Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Fluent.Simple - Updating our “Ripeti con me!” Review

Fluent. Simple. website logoBecoming fluent in another language you love is very good feeling!
Some time ago, we wrote a review of “Ripeti con me!”, a downloadable audio course for boosting your Italian speaking and listening skills.
Last month, its founder, Stefano Lodola, contacted us about updating our review. I was actually still practicing with his downloadable course “Ripeti con me!”, while preparing lunch or taking walks.

However, I quickly realized that Stefano has made major changes. He has expanded the original audio course; he is continually adding reading and listening materials grouped together as "Leggi con me!"; and you'll also find a large number of free resources to accelerate your learning. A personalized dashboard will help you plan and monitor your learning path.
Everything is now accessible online on his new site FluentSimple.com

Thus, the audio course “Ripeti con me!” is part of a much larger offering of "comprehensible input" for learning Italian. That means, you'll find plenty of language material that's on your level and which you can understand from context, even though you might not know all the words and grammar patterns.
The new material on the site - described further below - supports and enhances what I really like about the original audio course.

Stefano Lodola is an Italian polyglot, language teacher and translator, who now speaks 12 languages. As I mentioned in my earlier review, he's also an opera singer with a wonderful voice. You'll hear that in the lessons of the "Ripeti con me!" Italian audio course.

Learning Italian Online with Fluent. Simple. will have you choose different plans:

Ripeti con me!

The course Ripeti con me! is still the core of "Fluent. Simple." Ripeti con me! page logoThere are now 215 lessons, instead of the original 45.
The simple and effective lesson format has not changed, but with the increased number of lessons, you'll acquire much more vocabulary and become familiar with a much wider range of grammatical patterns.
Click HERE for our detailed description of the lesson format. To try the lessons out for yourself, make use of Stefano's free 7-day Trial.
The goal of the audio course is still to get you to think in Italian right away, and to make speaking increasingly automatic. That's what fluency is about, right?

Leggi con me!

Italian Short Stories

These stories are for beginners and intermediate learners and are read by a native speaker at a slow but natural pace. You'll have a transcript as well as an English translation.
One advantage of learning with stories is that it trains you to guess meaning from context, which is pretty much how we learn a language in an immersion situation.

News in slow Italian web pageNews in Slow Italian

We all live in a world that bombards us with news. We read news and talk about it on a daily basis.
But news stories use vocabulary and grammar patterns that are often different from fictional or personal stories that we read and tell.
So, part of being fluent also means understanding and speaking about local and global news events.

Italian Conversations

Mastering daily conversations is a fluency skill of its own. In conversations, native Italian speakers often use extra little filler words (beh, boh, allora, dai, tipo, cioè, insomma, etc) that act as conversational bridges or show that you're listening.
And they use specific sounds (mmh, ehm, uhm) that break a silence or signal a hesitation or reaction to what's being said.
To sound natural, you need to learn to understand these filler words and sounds and use them yourself.
With the conversations, you'll learn plenty of conversational vocabulary, but you'll also learn how to use those little important filler words and sounds while talking.
The Italian conversations are for beginners and intermediate speakers, and come with slow audio, transcripts and English translation.

Free "Fluent. Simple." Resources

Italian Grammar Lessons

Whether you hate it or love it, grammar is "the system or structure of a language", as defined in the Oxford Dictionary. You'll find that becoming aware of basic grammar patterns will boost your fluency.
The good news is that when we learn a language, we start to absorb its grammar patterns automatically. Kids do that already very early with their native language.
Doing grammar exercises is simply a way of learning to figure out how a language hangs together.
The audio course "Ripeti con me!" introduces a basic grammar pattern in each lesson. It's a great way to internalize grammar and make it automatic.
The section with Italian grammar lessons just gives you some rules and explanations if you want them.

Online Italian TestFluent. Simple. Online test page

To check your Italian Level with immediate feedback, you can take a quick test. That too is a resource for learning and improving your Italian.

Learn Italian (a Polyglot's Tips for Mastering Italian)

The Fluent. Simple. Blog provides a wealth of hacks, resources and inspiration to language learners. Topics include: How to talk about your family in Italian, Italian curse words, Learn foreign words with these 4 simple mnemonics, Speaking practice: talk to yourself, and many more.
On this page you should also check out the bottom section entitled: "How to Master Italian? With these tips!"
You'll see a list of over 50 language learning tips and further resources from fellow polyglots.

Fluent. Simple. Dashboard screenshotThe Dashboard

Once you've created an account and signed in, you can go to your personal dashboard. There you'll see all the content you signed up for and any free resources.
The dashboard shows you what lesson you were on last, so you can continue where you left off.
You'll see any lessons and readings that you've marked as completed, and you can bookmark any content you want to track.
You can quickly check your account, and access the FAQ's and further support.

3 Monthly Subscription Plans for Learning:

(Prices for products on the Simple. Fluent. site are in US currency. Click HERE for the current prices and use Promo Code G4LFS for a 10% discount, forever.)

  1. Ripeti con me! Audio course only (215 online audio lessons, 6,500 useful sentences, 70 hrs of audio)

    Note: Ripeti con me! is also available as one-time purchase in the form of an MP3 file to download.
  2. Leggi con me! 300+ Bilingual readings with slow audio (short stories, news, conversations)
  3. Impara con me! Full access to both Ripeti con me! and Leggi con me!

In my experience, you become fluent in a language only if you engage with it consistently and make an effort to speak frequently.
It's great, of course, to have a Italian speaker as a frequent conversation partner. But what also works really well for improving your fluency is "shadowing" a native speaker. You can do that, for example, by listening to the Italian - spoken sentences, conversations, short stories, news pieces - and repeating what's being said right along with the speaker or a split-second after the speaker says it.

I'm currently fluent in four languages, and find that I'm well on my way to becoming fluent in Italian, too. My practice with Ripeti con me! is clearly helping me, as are the various techniques that polyglots commonly use, and which Stefano describes so well on his site.

It took me a while to navigate through Stefano's site to discover the many resources and understand which parts are fee-based and which parts are free for all.
A 7-day trial with daily engagement is probably the best way to become familiar with all that's available.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Disclosure: "Fluent. Simple." is one of our partner sites. If you use the discount code G4LFS you will receive a 10% discount forever on all products (online or downloadable) on "Fluent. Simple." Gamesforlanguage will receive a small commission, which will let us keep our site free of Google ads and other advertisements. As an affiliate, we were given one-month full access to Fluent. Simple.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Le Mani in Pasta and More in Italian Idioms

Making PastaFollowing our recent posts about German and French idioms, we are now looking at 12 Italian idioms.
A few years ago, we lived for several months in Rome, on Via di Genovesi in the Trastevere neighborhood. Our apartment was located directly across from a small restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (
Photo by Jorge Zapata on Unsplash)
It was then a restaurant for locals and none of the waiters spoke English. We loved going there. Our Italian at the time was still quite rudimentary and it was a fun challenge to order from the Italian-only menu. (The restaurant has since expanded and continues to be popular. A nephew who had dinner there with his family early this year liked it very much!)
As new Italian learners, we were puzzled by the form “le mani”, but our tutor explained that “the hand” in Italian is feminine: it's "la mano, le mani".
What had obviously thrown us off was that most Italian nouns ending with “o” are masculine. (Sometimes a look at related languages helps. It's “la main” in French, and - no surprise - “la mano” in Spanish. And even in German, the word hand happens to be feminine: “die Hand”.)

1. Avere le mani in pasta

Idiom: to have a finger in the pie
Literally: to have the hands in dough
Explanation: To be involved, especially in a business matter, or situation of power.
Italian: Essere addentro a qualcosa, in particolare a una questione d'affari, o a una situazione di potere.

2. Avere le mani di pasta frolla

Idiom: to be a butterfingers
Literally: to have pastry-dough hands; "pasta frolla" = shortcut pastry
Explanation: To be someone who drops things they are carrying or trying to catch, to be clumsy, awkward, not careful, not know how to do something or do it badly.
Italian: Essere goffi, impacciati, non accurati, non saper fare nulla o farlo male.

