As someone who’s always been interested in learning another language, I’m glad to finally have the opportunity to do so as a Biology and Italian Studies double major at Vassar. I grew up listening to relatives speaking Italian, and even spoke and understood a good amount for my age (so I’ve been told) because my immigrant grandparents watched my brother and I before we started preschool. Unfortunately, as a result of not hearing and using the language enough when I went to school, I wasn’t able to grow in my Italian. I still heard Italian at home every once in awhile, often in my mother’s Molfettese dialect, but it was never even close to a primary language in my house.
So my brother and I hoped to take Italian lessons as an extracurricular activity or in school, but the lessons never worked out and our schools never offered Italian. We hear all the time that the best way to learn a language is through immersion, but how is that possible for those of us who can’t study or travel abroad for long periods of time?
Well, I found a great resource in movies and music. I usually use Netflix, which tends to be a little limited, but there are some Italian movies that I would recommend. La Vita è Bella is a popular film about a Jewish-Italian waiter who tells his son that the circumstances of the concentration camp in which they are kept are all part of a game. The waiter, Guido Orefice, gives his son instructions to win the “game,” instructions which are meant to keep him alive. While I would recommend this film because of its quality, for the purposes of improving one’s Italian I would recommend a movie that is easier to watch again and again. For me, I like to watch Cinema Paradiso. Cinema Paradiso is a 1988 drama that follows the life of Salvatore Di Vita, a filmmaker, from his humble beginnings in Sicily. The film touches on family life, relationships and Di Vita’s inspiration which led to his future success. I would recommend choosing a movie that you are willing to watch time and time again, preferably with subtitles in the beginning, because it will allow you to begin recognizing new vocabulary, the uses of your known vocabulary, idiomatic expressions and the specific intonations of words and phrases.
You may be thinking, “What if I don’t have time to watch these movies consistently?” Well, I tend to make up the time by listening to music in the language I want to learn. A lot of the time that I’m doing homework, especially Italian homework, I listen to Italian music. There are a number of reasons to use music as an immersion tool, one being availability. There are hundreds and hundreds of songs available online. Whether you like modern, classical, romantic or any other genre of music, there are bound to be options for you. Songs by their nature repeat the same words, so listening to a song is like having a little drill session. Plus, lyrics can easily be found, especially if you’re using YouTube. After listening to a catchy song a few times, you’re already singing it to yourself, allowing for continual practice in pronunciation and increased vocabulary.
I have found that after using some of these immersion practices, I am less self-conscious about speaking the language I want to learn, and when I do speak, I do so with less mistakes. Even at this moment I’m in the Italian Department lounge with an Italian television series playing in the background. Even though I’m not paying attention to the plot, I’m putting myself in a situation in which my desired language can further become part of my subconscious. The Italian Department will be playing an episode of Romanzo Criminale each Wednesday at 6:00 if any of you are interested (shameless plug). That’s all for now!
A presto, i miei amici!