1 Big Thing You Get to Choose As a Language Learner

When learning another language, especially when you’re getting to that upper level of competency, you come to realize (or perhaps you already know) that there other ways of speaking, or dialects. Each dialect has its own accent, vocabulary, and particular way of saying things. Now, there’s also the standardized version of that language, which is often called, “Standard (insert language here)”. This is the version that is most often taught to non-native learners of the language.

Despite this, I feel that you have a right to pick and choose what you learn and use in learning a language. A lot of Spanish learners, in my experience, feel obligated to only use what they’ve been taught in class. As a learner of a language, you have a certain privilege, or at least opportunity that native speakers may not have.

But the reality is that you can choose what dialect or accent to emulate. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in a particular region where the target language is spoken, I don’t see why not. Sometimes it may be even necessary, as is the case with the varieties of Arabic: Modern Standard Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, etc.

In the case where there is a standard, but there are still very distinct dialects, such as in Italian, this is where learners have the dilemma. Students of Italian are typically taught only Standard Italian, which resembles Florentine Italian the most, and as you go out from Rome, Florence, and the other cities in Central Italy, the language is less and less intelligible to the untrained ear. The Sicilian and Milanese varieties sound very different. In such a case, depending on where you are, you should familiarize yourself with what that dialect sounds like, or even try to switch between dialects (if you’re willing to learn the dialects well enough).

The point of learning a language to fluency (in my opinion) is to emulate native speakers. Because there are a great many native speakers, there are also a great many dialects. Therefore, it is up to the learner (after getting down the fundamentals of course) to pick what kind of speaker they want to emulate.

My Experience in Learning Italian

It was really in the summer before 8th grade that I actually started learning Italian, but for whatever reason, I stopped until the second semester of 10th grade. I was going through my documents, cleaning out unwanted junk, and saw all my old Italian notes, which I decided to look at. I thought to myself, “Hey, this looks pretty similar to Spanish, and I’m sort of familiar with it.” And with that, I started researching all the grammar topics and compiling the vocabulary lists that now make up Scoprendo l’italiano!. The cultural information was added quite a bit later, after I went to Italy for a second time. In Rome and Florence (not so much Bologna), I got to practice a lot of spoken Italian, because neither my parents nor my brother spoke a word of Italian. It was a pretty fun experience, with people correcting my sentences every now and then. I was complimented on my relatively good Florentine accent (which is the accent taught to most foreign learners of the language), especially considering I had been self-taught. One waiter at a restaurant in Pisa asked me why I was even learning Italian, because he thought it was useless outside of Italy. I’ll admit, even though I’m very much a believer in practical application, I learned Italian largely for fun. I mean, that’s not to say I didn’t have practical uses for it. In fact, it helped me out on my SAT and Spanish, because it expanded my understanding of both English and Spanish by building my vocabulary.

Despite getting as far as I did in Italian, I realize that I still have a long way to go. I took a practice test for the AP Italian Language and Culture Test (for multiple choice), and saw how little vocabulary I actually knew. I was nowhere near having that amount of knowledge. Of course, now I’m trying to read more texts in Italian to improve my vocabulary and contextual experiences with the language.

However, I also have the problem of getting speaking practice. I’ve tried to get sessions with Italian speakers through a bunch of different language exchange sites: Polyglot Club, italki, Interpals (which I’m still trying out), and WeSpeke (which I’ve gotten a couple of audio/video calls on). But it’s not really enough, because the AP Exam has very specific situations, such as telling stories, describing a photograph, or something else. Obviously, I’m not planning on taking the exam, but I am continuing to study Italian to keep myself in practice. Hopefully, one day, I can study abroad, or spend an extended period of time in Italy.

Some of the resources I found really useful for practicing were the WordReference Dictionary, which helps with finding all sorts of words and Duolingo, the famous language-learning application. Hopefully, this post helps anyone looking to practice Italian!