3. Calcare la mano

Idiom: to lay it on with a trowel
Literally: to tread or press down on the hand
Explanation: To exaggerate, especially regarding a punishment or accusation.
Italian: Esagerare in rigore e severità, soprattutto se riferito a una punizione, un'accusa.

4. Non perdere la mano

Idiom: to keep your hand in
Literally: to not lose the hand
Explanation: To not get out of the habit of doing something.
Italian: Non perdere l'abitudine di fare qualcosa.

5. Essere in gambaWomen soccer training

Idiom: to be on the ball (Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash)
Literally: to be on your feet
Explanation: To be in good health. Also more broadly speaking, to be smart, skillful, expert, efficient.
The first meaning alludes to the fact that a sick person is generally in bed and does not use their legs.
Italian: In buona salute. In senso lato anche intelligente, abile, esperto, efficiente.
Nel significato primo, allude al fatto che una persona malata sta generalmente a letto e quindi non usa le gambe.

6. Fare il passo piu lungo della gamba

Idiom: to bite off more than you can chew
Literally: to take a step longer than the leg
Explanation: To risk going beyond one's own possibilities.
Italian: Arrischiarsi oltre le proprie possibilità.

7. Prendere qualcuno in giro

Idiom: to pull someone's leg, take somebody for a ride
Literally: to take someone for a stroll
Explanation: To make fun of a person, mock, taunt or fool someone.
Italian: Farsi beffe di una persona, burlarla, canzonarla.

8. Tenere un piede in due scarpe

Idiom: to keep a foot in both camps
Literally: to have a foot in two shoes
Explanation: Staying involved in two situations (groups of people, opinions etc), while trying to profit from both of them.
Italian: Barcamenarsi tra due situazioni cercando di trarre profitto da entrambe.

9. Si è dato la zappa sui piedi

Idiom: to shoot yourself in the foot
Literally: He has given himself a hoe on the feet
Explanation: To hurt oneself, to come to harm oneself, particularly in a fit of anger.
It's used especially when someone hurts themselves while thinking they is harming someone else.
Italian: Farsi del male, procurarsi un danno, detto in particolare di chi agisce avventatamente o spinto dall'ira.
Usato soprattutto a proposito di finisce per nuocere a se stesso pensando di danneggiare qualcun altro.

Serving an omelet10. Ormai la frittata è fatta

Idiom: You can't unscramble eggs.
Literally: At this point the omelet has been made. (Photo by Cooker King on Unsplash)
Explanation: An exclamation that expresses resignation about a mess that was made.
Italian: Esclamazione, esprime rassegnazione per un guaio ormai avvenuto.

11. Rivoltare la frittata

Idiom: to turn the tables on somebody
Literally: to flip over the omelet
Explanation: To turn around a discussion, to change a situation to your advantage.
Italian: Rigirare un discorso, capovolgere una situazione a proprio vantaggio.

12. Avere grilli per la testa

Idiom: to have a head full of nonsense
Literally: to have crickets in the head
Explanation: To have strange, bizarre or overly ambitious ideas.
Italian: Avere idee stravaganti, bizzarre o troppo pretenziosi.

Since our stay in Trastevere, Rome, we've continued to have fun learning Italian in various ways and with various programs. Building our own GamesforLanguage site - together with native-language writers and speakers - has been a direct way to keep our hands in the language dough.
And, especially now that travel has become more complicated, our site and our blog has allowed us to connect with an ever growing online language community.
For more Italian Idioms check also https://www.theintrepidguide.com/italian-sayings-you-wont-forget/#.XuFSyPJ7nm0 or https://dizionari.corriere.it/dizionario-modi-di-dire/P/pasta.shtml.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

“Offerieren" – “Offro io”: being surprised in Gstaad, Switzerland

Glasses with nose padsSometimes, your day can just become a little brighter after you have been pleasantly surprised. In this case it concerned my glasses. And here is the little story:

During our recent skiing vacation, Ulrike and I decided to walk down to Gstaad. We had skied the day before, and in the evening I discovered that one of the little nose pads on my glasses was missing.

It's about an hour's walk through fields and past chalets to get to Gstaad from Schoenried, where we usually stay. On this day, the weather felt like spring and there was no snow. (Snow was to arrive the next day.)

Mirage – Gstaad, SwitzerlandGstaad Mirage inside

On our way down, we visited Mirage Gstaad, a house made of mirrors that stands in the middle of an open field. It's another installation of such a  house by the well-known American artist Doug Aitken. The outside walls mirror the beautiful natural scenery that surrounds the house. Inside, as you go through the rooms, you see yourself move reflected in dozens of images.

Gstaad Mirage has become quite a destination for many visitors in the Gstaad area and is an interesting idea. As one of the Italian visitors called out: Che bella idea!

"Offerieren" @ Optik Gstaad

But on to my quest for those little nose pads. Normally, in the US I find pads like that in a drugstore, but I knew it was unlikely that a Gstaad pharmacy or a “Drogerie” (i.e. drugstore) would have them.

In Switzerland, shops are more specialized than in the US. When we asked at a Drogerie, the clerk pointed us to “Optik Gstaad”, the only optician in town.

There I showed my glasses with the missing nose pad to a friendly saleswoman, and she understood immediately. I also asked her for a couple of extra pads in case I should lose another one. She nodded, suggested that we take a seat and disappeared to the back of the store. I had expected that she would just sell me a bag with a few pads.

About 15 minutes later – I was already wondering what could take so long – a young man appeared holding a silver tray: on it were my spotlessly clean glasses, with one new and one replaced nose pad, as well as two additional pads and a little bag on the side.

As I moved over to the payment counter – already trying to calculate what this little repair might cost – the young man wouldn't have any of it and said in Swiss German: “... mi möchtn's offerieren!”. I didn't really catch the first part of his explanation. But it took me only a moment to understand what he meant, i.e. that there was not going to be any charge, neither for the Peter leaving Optik Gstaadreplacement nor for the extra pads.

In fact, in this context “offerieren” did not just mean “to offer” - the usual translation, but to offer the provided service (and product) for free.

I thanked him in my best Swiss German and put on my glasses. As I left the store, the world looked indeed very bright and clear through them.

And where do you think, I will buy my next sun glasses? This Swiss business clearly understood how good will is created. Rather than selling me a few Silicon pads for a Swiss Frank or two, the folks at Optik Gstaad understood that they are also in the service business.

“Offro io” – It's on me, my treat ...Gamesforlanguage.com: In an Italian café

Why did I understand, after only a moment's surprise, what the young man was telling me? Maybe it was because I had recently played our Italian Quick Game: “In an Italian Café”. The game  starts with the expression “Offro io”, which means, I offer it, it's on me.

In English, "to offer something" generally means to provide something, free or with a condition attached. The other person can accept or reject the offer.

by Nader Arman on Unsplash“Darf ich Ihnen einen Cognac offerieren?” - May I offer you a Cognac? If you hear this question asked at a dinner party, you don't expect to have to pay for it. On the other hand, if a waiter asks you that in a restaurant at the end of your dinner, and you accept, you'd better expect to see the charge for it on your check.

So the meaning of “offerieren” and “to offer” without any condition, will very much depend on the context and situation in which it is used.

As a noun, “die Offerte”, just translates as “the proposal” for a service and/or product and  typically includes conditions such as price, delivery schedule, etc. It's used quite frequently in business German.

Well, that's the true fun of learning a language: It gets you out of your monolingual corner and opens you up to surprising moments of discovery and pleasant personal encounters. That way, life becomes so much brighter and more interesting.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Ripeti con me - Learning Italian - A Review

FluentSimple: Ripeti con me logo

Learning Italian? Check out "Ripeti con me!"
[Note: This course review was written in 11/2018. In November 2020, we wrote an update of the course, which had been greatly expanded and moved online.]

A couple of weeks ago, Stefano Lodola wrote to ask us about reviewing his Italian audio course "Ripeti con me!".
Stefano is an Italian Polyglot, language teacher and translator who speaks nine languages.
He's also an opera singer, and as you'll hear on the audio, he has a clear and pleasant voice.
The description of the "Ripeti con me!" audio course and the method behind it intrigued me.

