Italian help. So confused!

Note: this is my first post and quite a long one at that, so please bear with me.

(This, by the way, isn’t the first time I tried learning another language. There was Spanish and French, too, but I eventually gave them up because of lack of dedication.)

I started learning Italian when I borrowed the Pimsleur Italian Course 1A from the public library. (Well, not exactly, I tried it on Duolingo before but stopped.) However, it was around the 7th “session” that I decided to take it seriously. I downloaded several apps, subscribed to tons of podcasts, and chose various sites. (This may or may not be a good idea.)

For the apps: I don’t think I’m a fan of Duolingo’s and Memrise’s techniques. It feels dull and just memorizing a bunch of different words. I think that Busuu and Mindsnacks would’ve been fun and effective if it wasn’t so limited to non-premium members. After, I forget most of the words I was introduced to. Not really forget it, more like, I know what it means and I’m familiar with it but I wouldn’t recall it easily.

Podcasts: I really like 30 Minute Italian, Coffee Break Italian, and Learn Italian Pod. I like the idea of News in Slow Italian (Beginners), but it can get really confusing.
Sites: I haven’t tried any of them, since after all these, I feel like I can’t handle any more information.

I would really like to try sites like iTalki, but I get very anxious when it comes to Skype.
Since my native language and Italian are kind of alike, I thought that learning it would be easy. It’s not. The grammar really confuses me, especially whenever the word changes depending on who you’re talking to.
I don’t know what I should do next. Maybe I should just stop? I’ve heard horror stories about there being people who are just not fit for learning languages.

Or on a less pessimistic note, drop some apps, podcasts, and sites and focus on the remaining ones?

I’ve tried searching for Italian lessons near me but they’re too far. And, again, I get too anxious when it comes to Skyping or any kind of video chatting. Also, Italian isn’t a widely spoken language here and I don’t know anyone who speaks it, so I can’t really practice with anyone.

I’ve been doing these things every day, which is a huge pat-on-the-back for me, since I get lazy and rarely stick to my goal. So there’s that.

Any advice? Native speakers of Italian or those who learned Italian? I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do.

Thanks. (Or…grazie!)

Hi dreamcatcher,

The best insight I ever got on learning languages came from a Ted Talk, when Benny Lewis said, “You don’t learn a language by studying it, you learn it getting used to it.”.

The quote might not be 100% verbatim, but that’s the essence of it. Benny Lewis has the website I have never subscribed to his website, but his words changed how I view language learning.

The main art of learning a language involves trying to communicate and have conversations. But the ability to communicate and converse successfully has to be built on top of the strong foundational habit of constant adaptation and adjustment. This habit is a primary skill a language learner needs to develop, as a reaction to every obstacle.

The standard language learning paradigm most of us have learned suggests that language learning is primarily an academic skill that requires us to develop a clear understanding of grammar and to master a sufficient stock of vocabulary BEFORE attempting to communicate in the language.

The more effective approach, imo, is to acquire any bits and scraps of the language, however much or little you can manage in short order, then to try to put it to use immediately–even if that means adding sign language and pantomime to get started. It is actually the constant effort to overcome obstacles, misunderstandings, confusion and emotional discomfort–it is the habit of overcoming and solving problems while incorporating new elements of the language, whether quickly or slowly–that constitutes the real skill of language learning.

With time, your frustrations become fewer and fewer as you integrate new grammatical and vocabulary skills, and the getting-used-to-it process becomes a highly refined, unconscious reflex that will do the most to help you feel comfortable in the target language.

For those who grasp this paradigm–this is what children actually do, btw–you will realize that confusion is actually an important and necessary part if the process.

All this reminds me of something I once heard:, “If you are not totally confused, then clearly, you do not understand what is going on.” :smiley:

Hope this helps,


Wow. I never thought that someone would actually take the time to read my question AND write such a knowledgable reply, so thank you very much.

I am familiar with Benny Lewis and I actually posted this question on his website’s forum. I haven’t watched his TED Talk, but I probably should.

I agree. The first time I had to read Italian, I was way, way off on the pronunciation. But the more I got used to how it sounds, the better I was at judging where to put the stress.

So, I just continue with what I’m doing and tweak/modify my thinking? Like, having to keep in mind that grammar will propel me closer to understanding (and speaking) the language.

I still curse the day that I wasn’t born a prodigy or a different brain structure that enabled me to learn faster than the average human being, which brings me to the quote: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Anyway, thanks for sharing your knowledge/insight. I’ll definitely keep this in mind when studying.

I just have one more question to ask: what do you use to study? Books, apps, sites, podcasts, watching foreign movies, etc.?

Personally, I am happy to use almost any material, though some is better than others. I learned a lot of Spanish just from books in the pre-Internet days. I think it worked well because it has a very straightforward spelling and sound system.

Pimsleur, Duo Lingo, News in Slow Spanish (French, German, etc), Yabla, all seem like good tools to me. Duo Lingo offers the opportunity to help translate documents. This is actually a great (though challenging) exercise, but one that is only practical once you start approaching intermediate level, imo.

There is material in the public domain that was originally created by the Foreign Services Institute for US and Canadian diplomats and other public servants who were going to serve in embassies and other postings abroad. Some of that material was very high quality as pre-Internet language material goes. It was designed for people who were expected to learn it and start using it in the real world, often within an extremely short period of time.

It was packaged and resold by Barron for years, but then people started making it available on the Internet for free (look up Foreign Services Institute and languages). This is now public domain material, and some people have been kindly uploading their materials to a website dedicated to this purpose, so you can get the material free. It covers a wide variety of languages, but the last time I checked, the collections online still have gaps, and some recordings are better than others.

Beyond that, I probably wouldn’t turn my nose up at any material, but I would be fussy about anything I had to pay more than a few bucks for.

I highly recommend that you move past your fears of getting on Skype with language learning partners. Record the calls and then memorize the material. Review it the next session.

I wrote some time ago about my daily language learning rituals with Mandarin. Very little has changed since then - except that I went to China and ask my fiance’s father permission to marry his daughter in Chinese after studying the language for a very short period of time.

I’m by no means fluent in Chinese at this point, but just getting myself into speaking sessions 2-3 times a week with the daily study I talk about on the link I gave you has been absolutely essential to development. It’s actually really fun and easy and if you get your language partner to use Google docs, you can actually write together on a shared screen which helps immensely.

I have a lot of other language learning resources on the site that I think will help you too, but it all boils down to what you already know. Consistently:


… every day. But the focus must be on actually communicating.

Two other tips:

Find meetup groups with Italians who will be there speaking Italian

Go to Italy and take taxi rides with people who don’t speak English. You can ask them before getting in the car. And then talk to them like there’s no tomorrow. I practiced a ton of Chinese that way when I was there recently to give a memory training. It helped a ton and the taxi drivers understood what I was trying to do. And it really helped when it came time to ask for my fiance’s father blessing on our coming marriage. I had what needed to be said down pat and had some good fun with my limited small talk too. But it wouldn’t have happened without regular speaking practice.

Rock on! :slight_smile:

@tarnation: you’re right. They are free after all.

@metivier: darn! The link says “Page not found”.

Oh, that’s great! I hope your fiance’s father realized the effort.

I just discovered a new (to me) site for the Foreign Services Institute courses ( So far, it looks like nice site with comprehensive stock of FSI course material.

As a bonus, there is also similar material from the Peace Corps and from the US Defense Language Institute.

Definitely seems worth exploring for language learners.