I sucked at learning a foreign language before moving to Italy.
For example, after four years of Spanish, there was a time when I only knew how to say my name, where I’m from and ask where is the bathroom. I thought I hit the foreign language jackpot when I learned how to say, “I’m sorry.”
You’d think this would factor into my game plan to move to Italy without knowing the language, but it didn’t even register as an issue. Maybe it was because I was able to pick up on guys and go on dates using a dictionary during my first visit to Italy. I’m not sure why I didn’t deem my lack of Italian as an issue, but I was slapped into reality real quick my first night in the country.
Let’s just say, it’s hella awkward to live in a stranger’s home and not speak their language. All we could do that first night is stare at each other over a meal in silence. I desperately wanted to speak, as I felt rude being silent. However, you can only say “buongiorno” and “grazie” so many times in one conversation.
That first night in Italy made me want to push past my issues with learning a foreign language. My other motivator was what I dubbed the “Little Old Lady Gang.”
They were a group of elderly women who rode the same bus as me who would constantly talk about me. How did I know? Oh, you always know when someone is talking about you whether you speak the language or not. I just didn’t know if I needed to cuss someone out or say thanks.
Honestly, I am not sure where I got the brilliant idea to use music to speed up learning a foreign language, but it was one of the best moves. Ok, let’s be real. I don’t remember because I didn’t get an idea, it just happened
organically by accident.
The spark that ignited this accidentally genius plan was hearing a gifted Italian singer named Giorgia on the radio one afternoon.
It was like the first time I heard Sade or John Coltrane, I was instantly obsessed. I had no clue what Giorgia was singing about, but there was such soul in her voice and the lyrics that I was mesmerized.
The next day I immediately ran out to buy her album, grabbed a dictionary and began translating the entire album. I started listening to other Italian artists and every day I would translate the songs and then sing along to them in Italian. Learning a foreign language through music was a fun and easy way to learn a language, but what really helped was watching TV.
I’m not a big TV watcher but what better way to learn a foreign language than through reality TV. Yes, I said it, reality TV.
I chose the Italian version of “Big Brother” to help me really learn how to speak Italian like an Italian. That’s when I learned not only key phrases to express my emotions, but also the facial and hand expressions that helped my Italian seem more authentic.
The combination of watching Italian TV shows and listening to music worked. The girl who barely passed Spanish in high school now was able to learn enough Italian to hold full conversations within two months.
I should note, during those two months, I was also going to school to learn the language as well. That said, listening to music, watching reality and also watching American movies I knew by hard in Italian is what really helped me grasp the Italian language quickly.
Nowadays, I am focused on learning Spanish and I’m obsessed with watching telenovelas like Celia, The Gran Hotel, and Narcos on Netflix. It may be a cheesy way to learn a foreign language, but it helped me tremendously in Cuba.