Learning Italian can be an amazing experience, but if you learn it the wrong way, it can become an amazingly painful experience. 

There are certain pitfalls you’re likely to encounter, but I’d like to help you a) get out of them ASAP and b) avoid them whenever possible.

Today, we’ll discuss the most common Italian mistakes that language learners make in their journey towards becoming a bit more Italiano/a. These mistakes generally fall into two categories: Learning Strategy and General Mistakes.

Learning strategy mistakes are those related to your overall approach and method, while general mistakes often involve specific aspects of the language itself, such as grammar or pronunciation. Understanding these mistakes and how to avoid them will help you learn Italian more effectively and enjoyably.

Andiamo!

Learning Strategy Mistakes

1. Starting Without Knowing Your Why

It bears repeating that if you want to know how to learn Italian, you have to know why you’re learning Italian!

One of the biggest mistakes in learning Italian is starting without a clear understanding of why you want to learn the language. Without a clear motivation, it's easy to lose interest and give up when the going gets tough. Your "why" is the driving force that keeps you going. Whether it's to travel to Italy, connect with family roots, or for professional reasons, knowing your motivation helps you stay focused and persistent.

If you don’t know your why, you might as well say “Italian… goodbye!” 

2. Too Many Resources

You may want to learn Italian for free or even stick to learning Italian online, but many language learners fall into the trap of getting every possible resource they can to accomplish absolutely nothing. With countless apps, books, websites, and courses available, it's tempting to dabble in all of them. However, this can lead to confusion and most commonly overwhelms people. It's better to choose one or two high-quality resources and stick with them. This focused approach helps reinforce learning and prevents information overload.

3. Grammar Abuse! 

While grammar is important, focusing solely on it without getting enough input (listening and reading) can be detrimental. You need the context in order to understand grammar and long before we knew what a noun or a phrase was, we knew how to use them without even being aware of it!

Language is more than just a set of rules; it's about communication. To truly learn Italian, you need to immerse yourself in the language. This means listening to Italian music, watching Italian movies, and reading Italian books. The more you expose yourself to the language, the more naturally you'll pick up its nuances. If your Italian language course is heavy on grammar drills and light on content, then you know it’s time to ditch it and switch it! 

4. Neglecting Phonetics

Especially when it comes to Italian for beginners, you should replace your time spent on grammar with your time spent on phonetics!

Phonetics are the foundation of pronunciation. Not focusing enough on phonetics from the beginning can lead to poor pronunciation habits that are much harder to improve later on. Italian pronunciation is relatively straightforward, but it's crucial to master the basics early on so you don’t struggle later on. Spend time listening to native speakers and practice mimicking their sounds as much as you can. 

5. Motivation Over Habits 

Motivation is often flakier than that friend who says they’re going to call you but never do.

Habits are like your sweet, loving grandma who not only shows up unexpectedly with a nice meal, but hugs you as if you spoke Italian fluently. 

A major mistake is not organizing your time to learn Italian daily. Let's consider two students: Student A relies on motivation, studying whenever they feel like it, while Student B relies on habits, setting a specific time each day for their studies. Over time, Student B will likely make more consistent progress because their learning is structured and habitual.

Be like Student B! 

6. Memorizing Words in Isolation

Memorizing words using lists or flashcards without context is another brutal, but common mistake. Words are best learned in context through reading and listening. When you encounter words in sentences, you understand their meaning, usage, and nuances better. 

Engage with Italian content, such as books, podcasts, and conversations, to naturally build your vocabulary.  If you want to do this the right way, I highly recommend using LingQ for reading (and listening) material, because it keeps track of your known and unknown words.

On the other hand, if you’re more of a movie or show person, then LingoPie keeps your learning interactive by allowing you to create digital flashcards via your favorite Netflix shows. Now, that’s more like it.

Va bene!

