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Picking Up Italian Quickly

You'll find many ways that you can pick up Italian from everyday situations. Here are a few tips:

Read Italian food labels

Nowadays, finding Italian food is easy in most countries. If you buy Italian food, read the original label a couple of times before you throw the package away. Usually, you can find an English translation alongside the Italian. In a few weeks, you won't need to read the English part anymore!

Ask for food in Italian

If you go to an Italian restaurant or pizzeria, don't be shy! Order your favorite dishes by using their original names and Italian pronunciations. Restaurants do not usually translate most of the Italian names, but your pronunciation makes a difference. Think of your exchange with the waiter as a kind of play. Prepare before leaving for the restaurant by looking up the correct pronunciation of a couple of dishes you enjoy. (You can write down the pronunciation phonetically and take it with you!) At the restaurant, ask for the dishes the same way that an Italian would.

Read Italian publications

Trying to read a newspaper in a foreign language can be very frustrating! Don't worry: Experts say that journalistic language is the most difficult to understand, even in your own country. Try reading the ads and the article titles: You will understand a few words and surely recognize some names of international celebrities. Moreover, don't forget that 60 percent of English words have a Latin origin, and Italian also derives from Latin. (You'll find many cognates, or words that look similar in both languages.) The number of words you understand will surprise you. By the way, Italians call the newspaper il giornale (eel johr-nah-leh).

Tune in to Italian radio and TV programs

In the past, many Italians had to go abroad to find jobs. Huge groups of people emigrated from Italy to several industrialized countries and never returned. Consequently, many countries deliver radio programs (especially the news) in Italian. Find some Italian programs and listen as often as you can. You can at least understand the basics of what the newscaster says because the speakers usually articulate very clearly and slowly, and most of the news is the same as you'd hear in your own national programs. Again, you can pick up words without much effort.

If you have good Internet access, you can also listen to stations directly from Italy. For example, you can go to Microsoft's Windows Media Web site and choose from more than ten Italian stations.

Surf the Net

Nothing is easier than looking for information on the Internet. To find information about Italy, type Italia (ee-tah-lee-ah) (Italy) or the name of a famous city or monument in Italian, such as Venezia (veh-neh-tsee-ah) (Venice) or Colosseo (koh-lohs-seh-oh) (the Coliseum), to mention just two. First try to browse in Italian; you can surely pick up a couple of words that you understand. Otherwise, view the page in English: Learning about the culture of the country whose language you're studying is a good way to come closer to the language.

You can also make use of online dictionaries, such as Your Dictionary.com, and use online translation services such as Babel Fish — although you need to be prepared for some slightly odd translations. Some Web sites (such as TravLang) even offer to help you learn a new language, and this site has more than 70 languages to choose from! Another good Web site is Radio Televisione Italiana.

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