Language is music, not math!
More than often we tend to think that learning Italian or any other foreign language should follow a mathematical model in which, having learned all the rules of grammar, the result is the ability to understand and communicate in the language studied. Nothing could be more wrong!
Let us think for a moment: how did we learn our mother tongue? Did Mom and Dad sit us down, after saying our first word (in Italian, “mamma” for the more affectional, “pappa” for the more concrete), and start explaining articles, gender and number, verbs, conjugations, coordinative and subordinative conjunctions, etc.?! No, certainly not. No parent is foolish enough to subject their child to this torment!
Without great exposure to listening, no speech!
Instead, something else happened–from the first minute our little head leaned over this world, we began to “listen.” Unintelligible sounds, words with obscure meanings, and enigmatic expressions invaded our newborn ears. And, over the months, we absorbed millions and millions of “linguistic inputs.” Slowly, we began to associate some words with objects or needs. And finally, the happy birth: we uttered the first word!
Let’s look at the “natural” learning process: children.
What does all this tell us? Without a massive dose of listening (language input) one cannot even think of being able to begin to speak (language production). Have you ever seen a child speak without ever having heard a word? It is simply against nature! The same argument applies when related to the pathways of learning a foreign language. And, instead, that is precisely what is missing in more traditional courses: exposure to oral language.
Listening to what: authentic, semi-authentic, artificial
Assuming that a child builds the quality of his or her communication from the quality of the listening to which he or she is exposed. If the child grows up in a family that expresses itself in poor language, without the use of subjunctives or idiomatic expressions, for example, or without the ability to manipulate language, he or she will develop poor language. But if the child lives in a rich language context, where the family, the media they are in contact with, and the school, express themselves correctly, naturally, and fluently, the child will almost certainly develop the same skills.
So what to listen for! And this is where the “quality” of the listening material to deal with comes in. If I use listening material that contains simplified, elementary, short, and essential language, I will, over time, develop the same kind of language. If, on the other hand, I train myself by listening to “authentic material,” that is, the same material that native speakers listen to (radio, TV, podcasts, interviews, etc.), that is when, as if by magic, I will begin to enter into the magic that is the language of a people, which is then the aural manifestation of a way of interpreting the world, of looking at personal relationships and of relating to what we see and around us.
So many means at our disposal today
The ease of access and enjoyment of multimedia content that we have today and the wealth of material available at every moment of our lives, starting with a simple smartphone, give us endless possibilities for exposure to and contact with the language authentically spoken by native speakers. It is then enough to access a podcast of our interest on Spotify, to listen to an interview with a character that fascinates us on YouTube, to download an audiobook from Audible, to watch a movie in Italian on Sky or Prime, and even to listen to, rather than read, an article from an online newspaper (many online newspapers now also publish a recorded version of the articles they publish) to have a continuous and constant exposure to authentic Italian whose comprehension is then the ultimate goal of studying Italian, right?
Don’t be afraid of not understanding everything!
If our goal is to understand the Italian language spoken by Italians, there is no other way: we will have to become familiar with and accustomed to Italian. Just as, if we want to swim, we will have to get used to diving into the water! If we don’t dive into a sea of Italian, we will never be able to learn to swim in it!
So, take advantage of all the devices you have at your disposal and take every opportunity, while having breakfast, when waiting for the bus or subway, or on the way home, for authentic Italian language contact. Even just 10 to 15 minutes a day will be enough, you’ll see….
Listen to our good advice!