Readers of earlier blog posts may recall that - before our stay in Italy several years ago - my husband and I completed the 3 Pimsleur Italian audio-only courses (no text), a total of 90 lessons. (And for complete disclosure: I was the course writer and development editor of several Pimsleur audio courses before 2011.)
Personally, I've been looking for an Italian course to refresh and boost my Italian speaking skills.
So, I am not only quite familiar with audio courses but also definitely motivated to try out a new approach and new materials.
Stefano gave us access to 15 downloadable Lessons of "Ripeti con me!" so I could review his method and the course format.

THE COURSE BASICS
Ripeti con me! currently has 60 Lessons in audio format that you can download.
[Note: as of 11/2020, the course has 215 lessons, which are also available online.]

Each Lesson is made up of 30 basic sentences, spoken at a natural pace.
For each audio Lesson there are three files, Part A, Part B and Part C, to be done in sequence. The three files have you practice the same 30 sentences in three different ways.
The sentences contain useful, conversational vocabulary and common, idiomatic grammar patterns.
Spaced Repetition of vocabulary and grammar patterns is built into the course. Sentences come up again and again, but each time with small changes that show how the language works.
The sentences and their translations can also be downloaded as a PDF file, but that is optional.
The course is for Total Beginners to Intermediate Learners who want to improve their speaking skills.
In his Introduction, Stefano has detailed instructions on how to learn with his course.

WHAT WORKS FOR ME 

AUDIO FORMAT

I love learning with audio. I agree with Stefano that spoken and written language are processed differently by the brain.

Woman exercising listening

When you just listen, your brain connects directly to the sound without needing to decode the letters.

When I do a lesson for the first time, it's really effective to just sit with eyes closed while repeating and "shadowing" (i.e. speaking along with the speaker, or a split second behind him). That way I can also pay attention to the small but meaningful sounds that connect the sentence: prepositions, negatives, endings, agreements, etc.
With Audio, you can easily take the course with you and listen and repeat on the go, while walking, jogging, cooking, waiting for a bus, etc. 

PDF DOWNLOAD 

Ripeti con me: Screenshot Lesson 3 PDF
The sentences and their translations can all be downloaded in PDF. Reviewing the text is optional.
Still, I've found it very useful to look at the written sentences after doing the Audio.
The sentences and their translations can all be downloaded in PDF. Reviewing the text is optional.
That's because living in a world of the printed word, I automatically make up my own mental spelling of any unfamiliar word I hear or see, no matter what the language. I might as well learn the correct form.

Besides, I love to read. For any language that I learn, it's my goal to learn to read fluently (online news, blog posts, articles, stories, novels).
Reading is one of the most powerful ways to learn additional vocabulary and grammar patterns, and stay interested in the language. 

SENTENCES AND SPACED REPETITION

In "Ripeti con me!", sentences (not individual words) are the basic building blocks. You learn and practice all vocabulary in the context of everyday, useful sentences.
By listening and repeating many sentences that use and reshuffle basic vocabulary, you become more and more familiar with typical phrases and idioms.
The application of Spaced Repetition in "Ripeti con me!" is very good. As you constantly learn to construct new, slightly changed sentences, you automatically internalize Italian vocabulary and grammar patterns.
The English translations, because they are often not literal, help you to think in Italian. For example:

Come sto con gli occhiali? - How do I look in my glasses? (literally: How am I with the glasses?)

Come fai senza macchina? - How can you live without a car? (literally: How do you make it without car?)

THREE TYPES OF PRACTICE

Practicing the same 30 sentences of the lesson in three ways is quite effective, especially if you repeat/say the Italian out loud.
Part A: After the English cue, listen and repeat/shadow the Italian sentence. (For meaning, pronunciation of words, correct intonation.)
Part B: After the English cue, say the sentence in Italian in the pause that follows. (To produce the Italian and check if you're correct.)
Part C: Shadow each of the Italian sentences. (No English. To mimic the speaker and learn to think in Italian.)

I like the technique of shadowing when I'm learning a language. I use it often when listening to audio books or going over sentences in a course.
As mentioned, shadowing means speaking along with the speaker, or a split second behind. It takes a little practice. But once you've got the knack, you'll improve the rhythm, intonation, and pronunciation of your Italian.
Don't be afraid to talk over the native speaker's voice, you'll find that you can listen and talk at the same time. 

GRAMMAR PATTERNS

grammar books stacked

I don't really know if my brain is wired for grammar, but it's definitely wired for language patterns. 

Listening and repeating many sentences that have small shifts in pattern works really well for me.

I noticed that as I practiced, more and more phrases and idioms became familiar again and I would start using them automatically. (As Italian is not a new language for me, it's also likely that I notice these patterns more than a beginner.)

Each lesson focuses on a specific grammar point, built into the sentences. (The specific grammar items are in bold on the PDF.) Here are some examples of grammar points:

Lesson 1 has many sentences with present forms of the verb "essere" (to be).

Lesson 2 the sentences focus of the present forms of "avere" (to have), including common idioms with  "avere".

In Lesson 3, you practice number agreement (un gelato-due gelati), and adjective-noun agreement. (see photo in PDF section)
 
In Lesson 6, the sentences highlight the indefinite article forms: "un', un, una".

In Lesson 13, you practice sentences with "piacere": "mi piace/mi piacciono" (I like), "ti piace" (you like), "a Giulia non piace" (Giulia doesn't like), "a voi piace" (you-all like), etc.

A WELL-PACED COURSE 

It's recommended that you do a full Lesson a day. Because you're often reusing familiar vocabulary for new sentences, even a beginner can follow the pace.
Still, if you don't feel ready to move on, you can easily repeat that Lesson the next day.
My spoken Italian is probably at a Low Intermediate level (while my listening comprehension and reading skills are better).
With "Ripeti con me!", I found I can really focus on practicing to speak in Italian. I'm happy with the improvement I've noticed.

COST

FluentSimple: Ripeti con me logoAs of 11/2020, the "Ripeti con me!" audio course has 215 Lessons. You can access the audio course on a monthly plan for $18.90/mo
Click on the left logo for a YouTube playlist with the preview of all the lessons.
[Use  Promo Code G4LFS  to save 10%]

For $198, you can also download the MP3 version of the full course, which includes a PDF script of the sentences.
[Use  Promo Code G4LFS  to save 10%]

FURTHER THOUGHTS

No program will teach you everything you want to achieve in a language. And a program can certainly not replace speaking regularly with native speakers, a trained tutor, or good conversation partners.

A real conversation is so much more than listening and repeating. You have to understand what the other person is saying, which includes all the non-verbal signals that are part of effective communication. Plus, as you're listening and decoding what's being said, your brain is also working on an answer.

Still, good programs offer you the chance to practice specific foreign language skills. The 15 Lessons of Fluent Simple, which I did according to instructions, have clearly boosted my basic speaking fluency.

Beyond that, one can always find more ways to learn with a good program. "Ripeti con me" is no exception. Once you've gone through the course, you can go back and do other things with it. It keeps the material fresh.

MEMORIZE

For some people memorizing works. Once you've gone through the course as suggested, you can take ten sentences, for example, and just keep them in your head for the day. Say them to yourself from time to time, as you walk to work, take a break, or take the bus home. It's a good way to become totally familiar with certain sentence patterns.

DICTATION

I've always enjoyed dictation and have used it a lot in my language teaching and learning. In "Ripeti con me!", Part C of each Lesson is perfect for this. Write down the sentence as you hear it, and stop the audio if you need to. At the end, you can check what you've written against the correct sentences on the PDF file. For one, dictation strengthens the sound-letter correlation. Plus for me, writing something down by hand helps me remember.

WRITING

Journal writing for learning a language has become very popular. Even as a beginner, keep a daily journal by using the sentences that you've learned. Or you can even try out new variations of some of sentences. Do this just from your head, without looking up anything. Because of the many-sentence structure of the course, you'll have lots of possible sentences ready. It's a great start for beginning to write.

Italian is a wonderful language to learn, and you can do it at any age. Think about Italian culture and history, Italy's historic cities, villages, and beautiful countryside. And there's Italian music, and the world of Italian food, fashion and movies.

Besides, learning a language is good for your brain and learning Italian may inspire you to visit. Go for it!

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here below!

