Learning Italian should be easy for me. After all, I'm full blooded Italian. Well, my parents never spoke Italian at home. I remember them telling me that when they got married back in the Thirties, they wanted an "American house"--English speaking. So I never learned my mother's tongue--Neapolitan--or my father's tongue, southern dialect from Molfetta. Sure, I learned a few words here and there... mostly slurred curse words or Americanized words used by Italian-Americas, like bakhous, meaning outhouse or bathroom or moppine, meaning dishcloth. But I was determined I would learn some real Italian before I left for Italy. We all needed to learn some. Initially, we had two options. Lisa picked up the Italian Rosetta Stone software and we already had Pimsleur CDs.
Rosetta was expensive--when we purchased the disc set it was nearly $400! For that money I expected to do the whole course, whether on the computer or on my android device. And consider that the mobile version is often dumbed down. It really made it impossible to use the mobile version of Rosetta while I was taking my weekend baths. (A great place to practice a language).
Another small annoyance was that Rosetta at times had trouble recognizing words as we spoke (on the PC we used a headset with microphone). I mean, I know that I'm saying something simple like "bambino" correctly, but sometimes it asked me to repeat 2-3 times until it understood what I was saying. I had a very good headset on a high end computer with decent sound card, so that wasn't the problem.
There was also a third way we studied Italian: Google Translate.
As long as you are signed into your Google account (Gmail) you're good to go, with a phrasebook (the favorites Star needs to be clicked) to save all you're more important words and phrases. There is a small star that when pressed will save the translation to your very own custom phrasebook. I kept adding phrases that I thought I would need. For instance, I did sections on cursing and fending off potential crooks, health, food, and general conversational stuff. etc. Lisa and I would sit with our Kindles at night and test each other from the phrasebook lists. You can even have Translate speak to you so you can hear how the word or phase is pronounced, although the voice is always the same woman, albeit a bit over-enunciated.
You can get a translation either way... English to Italian or the other way around in case you've come across some Italian that you needed translated (click the reversing arrows in the center). In fact, often I would research Italian web sites that Google didn't list a "translate this page" link (a pretty handy thing by itself), or when the translation tool wasn't functioning. I'd copy the full text from an article, paste it into the Italian side of Translate and presto! English. Ok, so the translations for full bodies of text were not that great, but at least I got the gist of the article I was reading. The best thing about Google Translate is the price. Free.
In the last year or so, I've been using yet another tool to hone my Italian skills... Duolingo. This is a fantastic online tool to help learn many languages--not just Italian. You can set your level when you begin, then take a quick test before you sign up for an account so you--and Duolingo--can track your progress.
I just love this program--especially the mobile app. I love the way I can work on lessons on my PC and switch to my tablet or phone and never lose track of the progress I've made. It helps if you have a microphone on your PC, or you have the option of skipping the pronunciation questions if your mic isn't hooked up. There are photos to match to words and vice versa. There are English words and phrases to translate to Italian, and also in reverse. When Italian is spoken to you, you can click to have it repeated. When you have to speak a phrase or word, it will give several tries for you to say it correctly. There are so many types of methods used, you never get bored. I can't recommend Duolingo enough... and get this: It's FREE.
In the end we all learned some Italian--enough to get by in restaurants, while traveling by train, and even enough to have basic conversations with people we met during our Voyage. Lucas was a bit shy but spoke perfectly when he did speak Italian. Lisa remembered a lot but face to face had a hard time coming up with the right Italian words. I did better, perhaps because I had learned some French years ago and wasn't afraid to dive in and sound Italian (I think my accent is pretty decent. Pat pat, on my own back.) Of course there were times it was difficult to have in depth conversations but I still managed to talk to a lot of different kinds of people... young, old, shopkeepers, artisans, etc. Learning a language is a skill that I wish they would push a bit more in our schools. Many Europeans know some English, but very few Americans know enough practical French, Italian or German. In fact, I was disappointed when I discovered that our school district doesn't even offer French or Italian--both were options when I went to high school. Too bad... Dommage... Peccato.
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