The questions I get about studying Italian are always an incredible source of inspiration.
I am blessed with many students and passionate followers and this means I am frequently asked for general advice about studying Italian or for tips and ideas to make language practice more effective.
The answers to those questions usually become an inspiration for lessons, exercises, and other types of material. Sometimes, the questions are really interesting and require a long answer, which is when they become a topic for a blog post. And this is exactly what happened with today’s post.
Last week I got an email from a reader asking me for advice on a very specific topic. The lady who contacted me had been studying Italian for a few years a long time ago and then stopped. Her question for me was: how do I start studying Italian again after such a long time?
She has lots of material like grammar books, completed exercises, notes from lessons but she feels a bit overwhelmed because she doesn’t know the right way to approach that material and how to start building a language practice again, after all these years.
I thought that this was an amazing question and made me think a lot. I gave her a short answer via email but I had the feeling that I could have said way more because the topic is very rich. So I have decided to turn it into a post, not only to give her a more accurate answer but also because I think this is a very common problem for language learners.
Moreover, she could have been me: I have studied Spanish for a few years, back in 2008, but I have abandoned it after reaching a fair level – speaking Spanish is very “easy” for Italians, meaning that you quickly get a decent level that allows to communicate and handle most situations.
I have been meaning to get back to studying Spanish for a long time but never found the time. But I asked myself: what I would do if I wanted to start working on my Spanish again? Where would I start? I thought about it, made some notes, and will try to summarize them here, hoping they can be helpful.
First of all, I would try to determine my language level.
If you haven’t stopped studying ages ago, you pretty much know the level you were when you quit with the language. You know what you were able to do and how you could use the language (we all know that, we always think that we are way worse than what we are, but we know).
I am not saying that you can assess yourself and determine if you are A1, A2, B, or something else, but I am sure you know what kind of situations you were able to handle or what types of resources you could use. If you aren’t sure, there are plenty of tests around the web, and taking them is SUPER fun.
Another thing you can do, if you really don’t know, is checking your old practice books and exercises to see what types of exercises you were doing. And if you have a practice book you were using, it will certainly state the level of students it is aimed at, so it is super easy to identify the level you were when you quit.
For example, I don’t know my official level of Spanish but I surely know that I can handle a simple conversation, I can understand spoken language quite easily – especially if the speaker is Latin American – and I can read quite well but writing is a nightmare for me, so I should be working harder on that specific aspect of the language, if I started studying Spanish again.
Once we have figured out the level, off to the resources.
You probably have heaps of old paper with notes and exercises and all sorts of materials and whatnot. I am old-school and I can study using paper resources only, so I completely understand. But, as much as I love – and keep – the old materials, I wouldn’t use them if I had to start again.
If I had to start studying Spanish again, I would buy a brand new practice book – I know, I always find really good excuses to buy books – and start all over again. Needless to say, I won’t buy a beginner’s one but one that corresponds to my level, even if it’s been ages since I last practiced the language: it needs to be challenging and not boring, that’s the key.
If you are not that much into books, you may want to sign up for an online course or download one of the many language apps that are out there. I prefer more structured work – I am a Capricorn, you know – but if you feel good or more at ease with a lesser strict program, go for it.
Why I don’t recommend using your old materials? Because you have already used them and your brain has already been challenged. If you go through exercises you have already done or read notes you have jotted down ages ago, you are just reading good material but not exactly putting your skills into good use, if you see what I mean.
It’s great for reviewing, of course, but I don’t think it does much for your need to restart language acquisition. When I was in university, I would read my English grammar book cover to cover before every exam even if it wasn’t required – again, the Capricorn in me – but it was mainly to keep my anxiety at bay and didn’t do much for my skills.
Once you have the resources, on with the practice!
After working on the practice book and regaining some kind of structure, I would then start the real fun. The work on the practice book gives you the opportunity to reactivate your skills and identify more clearly what you need to work on. By doing the exercises and all the other activities included in the book, you know better where you are and what you need to work on.
And you can start using all the wonderful resources you find on the web. You can use YouTube to improve your listening comprehension, you can read books or listen to audiobooks, you can download apps to specifically work on vocabulary, you can sign up for an online practice with a teacher. You can build on the work you’ve done with the practice book to then expand and work on the specific skills you want to improve.
I will never get tired of saying that, at this stage, using your passion is really important. So finding resources in your target language that are related to your interests makes everything way easier and more fun. I don’t know if my English would be at this level if it wasn’t for my love for British bands, for example.
Well, I think this is the longest post I have ever written, so I think I’ll stop here. I hope this was useful and inspiring and I am totally open to conversation, so I’d love to reply to your comments if you have questions or just want to add your personal experience.
Have you ever started learning Italian again after a break? How did you do it?
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my brand-new program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.