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8 Tricks This Brit Used To Learn Italian In 3 weeks

This Brit has never spoken Italian before. So which 8 tricks did he use to learn Italian in just three weeks with Babbel?

Illustration by Elena Lombardi

Like most Brits, I’m no whiz when it comes to languages. But what I lack in grammatical prowess I make up for in bucket-loads of enthusiasm – I’m very chatty, and I learn languages by talking to people. So I’m all about shortcuts and tricks that get me speaking a new language quickly!

Recently, I went to Italy on holiday, and before I traveled I wanted to test out Babbel’s famous claim of getting you speaking a new language in 3 weeks. That meant learning Italian in just three weeks. Was I mad? Quite possibly. But more importantly, was I successful?

Yes! I learnt Italian in only three weeks — a language I could barely speak a word of — using only the Babbel app. And along the way I picked up 8 handy tricks to get me speaking Italian with confidence when I arrived in Italy. Because I’m British I’m also bloody generous, so I don’t mind sharing my tips with you…

1. Create a manageable schedule

If you’re planning to get conversational in a new language in only a few weeks, you have to stick to a strict learning schedule, and you have to make every day count!

The goal of learning Italian in 3 weeks might seem daunting, but the epic nature of the task before me looked a little less scary when I counted the number of lessons contained within the first two Babbel Italian beginner’s courses. I broke these courses down into manageable chunks of lessons, and I set myself a manageable goal of completing 3-4 lessons per day before I flew to Rome. This ensured that I didn’t overwhelm my brain with too much Italian that I would later struggle to remember.

2. Set yourself a clear finish line

As I knew I would be travelling to Italy in only three week’s time, I had a clear finish line for my learning. By establishing this finish line, I realised I was more willing to put in the required effort and stick to my learning plan, because I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

If you leave your language learning open-ended and undefined it will always be tempting to skip a day (or two), with the justification that you can simply catch-up later. But don’t fall into that trap! By skipping days you won’t commit your new language to memory, and when you return to your lessons days later you’ll have forgotten the majority of what you learnt!

3. Be mobile with your learning

I quickly grew to love Italian, but I knew that if I chained myself to the desk for an hour each morning learning modal verbs I would quickly lose my motivation for learning. To freshen things up I made sure to take my phone with me at all times so I could dip into a bit of Italian with my Babbel app during the daily commute to work, whilst waiting for a coffee at my local Turkish bakery, or when relaxing on the balcony after a long day.

Constantly revisiting or reviewing my Italian lessons on the app helped me to make better use of my free time (which probably would’ve been spent scrolling through cat pictures on Facebook). Plus, it helped to subtly reinforce my progress throughout the day by enhancing my recollection of new Italian words and sentences.

4. Let Babbel keep track of your vocab!

When I started my three-week Italian learning challenge, I realised quickly that whilst I could complete the Babbel lessons each day, I would struggle to find the time to write down what I’d learnt on paper to use for future reference. Luckily with Babbel I didn’t need to break out pen and paper, because the Review Manager stored all of the important words and phrases I was covering in my lessons for me!

My Babbel app quickly turned into my personalised Italian phrasebook , and it became invaluable to me when I was in Italy itself, as I was able to quickly scroll through my Review Manager to remind myself of key phrases before entering shops, or when trying to hunt down the right train connections at the station. No fumbling around for notepads or scraps of paper!

5. Learn what you want to learn!

I couldn’t waste my precious three weeks learning how to wish someone happy birthday in Italian. Therefore, I was very picky about the lessons that I completed, and I specifically chose lessons that I knew would help me out the most when in Italy.

I wanted to master topics like asking for directions, food & drink and transport & travel, so I bypassed non-essential lessons to focus on these instead. With the relevant vocab and phrases in my mind, I had no qualms about asking strangers on the street in Rome the best way to reach the Trevi fountain. Plus, when I walked up to a busy restaurant in a bustling piazza, I could confidently stride past all of the non-Italian-speaking tourists fretting at the menu and order a table for two (in Italian)!

6. Speak soon, and often

Make sure that you use what you’ve learnt in your daily lessons by practicing your new-found language skills before you travel. By practicing the language in a relaxed environment close to home, you immediately reduce the "fear factor" of speaking a new language for the first time. Better to conquer these nerves in your home country before you travel abroad and attempt to speak to the locals!

When learning Italian, I took every opportunity to speak with my Italian colleagues so that I could master the pleasantries, ask them for pronunciation tips, and learn extra vocabulary I could never have found in a phrasebook! You might not work with Italians (I’m lucky that I do), but you’re probably not far from an Italian café or bakery where you could test out some phrases with the staff.

7. Set yourself a mini-challenge!

Nothing stimulates the learning process more than putting yourself to the test!

In the second week of my Italian learning challenge I was asked by my Italian colleagues to take part in a live Facebook video - entirely en italiano. In the video I had to tell the viewers a little bit about myself and talk about my Italian learning techniques. Then, a bonafide Roman colleague taught me the most important phrases a traveller to Rome would need! I was petrified at the thought of speaking Italian on camera, but once the video got underway I found myself remembering vocabulary from my lessons much more quickly than if I had simply been asked to recall Italian vocabulary in a non-test setting.

By surrounding myself with real Italians I found myself quickly picking up the flow of the language, and before long I was jumping into the conversation and nattering away without fear. You can judge just how I got on by watching the video below. - Be nice, I had only learnt Italian for one week at the time of recording!

8. Make true friends!

Every language learner knows that false friends can throw a spanner in the works (just think of the word "sensibel" in German, which actually means "sensitive" - not "sensible" as an English speaker would probably have understood it). However, there are also lots of true friends out there for you to take advantage of! True friends are words that look and sound very similar to words in your own language and which have the same meaning. Learning these true friends is a quick way to build up your vocabulary in a new language.

Babbel has true friends and false friends lessons, in order to help you navigate your way through a new language – and these lessons certainly came in handy! I learnt that there are plenty of Italian adjectives that look almost identical to their English counterparts. For example I learnt that in order to Italianize the word "positive" I just needed to substitute the "ive" on the end of the word for "ivo", and the word instantly became "positivo" in Italian. Simple!

Could I speak Italian after 3 weeks?

After 3 weeks, I boarded the plane to Rome – confident that I could turn my short summer break into an unforgettable holiday experience now that I had learnt how to chat with the locals. I had never spoken a word of Italian before, but after three weeks with Babbel I was able to chat to taxi drivers, navigate local transport systems like a pro, and order plate after plate of delicious homemade pizza — all in Italian. Don’t believe me? Then see the results for yourself!

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