Disclosure: We added "Ripeti con me!" to our Partner's list. Should you decide to purchase "Ripeti con me!" with the forever Promo Code G4LFS  to save 10%, Gamesforlanguage will receive a small commission which will help us keep our own site ad-free.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Italian Travel Memories 2: Marco in Florence

View of Florence and Veccio bridgeIf you're traveling to Italy, you won't want to miss Florence. Exploring this romantic and historic university town will leave you with some wonderful travel memories.

Our first ItalianTravel Memories post covered Pisa, where Marco, the young traveler in our Italian 1 course, visits his aunt and uncle. He then takes the train to Florence where he looks up a friend he met back home. At his friend's place he meets two other students who join him on his walk through the historic center of Florence.

We'll follow Marco's explorations of Florence. For those of you who are doing or have done our Italian 1 course: Marco in Italia, the additional details will complement those of the course.

The Travel Memories blog posts tell you a few interesting facts about the cities that are featured in GamesforLanguage's travel-story courses. We typically use the cities' names of the streets, hotels, squares, restaurants, etc. and we've been to many of them ourselves.

In future blog posts, we'll provide more details of the other two Italian cities Marco visits, Venice and Rome. And we'll do the same for the cities that our other travelers visit in France, Spain, Germany and the U.S.

In our travel-story course you learn everyday conversational language. In this post, we've listed some additional basic words and phrases in Italian that you may encounter in your travels.

Quick Florence History

The city of Florence (Firenze), considered the birthplace of the Renaissance,Map of Italy and Tuscany  region is the capital of Tuscany (Toscana), one of Italy's 20 regions. It lies in central Italy, about 2 1/2 hours north of Rome by train.

The most populous city in Tuscany, Florence was named a Metropolitan City (città metropolitana) in 2015. This includes the city itself and the large urban sprawl around it.

Early Florence was a Roman city, established in 59 BC by Julius Ceasar as a place to settle his veteran soldiers. Because of its position at the confluence of rivers (the Arno and its tributaries Murgone, Ema, and Greve), this outpost was first named Fluentia. But the name was later changed to Florentia ("flowering").

In the early Middle Ages, Florence was a city state. It had a flourishing textile industry and developed into an important international trade and finance center.

The Medici family held power in Florence for three centuries (from 1434 to 1737). They were bankers to the pope and great patrons of the arts. Lorenzo die Medici 1449-1492 for example, was a poet as well as a statesman, and commissioned works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.

From 1737 to 1859, a number of foreign powers governed Florence (the Austrian House of Lorraine, the Italian House of Bourbon-Parma, Napoleonic France). Then in 1861, Tuscany became a region of the Kingdom of Italy. For six years, Florence was its capital.

Italian Unification (or Risorgimento) was a complicated process that lasted from 1815 to 1871, when Rome finally became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. After unification, the state adopted Italian as the official language.

Standard Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which was a literary language spoken by the upper class of Florentine society.

Florence is a beautiful city to discover on foot. Its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site containing numerous monuments, art museums and architectural treasures.

Marco's Arrival in Florence

Florence Santa Maria Novella Train StationThe trip from Pisa to Florence takes Marco around an hour by train. He arrives at the Santa Maria Novella Train station in the center of Florence. (see picture)

From there, it takes him ten minutes on foot to arrive at Via Montebello 52, where his friend lives. His place is in the historic center of town (Quartiere 1).

The other four administrative boroughs (quartieri) of Florence lie in a ring around the historic center.

Nearby is the Arno River, which runs through the old part of the city. The best known of the five bridges that cross the Arno is Ponte Vecchio with its gold and jewelry shops.View of Ponte Vecchio and Arno River

  • il tren - the train
  • la stazione ferroviaria - the train station
  • la via - the road, street
  • il quartiere - the district, part of town
  • il centro storico - the historic center
  • il fiume - the river
  • il ponte vecchio - the old bridge

Palazzo Ricasoli and James Fenimore Cooper

Palazzo Ricasoli Hotel in FirenzeOn a walk through the historic district, his friends show Marco the Palazzo Ricasoli, where the popular American writer, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) lived during his nine-month stay in Florence in 1829. (The Palazzo is now a hotel right in the center of town, where you can stay, see picture.)

Fenimore Cooper's most famous novel, "The last of the Mohicans", was written in 1826. He's also known for a series of adventure stories called the Leatherstocking Tales.

Reportedly, Fenimore Cooper loved the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Florence. He met and socialized with emigrés from various countries and became a kind of celebrity with travelers on the Grand Tour and with American expatriates.

  • la passeggiata - the walk
  • il soggiorno - the stay, temporary residence
  • il palazzo - the building, palace
  • il scrittore - the writer
  • il romanzo - the novel
  • il emigrato - the emigrant
  • il viaggiatore - the traveler

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio in FlorenceNext, Marco and his friends walk past the Piazza della Signoria and the famous "Palazzo Vecchio" (Old Palace). The palazzo has a long and interesting history.

Construction on the building started in 1299. During the centuries the palazzo was used for various purposes, including a prison. Since 1872 it has served as Florence's City Hall. A replica of Michelangelo's David stands near the entrance.

A tour of the Palazzio Vecchio takes you through several courtyards, Roman ruins, a Medieval fortress with secret routes, beautifully decorated Renaissance chambers, and more.

  • la piazza - the square
  • la prigione - the prison
  • il comune - the city hall
  • la entrata - the entrance
  • le rovine - the ruins
  • la fortezza - the fortress

Piazziale Michelangelo

Finally, Marco and his friends take a 15-minute bus ride to Piazziale Michelangelo, a large square in the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) district of Florence. From that piazziale (large square) one has a stunning panoramic view of the city.

Marco's Next Stop

From Florence, Michael takes an Intercity train to Venice. There he stays in a hotel he had booked on the recommendation of his friends. To get to the hotel, he has to take the "vaporetto", or water bus. In Venice he meets up with Claudia, one of the students he met in Florence.

Have you been to Florence and want to share some of your suggestions and travel memories? It would be great to hear from you!

Register, or log in again and continue with the Italian 1 course.

Bio: Ulrike Rettig is the co-founder of GamesforLanguage.com. She's a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, the Netherlands, and Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and leave any comments right here!

Posted on by Peter & Ulrike Rettig

4 Languages – Different Language Subtleties

national flags on TVYou know that you're making progress when you start to pick up language subtleties in the language you're learning.

Language subtleties can be fun or embarrassing, but you'll especially remember the embarrassing ones.

I'm not only talking about “false friends, which are not that hard to check.

For example, my (German speaking) father quickly learned the English word “gift”, as the same word means “poison” in German.

Gift” was also the first entry in our earlier post, 20 German False Friends To Watch Out For.

There are also quite a few such “cognates” in Spanish, as we listed in False Language Friends – Spanish: me despierto et al.

(And, we just realized that we are still to list the major cognates for Italian and French, Gamesforlanguage's other two languages.)

In the meantime, here are just a few language subtleties we came across recently.

German Subtleties

One of our sons told us the other day that during a stay in Germany he responded to a question whether the room temperature was ok: “Ja danke, ich bin warm.” But, the correct German expression for "I'm warm" is “Es ist mir warm.”

He could not understand the chuckle of the family friend he was staying with. The friend explained that “warm sein” in German used to mean to be “gay”, or “schwul”.

Although the above exchange occurred over 15 years ago, our son still remembers the different meanings of the two expressions.

Going back even further, I remember when mymonkey on tricyle cartoon French-speaking brother-in-law, who also spoke excellent German, was puzzled when he heard one of our friends tell us over a glass of beer:

Als ich nach der Party mit dem Fahrrad nach Hause fuhr, hatte ich einen ordenlichen Affen sitzen.” (Literally: When I rode home on my bicycle after the party, I had a substantial monkey sitting.)

My brother-in-law laughed as heartily as all the others, but later he asked me: “Why did he have a monkey sitting on the bicycle with him?”

As many other languages do as well, German has many ways to express being tipsy or drunk, for example:

  • einen sitzen haben
  • einen Affen sitzen haben
  • einen Schwips haben
  • einen im Tee haben

And in the various German dialects there are quite a few more.

This brings me to German words with more than one meaning.

