Emphasis on Experience: Studying Italian in Rome
Earlier this year I spent a month studying Italian in Rome, taking two weeks of lessons at an Italian language school. I made some great progress there and in Sicily afterwards, gabbing away in my patchy Italian whenever I had an excuse.
Whether you prefer to learn the language before you visit a place or you don’t mind jumping into the deep end, here’s why I think you should learn Italian in Italy, and Rome in particular.
Italians are not very Italian.
Only 150 years ago, Italy used to be 11 autonomous states and kingdoms. And today, each region has remnants of those historical languages and dialects. What we refer to as Italian body language has been around since before the modern Italian language was popularised, from the need to be able to communicate across regional languages – for trade, or during conflicts. A public figure named Massimo d’Azeglio famously said after the official unification of Italy was completed;
“Italy has been made, now it remains to make Italians.”
See the WikiMedia Commons page of the graphic to the left above, for a moving image of Italy’s unification over the course of ~42 years.
Spoken Italian isn’t textbook.
The origin of modern Italian is the Florentine language of Tuscany. But Italian varies greatly across the country, making it harder to learn from abroad. The perfect Florentine accent won’t help you to understand different accents from regions like Piedmont or Calabria. Learning to speak in-country will mean you pick up pronunciation and everyday lingo not included in textbooks or CDs.
Immerse yourself by ‘method learning’.
Start your morning with an Espresso, the real Italian breakfast. Eat the most delicious pizzas and pastas for lunch. Give yourself an energy boost in the afternoon with delicious Gelato. You’ll find it easier to order food in Italian than to stop ordering food in Italian. There are three pasta dishes that Rome is famous for; Cacio e Pepe (spaghetti with Pecorino cheese and black pepper), Amatriciana (bucatini pasta with pancetta*, tomato and Pecorino), and of course Carbonara (spaghetti, Pecorino, pancetta* and eggs). Don’t even bother packing those trousers that are a little too tight.
Italians talk with their hands.
Body language is a big part of communicating in Italian. To get the hang of it properly, learn in the place where they speak all of the language, all of the time. A lot of the hand gestures are easy to learn and effective to communicate, with or without words. There’s nothing like over-doing your hand movements for fun, only to find your fluency just went through the roof.
Connect the language and the culture.
When you visit Italy, there’s more than simple pleasures to lap up. These are the places that the Roman Empire radiated outwards from, squatting over modern-day Europe, as far as Africa and Asia. In Rome, see the obvious grandeur of an empire that fell apart over 1500 years ago. Towns and cities all over Italy still keep fresh water fonts in their streets, a privilege once part of the Empire’s promise to every Roman citizen. And in spoken Italian, you can still hear the strongest influences of Latin, official language of the crumbled Empire and father of today’s Romance languages.
And last but not least…
Forget the stereotypes.
Meeting real Italian people will teach you that they aren’t as stereotypical as you might believe. Some of them definitely are, but that’s a whole other topic or three.
The teaching method that Studio Italia use is a Communicative Approach, so there’s no speaking English or any other language than Italian at the school. It might sound intimidating, but it certainly works! And frankly, I loved all the teachers at the school. They’ve just been nominated as Star Italian Language School (an industry award) and in September they start a new course, for teachers of Italian, about classic Italian cinema.
Learning Italian in Italy will constantly reward you with great reasons to keep studying, in the capital or elsewhere, and your new language skills will help you enjoy the best of Italian culture.
So… when in Rome!
Many thanks to Latitude Travel for my introduction to Studio Italia, and ‘un baccio grande’ to all the staff there!
*Technically true Roman recipes for Amatriciana and Carbonara will use guanciale, cured pork jowl, which is fattier and has a richer flavour than pancetta, but that’s not easy to explain mid-paragraph in a non-food post.