Learning a new language can seem intimidating for someone just starting out. Often the best way to get motivated is to find out how other people approach the opportunity and what they believe makes them successful when it comes to being multilingual.
In this post, Argo Translation CEO, Peter Argondizzo, discusses his own unique experience in learning Italian, how it differs from English and how it’s a central part of his everyday life.
How did you initially learn to speak Italian?
I grew up in an Italian-speaking household. My folks came to the United States in the early sixties and my first language at home was Italian. We also used to spend our summers in Italy visiting our grandparents so we picked up Italian quite quickly. Those summers were a complete immersion in the language. I studied Spanish and German in high school but then studied Italian in depth in college. My Italian classes were some of my favorite subjects in school and it obviously came pretty naturally to me.
What do you like about Italian as a language?
Well, the language is an essential part of the culture for me. Food, history, people, and art are all a part of the total package. I think the language is beautiful. It just sounds good. Italian is a very descriptive and colorful language.
Even some of the cursing is beautiful! Though my mom wouldn’t approve of me talking about that stuff.
I also love all of the dialects in Italy. Each region in Italy has its own distinct dialect. My parents are from Calabria, and their dialect is Calabrese. We all learned to speak our regional dialect and proper Italian as well which is the version you tend to learn in school.
How is Italian different from English?
One of the most significant differences is that Italian is a phonetically spelled language. I have a good story to share about phonetic spelling and English. My mom and dad came to one of my high school parent-teacher conferences, and my dad realized that my history teacher, Mr. Walters, was also his English for immigrants teacher 25 years earlier. The very first thing my father asked is for a better explanation for the spelling of laugh! This spelling issue was a matter of discussion in their class all those years ago. You would never have the letters “g” and “h” create an “f” sound in Italian.
Do you think Italian is a difficult language to learn?
I don’t think so. I think Italian is easier to learn than many other languages. Phonetic spelling is part of it, but I also believe that Italian culture is all around us. It is pretty easy to immerse yourself with Italian TV shows, which are available as an add-on channel on cable or services like Sling. You can also subscribe to services like MHz, which feature popular Italian shows like Montalbano. One of my favorites is the Agatha Christie series Nero Wolfe in Italian. You can turn subtitles on for any of these shows, but the trick is to get to a place where you can watch without subtitles.
Italian news websites are also easy to find. Reading about current events in another language is a great place to expand your vocabulary.
If you are starting with no knowledge, I would suggest starting with online classes like DuoLingo, and as you advance a bit, you can use a service like Verbling, which offers real-time language coaching with an online tutor.
Do you have favorite phrases in Italian that don’t translate into English?
There are many fun Italian idioms, but the one that always sticks with me is the Italian equivalent to the phrase “break a leg” or good luck. The Italian phrase is “in bocca al lupo” or into the mouth of the wolf. The proper response is “crepi il lupo!” or may the wolf die. This greeting applies to the same context as the English equivalent before any performance.
Start your own language journey
Peter is a lifelong dual language speaker but you don’t need a lifetime of experience to learn a language for yourself. Start with immersing yourself in your chosen language, including entertainment and news, learn the basic structure, and start more intensive training when you’re ready. Most importantly, make it fun!