Learning Italian: do you have what it takes?

Learning Italian: do you have what it takes?

  Whether you are at the very beginning of your Italian journey, or you have already been learning for some time, you are probably wondering, especially when things become a bit too challenging, if you would ever get there.   

Will you ever be fluent in Italian? 

Would you be able to use Italian actively? Would you ever speak without pausing to think about every second word, without asking people to repeat words you already know (in theory) but still somehow don’t understand. Would you reach a point where you do not translate from your native language but think in Italian when speaking in Italian? 

“Can I handle it?” you ask yourself. “Do I have what it takes?”  

This is your limbic system in action. What they call “the lizard brain”. It’s the part of your brain that would like to keep you safely within the boundaries of your comfort zone and away from anything challenging. You will unmistakably feel its resistance every time you are about to leave your comfort zone and do something that… doesn’t feel comfortable, which is the very definition of everything you need to do to practice Italian. 

It will overflow you with doubts and thoughts of quitting. 

“I have no talent for languages.” 

“I’m probably too old to learn.”

“I don’t think I’m making progress. I will probably never be fluent”.

“I have a bad memory.” 

“My mother tongue is too different, I will probably never understand how Italian works”. 

“I’ve never learned a foreign language, it’s probably too late now”. 

Do you recognise yourself in any of these phrases? 

What does your lizard brain tell you when things get particularly challenging on your Italian journey? 

The objective truth is that if you are passionate about Italian, committed to your goals, however audacious, and following a structured learning path, you will get there!

Your age, language learning experience, memory or mother tongue can, of course, affect the process, but they can not determine its outcome.

Now the good news is: having these thoughts is absolutely normal, and every language learner has these moments at some point. 

The bad news is: some people quit because of this.

They would listen to the lizard brain and let it convince them that there is no point to go on. Others will choose to ignore it and push forward. 

If you know where this comes from, why it happens and what mechanisms are involved, it would be much easier to keep going and ignore the “lizard talk”. 

Because no matter how hard it is, the satisfactions ahead are worth it! 

Dare to be imperfect

 It’s really a choice. Your choice. You can quit. Or you can keep going, acknowledging the fact that this is part of the process and that your limbic system, the so-called lizard brain (the main source of these less than cheerful thoughts), is there to protect you. It will do everything it can to avoid challenging situations and to keep you safe and warm in your conform zone. 

Learning Italian is leaving your comfort zone.  

You are forced to leave your comfort zone continuously and repeatedly. Learning a language means daring to be imperfect. All the time.  

It means jumping into cold water, in the dark, and trying to swim in a direction you are not entirely sure about. 

Is it really surprising that the lizard brain is trying to protect us?  

Why does it have to be so hard? Why our reaction to even minor difficulties is sometimes so overwhelming and emotional? 

How come at times, things seem so much more challenging than they actually are, and our response to these challenges is so disproportionally emotional?

Learning Italian means acquiring new identity

It is infinitely different from learning geography or history or any other subject. It is not just acquiring new knowledge or new information. It goes much deeper, and it touches us on many levels.

It’s a process of acquiring a new cultural and linguistic identity

It’s about shifting the way we think and interact with reality

There are mechanisms involved that have nothing to do with your memory or ability to understand grammar or retain new vocabulary. But everything to do with your identity, your emotions, your feelings and your relationship with… yourself. 

As with every profound transformation, it often triggers your fight or flight response. And this is precisely where “I probably can not do this”, “I don’t have what it takes” comes from! 

What you need to remember is that the fact itself that you are having this reaction to the process means that the process has touched you on a deeper level, that something is happening. That the transformation has begun.

Remember to be kind to yourself. Do not judge yourself for mistakes or for not knowing or remembering words “you should have known”. 

Recognize what is happening. Acknowledge it, and when you hear the lizard voice in your head telling you, “You will never make it! You don’t have what it takes!”… smile lightly and answer:

 “Maybe. But I’m doing it anyway!” 

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