For example, “einen Kater haben” could mean “owning a male cat”. But more likely – and you would know from the context – it would mean “having a hangover”.

In German, there are plenty of words with more than one meaning. There is no way around learning them. Examples are:

  • Linsen” are “lentils”, but also lenses of cameras
  • ein Gericht” could be “a court of justice”, or a meal
  • die Wirtschaft” could mean “the economy” or the local pub
  • ein Bienenstich” is a German cake specialty, made with yeast dough, filled with vanilla custard and topped with almonds, but it also simply means “the sting of a bee”. I still have no idea how this cake got its name.

You can sometimes guess the meaning of a word from the context, but that is often harder for idioms.

Spanish Subtleties

The other day I was again reviewing the use of “estar” and “ser” in Spanish.

One of the explanations of the difference between both is the following:

Think about “ser” as a “passive” verb, something “being” that way permanently, e.g. describing a personal trait; “estar”, on the other hand, is a more active verb describing a (temporary) condition.

In the examples below the use of either “ser” or “estar” changes the meaning of the adjective.

Bored woman ignored by her dateFor example:

The young woman in the picture certainly would NOT want to say:

“Soy aburrido” which means “I am boring”,

when she really wants to say: “Estoy aburrido” (I am bored”) - hopefully only a temporary condition with her date!

Similarly, when you tell somebody that you are not ready, say

“No estoy listo” and NOT “No soy listo”. The latter means that you are not intelligent or a quick thinker.

Also:

  • vivo/a is alive with estar, but clever with ser
  • cansado/a is tired with estar, but tiring with ser

Remember as well that “estar” is used to indicate your location, as in “Estoy en casa” (I'm at home), but “ser” is used to indicate your origin, e.g. place of birth, “Soy de Austria.” (I'm from Austria.)

And just when I thought I had understood the differences well enough, I was reminded of a few major exceptions:

  • Está muerto” (he is dead) seems to be quite a permanent condition, but uses “estar” to indicate that somebody is dead.
  • On the other hand “ser” is used to indicate time as in “Son las tres de la tarde” as in “It's 3 PM”, which seems quite transitional.

As with German, Spanish also has words that have more than one meaning:

  • piso: can mean “apartment” or “flat” but also is used for a building's “level” or “floor”
  • gato: “cat” is the translation I know, but apparently it is also a “car jack”
  • tiempo: can mean “time” or “weather”
  • techo: can mean “ceiling” or “roof”

As Spanish is spoken not only in Spain but also in the Americas, it's not surprising that there are quite a few words that have acquired various meanings in different countries.

A few examples include:

  • fresa: a “strawberry” in most Spanish speaking countries (but “frutilla” in Argentina); in Mexico it's also a slang term for a spoiled, egocentric, wealthy youngster
  • coche: a “car” for Spaniards, but a slang term for “pig” in Guatemala (maybe from French “cochon”?), or a babystroller in Chile
  • torta: a “cake” in most Spanish speaking countries, it also translates as “a punch in the mouth” in Spain

This iTalki post has quite a few more Spanish words with different meanings in different countries.

Only the context of a sentence lets you sometimes figure out the meaning.

But because Spanish has phonetic spelling, it is much easier than French with its many homophones, as we'll see below.

And here are a few more tips how to improve your Spanish.

French Subtleties

As with German and Spanish above (and most languages), some French words have two or more meanings.

For example, voler can mean either to fly or to steal. (Maybe the image with the seagulls below will help you remember the two meanings).   seagulls trying to steal food on beach

But with nouns, often the article changes, and that can alert you to which meaning is used.

  • la tour (a tower), le tour (a trip)
  • la poste (the post office), le poste (a position)
  • la mémoire (the memory), le mémoire (the essay)

I'm doing a lot of listening at the moment (on LingQ) to get my French up a notch for an upcoming trip to French Switzerland.

One feature that makes spoken French particularly tricky are its many homophones, words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

Here are a few examples:

  • fin (end), faim (hunger)
  • verre (glass), vers (a verse, or towards), ver (worm), vert (green)
  • vin (wine), vain (in vain), vingt (twenty), vint (came)
  • saut (jump), seau (bucket), sot (dummy), sceau (seal)
  • maire (mayor), mer (sea), mère (mother)
  • c'est (it is), sait (knows), s'est (reflexive pronoun + est)

Not to mention the various personal verb endings that get swallowed in spoken French.

  • (il) est, (tu) es
  • (je) parle, (tu) parles, (ils) parlent

You have to pay special attention to the context to get the right meaning and spelling.

Idioms

Idioms pose their own challenge as the literal meaning is often quite far from the idiomatic meaning.

A couple of my favorites are:

  • poser un lapin à quelqu'un - to put a rabbit to someone (to stand someone up, not show up for a date)
  • faire la grasse matinée - to do the fat morning (to sleep in)
  • faire le pont - to make the bridge (if Thursday is a holiday, you may as well not work Friday either and take a nice long weekend)

If you like French idioms, check out our post on Other Cats to Whip? The Book of French Idioms. It's a collection of funny idioms with delightful illustrations.

Québecois

Last August, we spent several days in Montreal to attend LangFest 2017. The conference is a popular annual language gathering that attracts language enthusiasts from all over the globe.

We really enjoyed being in a French environment, but it took us a few hours to attune our ears again to the melody and expressions of Québecois, the local language spoken there.

One of the first workshops at LangFest was a quick overview of Québecois by translator and editor Grégoire Lahaia. This was really helpful for us. Lahaia pointed out three major characteristics of how Québecois is pronounced:

1) Dipthongization of long vowels (also called vowel breaking)

  • père - paèr
  • rêve - raève
  • fort - faort

2) The consonants t/d are pronounced ts/ds before the vowels u/i

  • tu - tsu
  • tuer - tsuer
  • tirer - tsirer
  • durant - dsurant

3) Many words are contracted

  • tu es - t'es
  • sur la - s'a
  • il aime - y'aime
  • je suis - j'su

It made us realize again how important it is to listen to different regional accents of a language to train your ear to understand variations beyond standard pronunciation. 

Italian Subtleties

Besides watching the TV series Un posto al sole, I'm doing some reading in Italian these days. I'm noticing that many common words seem to have cognates in English, but there's been a shift in meaning.

False Friends

a cat and a mouseYou think you understand the meaning of a word, but it doesn't seem to quite fit the context. So at times it's a good idea to double check.

Here are a few examples of false friends (and we'll have more in a soon-to-come blog post):

  • accomodarsi - to sit down (to accommodate - alloggiare)
  • baldo - courageous (bald - calvo)
  • bravo - good, clever (brave - corragioso)
  • fattoria - farm (factory - fabbrica)
  • proprio - one's own, typical (proper - appropriato, giusto)
  • questionare - to argue, quarrel (to question - interrogare)
  • parenti - relatives (parents - genitori)

The verbs essere vs stare

Even if you've figured out the difference in Spanish between estar and ser, the Italian verbs stare and essere will provide you with a new challenge.

In general essere means to be, and stare means to stay. But in some contexts stare also means to be.

As a starter, it's useful to learn a few basic phrases, so you don't have to think about what to use with these.

Use essere:

For nationality, profession, possession, essential qualities.

  • Sono italiano. - I'm Italian.
  • Sono insegnate di francese. - I'm a French teacher.
  • La casa è di Carla. - It's Carla's house.
  • Il tavolo è negro. - The table is black.

For condition or emotion.

  • Sono malato. - I'm sick.
  • Sono felice. - I'm happy.

For Date and Time.

  • Sono le dieci. - It's ten o'clock.
  • È lunedì. - It's Monday.

Use stare:

For precise location (but in some cases, you can also use essere)

  • La sedia sta/è in cucina. - The chair is in the kitchen.
  • Lui sta da me. - He's at my place.

For certain idiomatic expressions.

  • Sto bene. - I'm well.
  • Come stai? - How are you?
  • Sto male. - I'm feeling bad.

For the continuous tense:

  • Sta piovendo. - It's raining.
  • Sto mangiando una pizza. - I'm eating a pizza.

The little word ci

The two-letter word ci pops up a lot in conversational Italian. You'll see it on its own and also attached to the end of a verb.

It helps to learn basic phrases, but more importantly, just become aware of it as you read or listen to Italian.

