If You Want To Live In Italy You Totally Need To Learn Italian (So You Can Tell People To Fuck Off)

One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I moved to Italy was not studying Italian before I arrived. I assumed that I could take classes once I lived in Italy or just figure it out by listening, since, I decided without any grounds at all that I was some kind of language genius. Surprisingly, it didn’t work. I did take one three month class at SACI Florence where I studied but it was only enough to lay the foundation and not nearly enough to say more than the present tense. For the first long while I sounded like a monkey making strange noises and pointing ferociously towards objects that I wanted or needed. That wasn’t necessarily the worst part though, the worst part was that not knowing the language made me feel incredibly vulnerable. While walking down the street at home if someone cat-called I could turn around and scream, “shove it up your ass freakshow!” but here all I could do was put my head down and speed up. I didn’t have the knowledge or the muscle memory in my tongue for verbal conflict. Super tough for me guys, because usually my tongue is bitchy.

At one point I started using my friend’s Rosetta Stone software which helped a lot, especially with speaking. However, that friend moved away and Rosetta Stone is fucking expensive and I didn’t think that my family would approve of me engaging in prostitution so I could afford language software. They are so close-minded. 

Luckily for me at some point I stumbled across Babbel, a language website that is a lot like Rosetta Stone, except it’s really cheap and can be used on tablets, cell phones and pretty much any device with an internet connection. You can also make friends with other Babbel users so you can chat with them and practice. Most of them are not perverts. Some of them totally are, in five different languages. There are like five billion languages to choose from so whenever I am feeling bold I can switch from learning Italian to learning French or learning Spanish or Turkish (because obviously Turkish is super useful). I’m kind of obsessed with it.

The best part about finding this website was that I finally improved my Italian. Yes, I have a husband who is Italian but it’s just not the same. Seriously. Every time he corrected me I would start crying and get all snotty and be like, “I’m stupid and I sound three and obviously you’re going to fall out of love with me which is FINE because you totally suck at English too and you belong with your own kind!” Although he didn’t suck at English because he’s one of those smug assholes who can speak like five languages fluently. Sometimes I hate him. 

40 thoughts on “If You Want To Live In Italy You Totally Need To Learn Italian (So You Can Tell People To Fuck Off)

  1. Do you have your blog on a Facebook page so that i can follow it there instead of getting e mail updates?

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Yep, once you get the language it feels like a different world. People treat you differently, too. Life before, I would always get the crappy bread or stale schiacciata because I could just point and say “si” and “grazie”. Or maybe that was only in my mind and the bread woman was just a bitch. But now I get the warm fresh bread the natives get and know the different types to ask for (‘whip’? really?? lol)! coincidence? maybe. I also like the app Duolingo. I’m trying out French and am surprised at how much I actually remember afterwards.

  3. Amen to that. I had many a snotty moment after being gazed at uncomprehendingly when I thought I was doing something easy like ordering a coffee (turns out it was when they actually replied that was the problem).

    • I’ve tried some of the free programs too but usually they were too basic to get me further than simple conversations. Babbel has beginner-more advanced so in about 1 month of using it every day I could speak Italian more or less okay. After that it took a lot of practice which I honestly still need. Since learning a language is more about habit and muscle memory in your mouth than about memorization, you kind of have to learn things and then make yourself say it over and over and over again. I can understand about 80% but I speak about 60% of what I can say in my mother tongue. Then again, I do judge fluency based on mother-tongue ability. I know a lot of expats who say that they’re fluent but in their native language they use words like juxtapose but they have no idea how to say that in Italian. According to some people I speak Italian better than 60%, but since I can have a conversation in English about the Capybara and Unicorn farmers but I don’t even know how to say Unicorn farmer in Italian. I am answering this post after chugging a giant mug of coffee. I just realized that I don’t even know what my point is or what I’m saying.