General Mistakes

1. Gender (Nouns)

One of the first hurdles learners face is understanding gender in Italian. It's a common mistake to think that every word ending in "a" is feminine. This is not true. For example, "il clima" (the climate) is masculine. Here are a few masculine nouns that end in "a":

- Il problema (the problem)

- Il tema (the theme)

- Il programma (the program)

Getting to know the most common exceptions is crucial for correct language use. Don’t overgeneralize and make “rookie mistakes” my humble Italian learner! 

2. Conjugating Verbs

Verb conjugation is another area where learners often struggle. A frequent mistake is using the wrong verb forms, especially among native English speakers. 

For instance, the present tense of "andare" (to go) is often confused:

- Io vado (I go)

- Tu vai (you go)

- Lui/Lei va (he/she goes)

Paying close attention to conjugation patterns and practicing them regularly can help overcome this challenge. Remember, the best way to get used to these conjugations is not through excessive grammar studying (aka grammar abuse), but rather via exposure to content on a consistent basis. 

3. The Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood can be a tricky one for many language learners, but it tends to stick out for native English speakers. 

It is used to express doubt, possibility, or emotion, and it's an essential part of the Italian language. However, it can be tricky to discern when to apply it. 

For example:

- Credo che tu sia felice (I believe that you are happy)

- Spero che lui venga (I hope that he comes)

Learning when and how to use the subjunctive correctly requires practice and exposure to its usage in context. There’s no “quick fix” here, it’s going to be a messy process at times, but by making these mistakes, you can learn from them and better your understanding of how the subjunctive is properly used. 

4. Consecutio Temporum (Verb Tenses)

Consecutio temporum, or the sequence of tenses, is one of the most challenging aspects of mastering Italian verbs. It involves using the correct verb tense based on the context of the sentence.

For example:

- Penso che sarebbe (I think it would be)

- Pensavo che fosse (I thought it was)

Understanding this system is vital for advanced proficiency.  Rather than give you such a simple answer to this common sticking point for Italian learners, here's a thorough explanation in Italian from Treccani: [Consecutio Temporum]

5. Double Consonants

Get this right and you’re an Italian hero, get it wrong and you’ll be sleeping with the fishes!

I’m kidding, but pronouncing double consonants correctly is crucial in Italian, as they can change the meaning of words. 

For example, "pala" (shovel) and "palla" (ball) are obviously two different objects and you may not want to say “pass me the pala” when you’re playing soccer with native Italians. Once again, the key is listening to native speakers as much as possible. Not to mention, you’re going to want to practice with a tutor to help you master this aspect of pronunciation.

If you’re currently seeking a tutor, there’s no place like Italki.  It’s where I’ve found almost all of my tutors and I cannot recommend it enough. 

6. Focusing Too Much on Pronunciation Instead of Intonation

Let’s get crystal clear about the difference between the two. 

Pronunciation is about producing sounds correctly.  For example, knowing how to say pasta vs. pesto.  Two different words with two different pronunciations.

Intonation, on the other hand, refers to the variation in pitch and tone to convey different meanings and emotions. I personally like to use the saying “Sei felice?” (Are you happy?) with the pitch rising on felice to indicate I’m asking a question.

However, if my pitch didn’t rise on felice, it could come off as a statement or observation instead of a question (You are happy vs. Are you happy?).  

While pronunciation is important, focusing too much on it at the expense of intonation can make your speech sound unnatural. Intonation, the rise and fall of your voice, is key to sounding like a native speaker. Italian has a musical quality, and mastering intonation will make your speech more fluid and expressive.

CONCLUSIONE

Learning Italian is a rewarding endeavor, but it's easy to fall into common traps. By understanding and avoiding these strategic and general mistakes, you can streamline your learning process and achieve fluency more efficiently. Remember, the best way to learn Italian on your own is to stay motivated, select high quality resources, practice regularly, and immerse yourself in the language. 

As you continue your journey, keep this motivational quote in mind: "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." 

Keep pushing your boundaries, and you'll find that learning Italian will open up a world of opportunities and experiences. 

Buona fortuna!

Written by Luca Lampariello

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.


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