With time, you'll learn to recognize the various meanings of ci.

Personal pronoun ci = us/to us/ourselves

  • Marco ci ha invitato a cena. - Marco has invited us to dinner. (direct object)
  • Ci l'hanno dato. - They gave it to us. (indirect oject)
  • Ci siamo divertiti molto. - We enjoyed ourselves a lot. (reflexive)
  • Ci vediamo là? - We'll see each other there? (reciprocal)

Demonstative pronoun ci = about it/on it

  • Non so che farci. - I don't know what to do about it.
  • Ci penserò. - I'll think about it.
  • Ci puoi contare. - You can depend on it.

Adverb ci = here/there; there is/there are; it is/they are

  • Qui non ci ritorno più. - I'm not coming back here again.
  • Conosco Roma perché ci ho abitato. - I know Rome well because I lived there.
  • Ci sono 30 kilometri. - It's (there are) 30 kilometers.
  • C'è nessuno in casa? - Is there anybody at home?

Verbs with ci

A number of verbs change meaning by adding ci”. The meanings have to be learned in context. Here are a couple of examples: 

  • pensare - to think
  • pensarci - to think/take care of sth; ci penso io (I'll take care of it)
  • stare - to be, stay
  • starci - to be up for it/to fit in it; non ci sta (it doesn't fit in it)
  • credere - to believe
  • crederci - to believe it; non ci credo (I don't believe it)

We obviously could only touch the surface of the four languages' many subtleties.

But once you start paying attention to them, you'll be a step closer to mastering the language you're learning. The proof will be when you recognize some of the expressions in conversations and can use them yourself.

Posted on by Ulrike & Peter Rettig

Language Learning With Songs: From Traditional to Pop in French, German, Italian and Spanish

colorful song signFor music lovers, songs provide a wealth of language learning possibilities. But not only that. Each culture has its own tradition, which makes it all the more interesting.

A simple word like the English “song” is a good example of how various languages may differentiate among alternative meanings (or not) for a basic concept.

And, as language learners increase their vocabulary, they also begin to appreciate the nuances.

When you google for the translation of “song” in the four languages of our Gamesforlanguage site, you'll get the following results:

French

English “the song” translates as “la chanson” (music with words) and “le chant” (song-like piece of music, song-like poem), from chanter (to sing).

The English language uses “chant” as a synonym for “song” or “singing,” often in connection with spiritual or religious singing.

We talk about Gregorian chants, not Gregorian songs, and it's the same in French.

France has a strong tradition of “art songs,” which include not only beloved arias from operas by Bizet, Fauré, Gounot, and Massenet, but also poems, by Hugo, Verlaine, Baudelaire, set to music by Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, and others.

While the English “song,” may or may not include any lyrics, the French “chanson” is typically a lyric-driven song.

Singers that we enjoy include Edith Piaff, Jacques Brel, Mireille Mathieu, Charles Aznavour, Joe Dassin, and Québec's “chansonniers” Félix Leclerc, Claude Léveillé, Raymond Lévesque, and more.

The traditional French “chanson” has a long and colorful history, dating back to the Middle Ages.

“Chanson” differs from other French “pop” music by reaching back French Hot songs 2017to French traditions of lyrics and music (rather than following British or American trends).

Songs in French are a wonderful way to acquire the sounds and the rhythm of the French language, and to learn words and idiomatic expressions.

By listening over and over to a French song you really like, you'll even pick up some typical grammar structures.

We are especially fond of Edith Piaf's Non, je ne regrette rien, which let's you pick up a number of grammatical clues.

Check out the “Chanson française du moment” (right above) and see if you can find one that you like. If it gets into your head, your French will surely improve.

German

The German translation of “the song” is “das Lied.” This may be a little confusing as the verb to sing translates to singen, and for “the singing” and you'll get “das Singen” and “der Gesang.” 

“Das Lied” is similar to the French “la chanson,” and “Gesang” is the equivalent of the French (and English) “chant.” In German, for example, we talk about the “Gregorian Gesänge” (der Gesang; pl: die Gesänge).

German music lovers will also be familiar with “Lieder” (das Lied; pl: die Lieder). These are often poems put to music by composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, etc.

German Hot songs 2017An English translation for “Lieder” may be “art songs,” as these are poems set to classical music. Their tradition goes back to the 12th Century and the German “Minnelieder” (courtly love songs). 

From the 1960s on, German singer-songwriters liked to call themselves “Liedermacher” (makers of songs).

In modern German, “songs” may also translate as “Schlager,” the popular German songs of the Hit Parade.

Songs performed by Marlene Dietrich and Lale Andersen (Lili Marleen) went around the world; Peter Alexander, Catharina Valente, Freddy Quinn, Udo Jürgens, and many others all had “Schlager” hits in their time.

One of our favorites is Jürgen von der Lippe's  Guten Morgen liebe Sorgen.... It topped the Hit Parade list for several weeks in the 80's.

Every week, the Offiziellen Deutschen Party & Schlager Charts (see above left) are updated. Take a look and see if you can't find a song that you like, and – by memorizing the lyrics - you will improve your German.

Italian

The Italian translation of “the song,” is “la canzone.” “The singing” translates as “il canto,” derived from cantare (to sing).

All Romance languages trace the equivalent for “song” back to the Latin word “cantio” (singing).

The Italian “canzone,” (which derived from the Provençal “canso,” a troubadour's love song) traditionally referred to a song of 5 to 7 stanzas with a particular rhyme scheme.

The form was later made famous by the Italian Renaissance writers Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.

Italian opera, born in the 17th century and fashionable in the Italian Hot songs 201718th and 19th centuries, has been a rich source of “art songs” that are popular to this day.

Just think of the great Luciano Pavarotti singing exquisite arias from the operas of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti, or Puccini.

In the late 1950s and 1960s emerged the “cantautori” - the singer songwriters, who wrote and sang their own songs, often in protest against the more traditional “canzone.”

This was an interesting and important development.

Starting out as an imitation of sorts of the French “chanson” at the time (Brassens, Brel, Ferré, etc.), the Italian “cantautori” soon succeeded in creating songs about Italian everyday life and reality. It's a trend that's strong even now.

You can read up more about it HERE.

A smash hit from 1962 that has 55 versions is “Quando, quando, quando.” We featured it on one of our  blog posts, "Dimmi quando..." - An Italian Song for Language Learning.

Italian Pop and Rock music is often characterized as “musica leggera” (light music).

Songs by contemporary singers such as Eros Ramazzotti, Mina, Ligabue, Javanotti, Laura Pausini, and many others are good for learning and practicing Italian because the lyrics are relatively simple.

The music is great and many of the songs get under your skin, which boosts language learning.

Check out the Canzoni del momento (see above right) and see whether there is one you can memorize. It will certainly help your Italian.

Spanish

The Spanish translation of “the song” is “la canción” (music with words, song-like music) and “el canto” (song-like poem). “To sing” translates as “cantar.”

Spanish music combines a wide range of cultures that were part of Spain's past, most notably Arabic culture.

During the 17th and 18th century a Spanish form of light opera, or operetta, called “zarzuela” developed and became popular. It was a kind of music theater that combined spoken and sung storytelling, and included regional and folk elements. The Spanish full opera was much slower to develop.

Well-known Spanish “art songs” are by the composers Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados, Fernando Obradors, though this genre did not become quite as popular as its French and German counterparts. 

But we shouldn't forget Sebastián Iradier (later Yradier), who wrote “La Paloma” after he visited Cuba in 1861. “La Paloma,” which has been translated into many languages, is arguably one of the best-known Spanish art songs.

(See also La Paloma Lyrics – Learning Spanish with a Song, or La Paloma – Carmen – Cuba: Spanish Language Connections.)

After the Spanish Civil (1936-1939) and during Franco's repressive government which followed, regional culture and its music were banned. Rock and roll and pop music found its way into Spain only towards the end of Franco's regime.

After Franco's death in 1975, and as part of the new countercultural movement Movida Madrileña, there emerged a new, energized style of music. It resembled the British new wave and the Neue Deutsche Welle, but added flamenco passion and rhythms.