      • Thank you babe! That’s really sweet of you.🙂 Actually, my job made it a lot more difficult for me to learn Italian. I work as a copywriter for company based in the US. I spend 8 hours every day writing in English so I have very little time to actually work on my Italian. However, I spend weeks at a time at my husband’s parents and that requires me to speak more (although they speak mostly dialect).

      • Prego! Well I’m a freelance private English teacher so I spend my days speaking English. Yes it’s the same for me, my in-laws house is where I get the most practice. But unfortunately they are in Napoli and we moved to Alessandria for my other half’s work. They also speak dialect, but are very sweet for me and we have fun playing charades to communicate. 🙂

      • Ah! My in-laws are from the Naples area too. They are not very patient with me though. They are very “type A” personalities though (bible teacher and police officer). LOL. YOu can imagine.

      • Oh wow, we like us the southern men eh! I’m very lucky with my in-laws, very easy going and so accepting straight off the bat. Funny as I never thought in a million years I would be a teacher and with a policeman. Haha

      • That IS very lucky. My husband considered being a cop like his dad but he chose engineering in the end. He totally has a type A personality like his parents though. They all have a hard time with me because I’m so liberal and artsy brained. ha! Opposites attract I guess.🙂

      • I think my M is Type A, but a mild form, I definitely have type A qualities, but I am the creative dreamer, the dreams high but I have the motivation to make it happen. Our balance is bliss, however I’m an Aries and his a Leo so makes for fun times at all ends of the spectrum. Haha

  4. I’ve seen this babbel thing advertised on German TV, but I had no idea whether it was any good. I’m taking this to mean you think it is😉
    Currently I’m using Duolingo to learn Spanish and practice German. And by “using” I mean I haven’t actually logged on yet this year, but I definitely plan to get back to it soon…

    • I really, really love Babbel because it pretty much made my life go from sucky to livable. I’ve taken classes, tried the “movies and reading” thing but nothing really stuck. After a month on Babbel I could finally participate in conversations without sounding disabled.

  5. Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to check it out.

    I am one of those freaks who picks up languages quickly, though I have to immerse myself for a bit before I can get into the swing of things, then the minute I’m away from it I can’t think of a word to save my life. Before my trip to Italy last year, I listened to Italian podcasts and talk radio (I was totally up on Italian politics for awhile there!) before I went, which helped a lot. My first day in Venice, at which point I’d been in the country for about a week, I knew I’d finally “made it” linguistically when I managed to participate in an argument with an old guy who was yelling at me for walking through water (Piazza San Marco was flooded with like an inch of water & my shoes were water proof. I don’t care what old dude said, I was not at any kind of risk for catching my death.) Even so, pretty much everything I’ve ever had to say on a visit has been present tense, so that would definitely be a hurdle!

    Of course, 2 months later I made friends with a girl who grew up with an Italian father and lived in Rome for a bit herself and the few times she’s tossed out a sentence in Italian, I either stare blankly while trying to think of words or I spit out the most poorly formed response possible. Probably a response with the wrong words, too, like “Monkey table making under tell. -nod nod nod-“

    • hahaha. I love it! That’s basically what I sound like when I speak Italian still. If you’re quick with languages than a full Babbel course will have you nearly fluent I think.

    • Actually, no, I don’t talk about anything that I don’t actually love in real life because I’m not THAT lame. If I like something I kind of talk about it all the time. Among these things: The Capybara, LUSH products (they are the best company ever), Babbel, because I wouldn’t speak Italian without them (or spanish)….IF companies that I already adore wanted to pay me, well, fine, but I don’t take money to push products. I’m way too lazy to fake enthusiasm. You haven’t spent much time here or you’d totally know that already🙂

  6. lol…. So funny… My ex in Mexico used to say I sounded like a three year old girl when I spoke Spanish.!! And for the longest time I could only speak in the present moment also.! it made for a very boring existence🙂 Thank you for this post – it was awesome.! And thanks for letting me know about Babbel🙂

  7. You’re funny! But I strongly suggest trying out Duolingo (computer and smartphone versions are little bit different, but I like both). It’s free, but it’s not only for beginners (you can test out of beginning). It’s totally addictive! Babbel and Duolingo used together would be really good.

