Wading through the foreign language swamp


Learning a foreign language is like wading through a swamp: you take two steps forward …and your foot  sticks in the mud. You hit a snag and have to take a couple of steps back to find a better way forward. Sometimes, you just get bogged.


I’ve been studying Italian for more than four years and it seems the more I learn, I realise how much more I still need to learn. It’s been found that in the early stages of foreign language learning, we acquire around 2000 words which occur with high frequency. But that isn’t enough for real conversations, to understand the news or to read a book. Apparently, around 7000 words are ideal.

… there is general consensus that 5,000 base words is a minimal requirement, while for non-specialised, academic reading a considerably larger vocabulary is needed. It is therefore necessary that a large number of words be learned in a short period of time at the intermediate and advanced stages of language acquisition.

Peter Groot


So, how do you learn so many words?

My teachers at InClasse recommend reading, listening and viewing as we need to ‘interact’ with a word between 5 and 16 times  in order to retain it. I decided to give up reading English language books for a year and focus on Italian books and newspapers (you remember my goal is to be fluent).

Libri italiani

I’ve read a number of Italian books now and  actually enjoy it even thoughI don’t know all the words.I started with dual language books but found that I was constantly looking at the English translation. I’ve graduated to novels now, some by Italian authors and some translated from English. I’ll talk about some of the books I’ve read  another time but there is a secret to reading in Italian.

The secret is not to interrupt your reading flow. So, do not  look up words as you’re reading, just  try and get the sense of the text and leave the dictionary ’til the end of the chapter.

I love Italian movies too; some of my favourites are Marriage Italian Style (Matrimonio all’Italiana) with Sophia Loren; Bread and Tulips (Pane e Tulipani) starring Licia Maglietta as well as the famous Federico Fellini satire, La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni. Did you know that the pejorative term paparazzi originated from this film?  Mastroianni, the journalist hero had a side-kick, a photographer named Paparazzo.  At home, I prefer to watch movies with the Italian subtitles, not  english. This helps with my comprehension, especially if  the characters speak too quickly or are difficult to understand.

Listening to the Italian news on the radio  or watching on TV is the most difficult for me as newsreaders seem to speak really quickly, and if you’ve ever listened to the weather forecast (previsioni del tempo) and you can understand it, hats off to you! I’ve been told to keep listening as it becomes easier to understand.

Visiting Italy, eating the food, admiring the magnificent  art and enjoying the culture is all the richer if you are able to speak the language.  So if  like me, you are learning Italian, trying to  wade through the language without hitting a snag, or worse, getting bogged, take a different tack. Try some Italian television – reality shows are entertaining and the language is repetitive which is good for expanding your vocabulary and comprehension. Watch an Italian movie without the English subtitles or read some Italian cartoons (fumetti).

I think the main thing is to keep at it. I’ll see you on the other side of the swamp.

Auguri sinceri …Isabella


4 Responses

  1. Isabella

    Ciao Royna
    I’m sure you’ll have a great experience at InClasse. Let me know how you get on.

    All the best!

  2. Royna

    Dear Isabella,
    Thankyou for answering my questions. It gives me great confidence to go ahead and enrol with In Classe in Verona. As you stated they have been very helpful in replying promptly to my emails. I am really looking forward to this experience

  3. Isabella

    Hello Royna!
    I agree, there are many language schools in Italy and some don’t meet expectations. I have studied at a few and my top pick is InClasse, in Verona. The school is run by three enthusiastic young people, all well qualified, great teachers who want to make your experience memorable. There are lots of excursions and opportunities to immerse yourself in the culture. I have done two courses with them and have have lessons via Skype when I’m at home. I chose the school because out of all the enquiries I made, they took the time to answer all my queries and made suggestions for accommodation as well. The apartment I refer to in this post is called CasaRomeo 1. It is a beautiful quiet little oasis in the heart of the city. It is a 10 minute walk to the school. Lucca is a beautiful walled city which I love. The school is outside the city walls and when I attended, there were just three students. I had cooking lessons while there, which was the highlight. My advice is to send emails to the various schools and ask some questions.
    I’m happy you like the blog, please visit again! I hope you find the information useful and interesting.
    All the best for your trip!

  4. Royna

    Thankyou so much for this blog. I am trying to select a language school and find it so daunting. Why did you select In Classe and how long did you study for.? I loved the look of your bright and sunny apartment and was wondering if you have any contact details for this apartment? is it far from the school. Finally, you said that you also studied at Lucca . How did the two compare? I am so thrilled to have found your blog – Thankyou .

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