Since then, the Spanish music scene, with its centers in Madrid and Barcelona, has been nothing but innovative and exciting. 

Spanish Hot Songs 2017Latin Music opens a new world of diverse and beautiful sound. Check out this Latin Music HistoryCrooners include Jose Jose and Juan Gabriel, Mexico; Jose Feliciano, Puerto Rico; Leo Dan, Argentina; Jose Luis Rodriguez 'El Puma', Venezuela.

Click on Latin Music: Top Latin Songs, (see above left)  and find YOUR Spanish song to practice and learn with.

Maybe you'll also like “El Perdón", the subject of a recent post.

And, if you like to learn Spanish with songs, Language Zen, has a number of Spanish songs with lyrics to do just that!

If music turns you on, songs are a fantastic tool for getting the sound, the rhythm, vocabulary, and grammatical structures of a new language lodged deeply in your mind.

And singing in a foreign language is just fun and a pleasure – so why don't you find one in the language you are just learning?

Bio: Ulrike & Peter Rettig are co-founders of Gamesforlanguage.com. They are lifelong language learners, growing up in several European countries before moving to Canada and the United States. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Posted on by Sean Patrick Hopwood

5 Practical Tips for Improving Your Italian

Parli Italiano written by woman's hand: Do you speak Italian?Italian is a language that is easy for native English speakers to learn, because it also has Latin roots like English.

The sentence and grammar structures of Italian are not similar to English, but they are not difficult to understand and remember.

Plus, English and Italian share many cognates. If you're thinking of working in a translation services company, Italian is a great language to learn and master.

Italian used to be widely spoken in the U.S. Until the year 2000, there were more than one million Italian speakers in country, but the language is losing ground.

In 2010, the number of speakers went down to just over 700,000. Other languages such as Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese have overtaken the Romance language.

Based on the latest data from Ethnologue, there are 63.4 million first language (L1) speakers of Italian in 13 countries around the world.

Still, Italian is a favorite among language learners. In fact, it is the fourth most studied language in the world.

According to the General Assembly of the Italian Language in the World, the number of foreigners studying the language in the academic year 2015-2016 is 2.2 million, compared to the previous academic year's 1.7 million.

The United States, Australia, Germany and France are among the countries where the increase in Italian language learners is most remarkable.

While British citizens are known for their lack of foreign language skills, the British Council stated that Italian is very important for business. According to their study called Languages for the Future, it is the fourth most requested language by employers from prospective hires.

Now, if you're one of those students who are learning Italian and you want to improve your speaking or reading skills out of the norm, here are a few tips:

1. Listen to Italian Music

Most Italian music is timeless. Italian songs are romantic and beautiful just like Italian Music PosterItalian culture.

Learning a language through music is advantageous because in this way the brain retains the words quicker and longer.

Pay attention to the lyrics, or better yet, download the lyrics so you can sing along and learn the pronunciation as well.

It will help you greatly to remember the words and enhance your Italian accent.

There are several amazing singers from Italy. Who can forget Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti? Listen to the songs of Andrea Bocelli, Eros Ramazzotti, Mina, Patty Pravo, Umberto Tozzi or Laura Pausini.

They actually make good language teachers because they are trained to enunciate very well. You'll not only enjoy some great songs, you'll boost your speaking abilities as well.

(See also "Dimmi Quando..." - An Italian Song For language Learning.)

2. Use Phone Apps

Phone apps cartoonSupplement your formal Italian language classes with an Italian language app for your phone or tablet.

Besides free language apps, there are those that you can buy. Apps can help you learn the basics – expressions, phrases and words that are commonly used by travelers.

It's like having a phrase book, something that you can take with you anywhere.

The good thing about a language phone app is that it lets you practice the language you're learning wherever you are, at a time that's most convenient for you.

There are also programs that you can download on your PC or laptop; or you can just visit and bookmark a language learning website, where you can read lessons and listen to recorded audio at the same time.

A fun way to learn is by signing up for Duolingo. Or, check out these alternativeTo: MindSnacks Italian, the game-based Learn and Play Italian, Learn Italian (Hello Hello), Learn Italian – Molto Bene, 10,000 Sentences, and the game-based app, Xeropan.

3. Listen to Podcasts

Whether you're a beginner or at an advanced level, you can improve young man listening to Italian podcastyour Italian with dedicated podcasts in the language. Here are some that are quite popular and helpful:

  • News in Slow Italian. This is wonderful for beginners as the hosts speak very slowly while reporting international news.You learn about the nuances of the language and how it's used in the context of regular speech, while getting up to date in what's happening around the world.
  • Al Dente. If you're at the A2 level, this is a good choice for you. The podcast is recommended for those who are learning the language from scratch. The site is in Italian.
  • Italiano automático. This podcast is for intermediate, or B-level studies. Earlier episodes are available on iTunes. You can also visit their website if you favor watching videos on a larger screen.
  • Maxmondo.This website gives you free and premium access. The podcasts allow you to learn not just the Italian language but also Italian culture, food and traditions. This is learning about the Italian way of life. The podcasts are recommended for intermediate and advanced learners.
  • ItalianLingQ. Their podcasts let you learn about the wonders of Italy, beautiful travel destinations, history, stories and news. It is a great way to be immersed in all things Italian. The site is in English and Italian and easy to navigate.

4. Find a Language Buddy

young men discussing Another way to improve your Italian is to find a language buddy, someone else who can share the journey of fumbling about the language, especially when you're just starting!

Preferably, team up with another student who doesn't speak your native language, as this will force you to speak in Italian and improve your fluency. You'll also feel that the pressure to speak faultlessly in Italian is reduced, because you'll both be making mistakes and improving your skills together. 

5. Watch Videos in Italian

Learn and enjoy. That is what you get when you watch videos in Italian.young woman watching video

You can find Italian channels on YouTube or go to movie streaming sites to look for Italian movies, dramas and other shows.

Turn off the subtitles so you do not get distracted from listening to the words, phrases and sentences.

Of course, the actors may speak with a regional accent, but the main point is you're listening to the dialogue in Italian.

You can also watch the films again with subs, just to check if your understanding of the dialogue is right.

When learning a language, the most important things to remember are patience and dedication.

You should love and have particular interest in the language, otherwise you'll not strive to fully learn it when you encounter difficulties.

You have to listen, practice, talk and make it a part of your life.

Write down unfamiliar words you encounter when listening to podcasts and music and when watching videos.

Review what you've learned at the end of the day and think in Italian as much as you can.

Author Bio: Sean Patrick Hopwood, MBA, is founder and President of Day Translations, Inc., an online translation and localization services provider, dedicated to the improvement of global communications. By helping both corporations and the individual, Day Translations provides a necessary service at the same time as developing opportunities for greater sympathy and understanding worldwide. You can follow Sean on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and LinkedIn.

Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

How to be Definite with Italian Articles

made in Italy stampEnglish speakers have it easy! The ubiquitous “the” makes any English noun definite. But Italian articles are much harder:

Not only do you have to know the gender – OK, “a” and “o” endings will give you a clue, as long as you also remember some exceptions – but then you have to select among a number of singular and plural forms.

The masculine Italian definite articles are the ones that cause the learner most trouble.

Don't despair, however, we'll give you the major rules, as well as a fun game, Italian Articles, so you can remember the rules more easily!

Masculine Italian Articles

Definite

Maschile Singolare - Masculine Singular: il - lo - l'

Words that begin with a consonant (except s+ consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn)

  • il pranzo - the lunchItalian articles Quick Language Game
  • il giorno - the day
  • il succo - the juice

Words that begin with s+consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn

  • lo zio - the uncle
  • lo scrittore - the writer
  • lo studente - the student

Not surprisingly, there are not many masculine nouns starting with y, pn, ps, gn, among them:

  • lo yogurt – the yoghurt
  • lo pneumatico – the inflatable
  • lo psicologo – the psychologist
  • lo gnocco – the (small) dumpling

The article “lo” becomes l' when followed by a word that starts with a vowel.

  • l'album - the album
  • l'indirizzo - the address
  • l'orologio - the clock, watch

Note: The first letter of the word that follows the article determines the form of the article.

