian grammar once, well, and forever, then it is just a matter of piling up new words to achieve fluency.

Grammar is not dull. It gives your language structure and harmony and eventually will make you a great Italian speaker.

While you should practice your conversation skills with an Italian teacher or coach, grammar is something you can do on your own, saving money and time.

All you need is a good drill book and a plan to complete one or two units per week. Use the time you spend with your Italian tutor to actively use what you have learned on your own and get feedback on that.

The best available grammar books, in my opinion:

 

5. DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF TO THE LANGUAGE, LEARN THE CULTURE & LIFESTYLE

The way we speak is the result of our culture and lifestyle, and the language we use shapes our thoughts and actions. Understanding a language is way easier when you know the culture.

Last week I was at an International Language Event, and someone came over to say “come stai”? I was a little bit taken aback, as I was unsure whether he was talking to me or someone else in the room! If you are not new to Italian culture, you already know that you can’t ask “come stai” as a way to greet and say politely “hello” in Italian. “Come stai” means indeed “come stai” and is the kind of question you want to reserve for friends and family, not random strangers.

That’s one of many examples I could give you on the topic. The gist of the matter is that language goes hand in hand with cultureAs living in a foreign country implies learning the local language, learning a foreign language means learning the connected culture.

To get a grasp of the Italian culture and lifestyle, I would recommend reading in Italian or your native language some excellent books that have been written by foreign authors with a strong connection to Italy. I love learning about Italy through foreign writers’ eyes because they can easily detect what Italians take for granted.

About the Author

Serena Capilli

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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Ciao, I'm Serena!

I’m the creative force behind both this blog and my collection of short stories in simple Italian for language learners, available on Amazon.

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