When we think about becoming proficient in a language, the first thing that comes to mind is learning vocabulary. That is the classical approach. However, words should ideally be learned in clusters. That is the combination of words that frequently are found together. They should also be studied in context. And once we are acquainted with them, use them frequently to not forget them.
But languages are not only about vocabulary. We think that acquiring new words is a task for those that are at an intermediate level. A complete beginner should get familiar with the way the language works, in the first place.
So, if you are getting started learning Italian, I would suggest you learn the basics in a course. It could be attending one around your local area or enrolling online. The Italianpod101 is a good place to start online.
This post is for those that have the basics covered and are giving their first steps on their own. At that stage, learning vocabulary starts to be important. Here are some suggestions on how to expand your current vocabulary database:
1. Learn Italian vocabulary at a good pace
Don’t cram a lot of new words in a single day. Learning a language takes time and patience. If you try to learn a lot of vocabulary in one day you will only get desperate. And 90% of the memorized terms will be forgotten. Try to learn 15-20 new words every day. No more. Slowly but surely.
2. Create a word list
Whatever method you use, when you start learning vocabulary, always have a pen and paper at hand. And who says “paper and pen” means “notebook and pencil”? It could be “Google Docs and keyboard” or “chisel and stone”. The point is to write down everywhere the words you have just learned, their gender, meaning, and even pronunciation. Review this list from time to time (once a week for example) and you will see how quickly you assimilate this new vocabulary.
3. Learn Selectively
Our memory works selectively. We usually remember what is more relevant in our lives and what is associated with novelty. Also, when emotions are involved in the learning process, retention is higher.
Do not try to learn every strange Italian word you come across. Try to choose only the words that mean something to you. By narrowing down the selection to your interest you increase efficiency.
4. Use your handwriting:
According to neuroscientists, handwriting helps our brain to retain chunks of information better. Jotting down new words that you read here and there will help your brain to produce longer-lasting memories. As we mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be paper and ink. It can be handwritten into your iPad.
5. Start with basic vocabulary
We suggested at the beginning of this post that you learn the basics of Italian before focusing on vocabulary. Learning the basics will also introduce you to vocabulary. So, now that you start learning vocabulary, pick up from where you are with basic everyday life words and phrases. Leave the “more complicated” terms for further on in your journey.
6. Learn words in context
Learning words in context will help your brain retain them. Establishing connections is key when learning vocabulary. That is, associating these words to images, colors, or other similar terms or objects.
7. Establish mental associations for each word you learn
It consists, as its name suggests, in associating the learned word to another concept, situation (within a sentence for example), or image (the one evoked by the word itself, a color…). So, you may remember ‘Buongiorno Principessa’ better if you associate it with the well-known expression from the movie Life is beautiful.
8. Create a diagram that groups words that are related
The same word can be in several groups. The relationship can be in one way or another. For example, you will better remember terms such as ‘la camicia’, ‘il calzino’ or ‘i pantaloni’ if you group them all within a diagram of “Clothing in Italian”.
9. Label the objects in your home
Use Post-it notes with the object’s names and correct pronunciation in Italian. But before you start marking objects like crazy, make sure that the other tenants in the house don’t mind…
10. Put what you have learned into practice
You have achieved a goal when your notebook is full of new Italian words that you’ve learned in a context. But to make sure that you have assimilated these new terms properly, there is nothing better than putting what you have learned into practice. To do so, we suggest that you write a short essay every day using the words you have just studied. The subject matter? It can be anything.
11. Learn Italian using music
You can learn vocabulary with your favorite Italian songs. And if you don’t have any, that’s no problem: you’ll have the opportunity to discover new singers and bands from the land of pasta and mozzarella. In addition, with this method, you will also get your ear used to ‘parlare italiano’ and you will be able to hear live and direct how to pronounce each of the words.
12. Watch Italian videos (with Italian subtitles)
There is no shortage of videos where people speak Italian. With them, you will be able to acquire new vocabulary always within a context and see how exactly the learned terms are vocalized. Of course, we stress the importance of always putting the subtitles in Italian and not in English. Otherwise, this method will be of little use to you.
13. Read books in Italian
Another way to acquire new vocabulary in Italian is by reading books and any other written publication you can get your hands on. Why? This is a way you can learn words in context too. And with books, you will not have to stop the video or song now and then to write down the term in your notebook. Italian newspapers can be good. Here we leave you a link to some of them so you can check the ones that catch your attention.
14. Repetition is a priority
To learn Italian vocabulary efficiently, you need to design a strategy to review what you have studied. Repetition is important for our brains. Try to revisit the words you have learned previously. The goal is to avoid them fading away. Do you know what is the learning curve and how it affects efficient language learning? If you do not, then check this post.
15. Pay attention to your learning style
Have you asked yourself what kind of learner are you? When you meet someone new, do you remember their face or their name/voice? If the first one, there is a big chance you are a visual learner. If the latter, you are an auditory learner. Being one type of learner or another makes a difference when it comes to learning Italian vocabulary efficiently.
Visual learners make the most out of their learning time by reading Italian articles or visualizing the language. Auditory learners pick up new words by listening to podcasts or conversations.
Understanding your learning style will enable you to use your time smartly.
We hope these tips/tricks/methods will be of great help to you in your Italian language learning adventure. Italian is a language that is well worth studying.
If you know of any other technique or help in acquiring new Italian words, don’t hesitate to share it with all of us through the comment box. We will be grateful.
It will be fun to see more and more people speak ‘questa lingua così bella’. Would you like join a podcast-style course? Click here to check it out.