  • lo zio - the uncle
  • il vecchio zio - the old uncle
  • l'album - the album
  • il nostro album - our album
Maschile Plurale - Masculine Plural: i and gli

Words that begin with a consonant (except s+ consonant, z, y, ps, pn, gn)

  • i pranzi
  • i giorni
  • i nonni

Words that begin with s + consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn

  • gli zii
  • gli scrittori
  • gli studenti

As with above masculine singular examples, no mystery, but note the plural form of “yogurt” (which doesn't change) and and “gnocco”

  • gli yogurt
  • gli pneumatici
  • gli psicologi
  • gli gnocchi

Words that begin with a vowel

  • gli amici
  • gli edifici
  • gli ospiti

Gamesforlanguage.com: Italian articles language gameNote: The first letter of the word that follows the article determines the form of the article.

  • gli amici - the friends
  • i miei amici - my friends
  • gli studenti - the students
  • i tuoi studenti - your students

Indefinite: un and uno

Compared to the definite articles, the masculine singular indefinite articles are pretty easy: “un” is used for all masculine gender nouns, except for those beginning with s+ consonant, z, y, pn, ps, gn - where you use “uno.

  • un amico - a friend
  • un libro - a book
  • un succo - a juice
  • uno studente - a student
  • uno spazio - a space
  • uno zio - an uncle

Feminine Italian Articles

Definite

The feminine Italian definite articles are actually quite straight forward, they are either la, l', or le, as shown below.

Femminile Singolare - Feminine Singular: la and l'

All words – except those that begin with a vowel

  • la scuola - the school
  • la ragazza - the girl, girlfriend
  • la chiave - the key

The article “la” becomes l' when followed by a word that starts with a vowel.

  • l'ora - the hour
  • l'idea - the idea
  • l'edicola - the kiosk, newsstand
Femminile Plurale - Feminine Plural: le is used in all cases.Gamesforlanguage.com's  Italian articles language game
  • le fotografie - the photos
  • le settimane- the weeks
  • le notti - the nights
  • le ore - the hours
  • le opere - the works
  • le uve - the grapes

Indefinite: una and un'

No big mystery here either, as “una” is used for all singular feminine nouns, with the only variation that the abbreviated form un' is used for any feminine nouns beginning with a vowel.

  • una camera - a room
  • una domanda - a question
  • un'idea - an idea
  • un'ora - an hour

Partitive Articles and Combinations with Pronouns

Enough grammar rules for now! It's always a good idea to pace yourself and not bite off too much.

We'll cover the “del, dei, dello, della, glielo, glieli, etc.” in another post and have you practice them “playfully” with our language games.

Applying the rules and practicing the Italian articles with their singular and plural forms with as many nouns as you can remember is a worthwhile exercise.

Once you got these down pat, it's time to internalize a few other Italian grammar rules.

Let us know any comments or questions below.

Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language Learning During Retirement? It Worked for me!

Retirement dreams...My (first) retirement is now already a few years behind me. I was very lucky when we were able to sell the consulting firm I had co-founded. I was still in my fifties.

However, while I was looking forward to a less stressful life, I was also aware that retirement can have its own challenges.

I had read the usual books about retirement, how to stay busy, get or continue with a hobby, etc. Yes, I also had the typical list of house projects I never had time to complete earlier.

But during the months leading to the day when I didn't have to go to work anymore, my wife Ulrike and I made plans for an extended stay in Italy.

Preparing for Italy

Both Ulrike and I already spoke several languages: German, English, French, and she also Dutch.

These were languages we had either learned as children or young adults living/working in the respective countries. Italian was to be the first language we were going to learn as mature adults.

A few months before my retirement and our travels – my wife was working as a development editor at Pimsleur International at that time - we began using Pimsleur's self-teaching Italian language courses and completed all three levels of the program, 90 lessons in all.

This was an accomplishment. We felt quite smug about being able to understand basic Italian, but we also knew that the real test would come upon our arrival in Rome.

First Impressions and Lessons

We were picked up at Fiumicino Airport by our landlord's driver. WhenRoman and Guiseppe in Trastevere bakery we tried out our Italian on him it became clear immediately that his English was much better than our Italian.

Our first apartment was in a narrow street above a grocery/bakery in Trastevere (see picture of Romand and Guiseppe), and located just opposite a wonderful little restaurant, Le Mani in Pasta. (This restaurant is now listed on Tripadvisor as #27 of 327 restaurants in Trastevere.)

We became regulars there, and as the owners and waiters spoke very little English, it was great place to practice our Italian.

Seeing “Le Mani” everyday when we left our building, it was easy to remember that “la mano” (the hand) is one of the exceptions in Italian, as most nouns ending in an “o” are masculine.

Other feminine nouns ending with “o” are: àuto (car), mòto (motorcycle), dìnamo (dynamo), ràdio (radio), mètro (subway), libido (libido), etc.

Fluency Realities

Trastevere vegetable standWe also quickly realized, however, that we were far from being fluent in Italian. Yes, we had completed maybe 45-50 hours of learning with the Pimsleur audio courses. 

While we got compliments for our pronunciation, we still had to rely a lot on pointing and gesturing for buying groceries in our grocery/bakery or local market (see picture).

For several weeks, our vocabulary clearly continued to be insufficient. And to our dismay, the Italian on TV was an incomprehensible garble of words for us.

We were lucky to find a tutor who discovered quickly via a first test that our Italian spelling was atrocious. With Pimsleur's Italian audio course we had not learned how to read and write and our spelling was automatically based on the French we knew.

The daily 2-hour lessons with required homework kept us busy learning for half the day. The other half we spent exploring Rome and its surroundings. We tried out our Italian wherever we could.

After a few weeks, the Italian TV garble dissolved into individual words that we began to distinguish where they started and ended. While we still did not know a huge number of words, we started to guess what words meant from the context. That accelerated our learning further.

Over the next months, as our tutor worked with us and monitored our progress, our confidence grew. We started to understand and enjoy Italian TV and movies, and increasingly conversed with shopkeepers and people we encountered during the day.

Language Learning during Retirement

There have been many research findings about the benefits of mental exercises for older adults. And learning a foreign language is near the top of that list - ahead of playing Lumosity games or solving crossword puzzles.

Learning a new foreign language as an adult takes effort and discipline. But our brain is certainly able to acquire new vocabulary and new grammar patterns through practice.

And yes, we also experienced – although still far away from a Golden Anniversary - what a friend described facetiously in a guest post, French in Dijon: Fluency Realities with no "Lover Option".

When younger people are sitting in bars discussion politics, love, and pop music Friends discussing in coffee housewith passion, we are getting ready for bed. Since my wife and I've been married more than fifty years, neither of us can go out and find a lover! In short: The quickest avenues to fluency are now closed to us.

Acquiring fluency in a foreign language is certainly harder when you don't speak it all the time with your partner. That's true even if you stay in the country where the language is spoken.

However, there are also many opportunities today to Progress Faster to Language Fluency.

If you can take advantage early on of one of retirement's key benefits: Planning your day and doing activities that YOU like – you'll never be bored.

Then, if language learning is on that list, you'll open a new world to explore: articles to read, conversations to have, movies or TV shows to watch, planning a trip to a place where your new language is spoken.

Beyond Retirement – “Un-Retiring”

For me personally, learning Italian (and later continuing with Spanish and Dutch, see my post about P.M Tools.) also led to our starting up Gamesforlanguage.

Using my interest in languages and my project management skills, plus Ulrike's background in teaching and course development has given us a wonderful way of combining our passion with a purpose:

Helping others practice languages we have learned as well, and sharing our experiences about language learning, culture and travel on our Blog.

And when we get a Thank-you note such as this one from a 80+ year old woman, who had completed both our German courses, we also know that it's never too late to learn and practice a new language: 

"Thank you for such an interesting way to practice and learn German. I have really enjoyed doing this each day and am hoping to go to Austria in the Fall for a week at a spa. I liked the way you varied the learning process, also that you had a score at the end of each lesson, which, if not good enough, you could redo. Thank you again, M."

So who knows – once you start learning another language during your retirement – you may also discover reasons to “un-retire” again.

Bio: Peter Rettig is the co-founder of Gamesforlanguage.com. He is a lifelong language learner, growing up in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and leave any comments with contact or below.

 

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