    • A few people suggested that and I’ve tried it out. Honestly, it’s probably very good for people who are just barely, barely learning, but I didn’t find it useful for above beginner levels. Also, my mind (because it’s broken and I have ADD) works in a strange way that is better with systems more like Rosetta stone and Babbel (they repeat things over and over in different ways). But I totally think Duolingo is a great source for super beginners!🙂 I’ll include that in my next posts about language, etc.

  8. “For the first long while I sounded like a monkey making strange noises and pointing ferociously towards objects that I wanted or needed.” Well the exact same thing happened to me when I moved to Tokyo last year. I’m italian and as and italian I used to use a lot of gesture THAT WOULD HAVE WORKED JUST FINE if japanese people didn’t have totally different gesture compared with italian people -> I fucked up several times.
    Also, I see what you mean with “feeling vulnerable” not knowing the language of the country you’re leaving in – mostly when you realize that your new friends will never completely realize how FUNNY, COOL AND MAGNIFICENT person you are since you can’t express yourself properly.
    I love your blog, every post makes me rofl.❤

    • WOW! YES! HAHAHA! Italians use so many gestures! My husband does that in the US, too. He tries to talk with his hands and nobody understands him. lol. That’s exactly what it feels like! It really can feel like nobody will ever REALLY understand you. And every culture has a different sense of humor too! Americans and Italians have a different sense of humor and I’m sure Japan and Italy is different. Do you notice that your humor doesn’t translate in Japanese? Do you enjoy it there? My cousin lives in Tokyo right now and she says it’s very interesting but very hard to learn the language. What do you think?

      • The different sense of humour is another HUGE topic when in comes to cultural/linguistic differences between countries, I feel we could spend days talking about it and still have so much to say. When I was in Japan (I’m in Italy right now and planning to go back to Tokyo from March) I tried several times to come up with some hilarious jokes to, you know, loosen up a little and show my new japanese friends that I could be nice sometimes. I realized too late that what made ME laugh or loosen up didn’t actually made THEM laugh or loosen up (so if you ever go to Japan, I warmly suggest to avoid “your momma” or “your sister” jokes even if it’s with your best japanese friend ever – they’re totally not gonna work and they’ll hate you forever hahah). Vice versa, sometimes they came up with some creepy jokes like “You know my friend Tanaka, there are times when he pisses me off so much that I’d rather see him dead, maybe I’ll push him under a train next time *random giggles*”. Wait, what?
        Also, they don’t seem to understand sarcasm and/or irony, which is a little bit frustrating because there will be times when you’re staring hopelessly at your empty fridge with your japanese friend by your side waiting to be served with some delicious food and you go like “man, I really can’t decide what to cook” and he will be like “but you have nothing in your fridge”. OH REALLY?
        And what about you? Did you have any “oh no, I thought it was fun but I totally regret saying it now” experience?

        About my Japanese, luckily I could study it in my university for about three years before leaving so I managed to survive, but of course everything’s different when you actually ARE there surrounded by Japanese speakers with different accents, dialects, speaking speed and so on. Yes, the language is hard, I can’t deny it, but it’s actually a lot of fun : )

        Sorry for my bad english, I must sound something like “herp derp deeerp herp” to you hahah.

  9. My (American) boyfriend just started taking Italian classes. Don’t know if he’ll ever make it alive, but every time I hear him saying “buongiorno” or “come stai?” it makes me wanna make out with him. Hope you’ll have the same effect on people

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  14. you are hysterical I am so glad I stumbled upon this!!!!! I have Italian friends & I recently broke up with my Italian boyfriend but I’m planning on moving to Italy…. unfortunately although I would love to live in the south of a probably have to live in the North due to employment. a friend of mine teaches English as a second language and I was thinking I could do that as my career license will not carry over in Italy

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