Italian vs. Russian

Hello, hello! If you missed my last post, we’re back! I’ve got a bunch of post ideas listed out and we’re just gonna go with the flow throughout the month. There are some festive/Christmas posts getting ready, but I think most of them will have to wait until I get back to the States.

I’ve been studying in Italy for the last 3 months and am coming around to the end of the semester and one of the classes I’m required to take here, for obvious reasons is Italian language. And as I think most people know I studied Russian this summer at Middlebury College. So, today we’re talking about my experiences learning the two languages.

First off, just a reminder that my learning environments for these languages were extremely different. Middlebury was very structured and classes focused on grammar, but conversation was refined throughout the immersion environment. Italian at Prato centered around conversation and learning how to speak. There isn’t anything wrong with either of these approaches, they’re just the 2 main ways people think are best to teach languages.

The first time I studied in Prato, the only experience I had with learning languages was nearly failing French my sophomore year of high school and thinking I would never studied any language again because I was just inherently bad at languages. When I finished at the end of the semester I was surprised at how much I had actually learned. I could hold a conversation (be it very simple) in Italian, something I didn’t even think possible. Classes were generally pretty laid back and most people we encountered throughout Prato were thrilled at our attempts to speak Italian and were always happy to help us out.

This semester, as with many languages, I seemed to make less progress as I advanced because there’s more to learn before getting to the “next level”. I didn’t feel as if I was picking up as much vocabulary or grammar, but my conversation skills were continuously improving. Through my volunteer experience I spoke with many Italians who knew little to no English. Once I became more comfortable speaking Italian with them, they were able to alter how the spoke to make it easier for me to understand, using more basic phrases and vocabulary.

The biggest issue I’ve had this semester was pulling Russian vocab before Italian. In class I would end up using some strange combination of Russian and Italian because there is a lot I know how to say in Russian that I don’t in Italian which became increasingly frustrating. I couldn’t seem to access my Italian because it was so overpowered by Russian. Even 4 months later, if you ask me how to say some word in Italian I will think of the Russian word before Italian even if I know it in both languages. On one hand, this is pretty helpful in not forgetting Russian, but on the other it’s difficult to learn Italian when Russian is all I can think of.

Learning Russian was so different than Italian it kind of shocks me sometimes. We had not 1 but 5 teachers, which was actually extremely valuable, especially when learning grammar. If there was something I didn’t understand, it was very likely that one of our other teachers could explain it in a different way, with different words that would make it click. As far as developing conversation skills, it took a bit longer because we didn’t have the benefit of English, making it difficult to converse with students in a higher level, correct each other, and ask things we were confused about or forgot in that moment. We also had extensive vocabulary lists to learn weekly which gradually made it easier to have conversations in only Russian, whereas with Italian I found myself using the same words and phrases over and I was limited in what I could talk about because we didn’t focus on learning specific vocab.

Overall, learning both Italian and Russian were important experiences for me. Had I not had so much success with Italian I may not have studied Russian because I would have held the thought that I was just incapable of learning languages, which is clearly not true. They both play roles now in my quest for internships and submitting applications, albeit very different. I want to (somehow) maintain and improve my skills in both languages but that’s an endeavor to think about over my break. For now, I leave you with this – if you are passionate about learning a language don’t become discouraged because a traditional classroom didn’t work for you. If it’s truly something you want to do, the creativity to make it work for you will be worth it.

~Sarah Ann

My last post: We’re Back! (Not From Italy)

All 12ish Days Till Christmas posts

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