Parli Italiano?  It’s all good in theory, but where’s the practice?

I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Italy with my family.  We’re lucky enough to have some great friends out there, and recent events being as they are it had been far too long since we’d met.  I love everything about Italy, the people, the delicious food, the stunning architecture, but most of all I love the language.

I’ve wanted to learn Italian since I was a little girl, when my Dad had an obsession with Ferrari’s and we had second generation Welsh-Italian friends who taught me some of the lingo.  The Universe conspired to help me when my husband worked for an Italian company, and we had four years of lessons.  Every time we visited Italy, I would learn a little more, and every time I would vow that the next time we visited I would be able to speak Italian properly.

It’s ten years later and there’s just one problem that persists:  my reluctance to speak!  I speak Italian fine in my head (at least I think I do) and I understand many words (I can follow the general gist of some conversations).  Yet if someone speaks to me in Italian, I freeze, like a startled deer caught in those headlights shining bright.  All the words I’ve learned, all the sentences I’ve carefully constructed in my brain, disappear, and I’m left with one simple phrase:

‘Non parlo italiano.’

Except that’s not true.

Mi parlo italiano, just not, it turns out, to Italian people.

This is proving something of a barrier to my dreams of becoming fluent in Italian.

On this most recent trip I vowed that I would speak Italian every chance I got.  Whilst I managed a few words and phrases here and there, (mostly to my English family), my only success was our last evening, when I spoke a few halting, stumbling sentences.  But it was hard! The words refused to flow from my mouth with the ease that they flowed through my mind. 

The problem is multifaceted:

I think my particular brain barrier stems from past experiences.   In my early Italian speaking days, when I was young and not afraid to give it a go, there were a couple of occasions where I wasn’t treated kindly by those I tried to converse with: one young man in a restaurant spoke deliberately quickly and made fun of me, and another time I was spoken to quite rudely after asking for directions.  Rather than see these as isolated incidents, I found fault with myself and my Italian speaking, and became more reticent in speaking out loud.

Our Italian friends also speak excellent English, and this has meant I’ve taken the easy route and spoken English with them.

I’m just too self-conscious about making mistakes.  Yet I’ve seen clearly on this trip that if I am to learn to speak Italian, I need to let this fear go.  I need to be prepared to get things wrong, to not be understood, to repeat myself many times (as I also have to do quite a lot when I’m speaking English, especially with my family!) and to understand that all of the mistakes, embarrassment and misunderstandings are part and parcel of learning a language. In fact, they’re part of learning anything, they’re part of life.

It’s time for me to turn my theory into practice, and accept that learning does not happen without mistakes: many, many mistakes.

What new skills have you been putting into practice?  Inspire me, lovely people!

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on

6 thoughts on “Parli Italiano?  It’s all good in theory, but where’s the practice?

  1. I think for me it’s about confidence, I have learned to just go with it and see, but it has taken me years, no one wants to look silly, we do like to look accomplished and part of the scene. Glad you enjoyed your special time – fiction or a poem in Italian??

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny because I thought I was over my fear of looking silly, & in some corners of my life I’ve mastered it, but I suppose there’s always more work to do!

      Now that is a brilliant idea Paul 💡 that would be an excellent way to learn more Italian in a more interesting way than audiobooks and Duolingo! Thanks 😊


  2. I understand your reluctance to speak Italian in Italy. I’d be the same way, and I don’t know how I’d get over that feeling. It’s a good question to ponder. Maybe the solution is as simple as go for it, kind of a “jump and the net will appear” approach?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right Ally. I feel like my attempts on the last night allowed a little chunk of light through my mental block, I guess I just have to keep at it, perhaps speaking it out at home, maybe to the dog, could be a good first step 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to speak a language fluently, but I think you have to live in that country for some time before that would happen. I did a simple Spanish conversation course just because I love the language and wanted to be able to order food, ask directions etc when in Spain. The most helpful phrases I learnt were “ I want to practice my Spanish please, is that okay ? “, “ please speak more slowly “ and “ please can you repeat that “…….I still often didn’t understand their replies but would just laugh and apologise …. then speak English . Talk to your dog in Italian, that’s a great idea. X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those are some very useful phrases! 😂

      Now having a bi lingual dog I can practice on would with no judgement is a great idea 💡

      I met someone with an Italian dog the other day, they’d taken him on holiday & I asked how he was able to leave the UK but apparently because he’s Italian he already had a passport when they got him!


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