Learning Italian: acquiring and retaining vocabulary
If you have set out to learn Italian, whether out of necessity or for pleasure, you have probably noticed by now that learning Italian vocabulary is the most crucial component of fluency.
Vocabulary is the essence of a language and a faithful mirror of the culture.
You can’t learn Italian without first concentrating on vocabulary.
Vocabulary is the stuff of which language is made, and you need to be familiar with a certain number of words to start working on your language skills. Grammar, sentence structure, pronunciation… they all come after vocabulary. We first learn new words and only then organise them in patterns.
Imagine a language as a human body. Grammar is the skeleton, vocabulary is the flesh and pronunciation is the clothes.
Vocabulary and language skills
- Without a basic vocabulary, it’s impossible to apply your passive skills: reading and listening comprehension.
- Insufficient vocabulary makes active skills – speaking and writing – virtually impossible to acquire.
- Poor vocabulary prevents you from communicating effectively.
You can have a perfect understanding of Italian grammar, but if your vocabulary is insufficient, or restricted to one semantic area, you won’t call yourself a speaker of Italian, even after years of learning.
Learning Italian vocabulary is not just memorising words
If you find memorising, and most importantly, retaining new vocabulary, difficult and frustrating, you are not alone! When I ask my students about their biggest challenge in learning Italian, acquiring and retaining vocabulary is always first on the list.
Why is it so difficult? There are many reasons, starting with the fact that most traditional teaching methods do not provide students with the necessary tools to learn. They explain what needs to be done to learn Italian: learn the new words, learn the grammar rules, apply them. That’s it. Students are required to process new words without any further instructions. As if it were the most natural thing to do.
But is it?
Learning techniques are a must
Very few Italian textbooks, teachers or schools would provide you with the necessary learning tools or explain how to process the new information. How to learn a new word, what processes are involved, how to make sure you retain it in a way that would allow you to use it actively. You are expected to learn as if you were a child. As children, we absorb all new information with ease and without effort, and, if presented with a new word and its meaning, we would naturally remember it immediately and use it without hesitation.
As adults, we learn differently! Our brains lose the childlike flexibility and the capacity to retain information effortlessly.
In today’s world, where we’re continuously bombarded with new information, our brain treats everything as superfluous and agrees to retain only information it considers “relevant”.
To retain a new word, we need to make it relevant to our reality and our life.
Still, this is not enough. We need to follow a few fundamental rules if we want to acquire and retain new words in a structured and effective way.
Vocabulary acquisition steps
Choose the right mix of tools, apps, websites and hard copy dictionaries, structure your learning activities, review your new words daily and weekly and make sure all the new words you come across are processed through these steps.
At 7-week Italian, we dedicate special attention to providing our students with all the necessary tools and learning techniques to make their learning process as efficient and enjoyable as possible.
Among other tools, we have developed a structured 6-step system for acquiring and retaining vocabulary.
The 6 steps of learning and retaining new words are:
- Choosing the correct dictionary tools: digital and hard copy.
- Organising new vocabulary in a structured way.
- Reviewing new vocabulary systematically.
- Processing new vocabulary through all language skills.
- Creating a context and making the new word relevant.
- Using emotion and imagination to ensure the retention of the new word.
These steps make sure that we have the correct meaning, or more often, meanings of the word, that we work on it in a structured way and that we retain it.
Following the process will allow us to use the new vocabulary actively in spoken and written communication, and not only recognize it when we come across it in written form.
Join our free community “Learn Italian with the 3D method” to get support on your Italian journey.
At 7-week Italian, we create self-paced Italian language courses, designed with a great passion for the Italian language and culture and with our unique teaching methodology, the 3D Method, that creates a holistic learning experience.
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