Live and learn

A disclosure:  I am a day one drop out from the University for Foreigners in Perugia.  I enrolled. I did the test to see what level I was at – intermediate I think –  and that was it.  Imagine though. I’d arranged to start my month of Italian studies just two days after arriving fresh (si fa per dire) off the plane from Australia, on my first ever overseas trip.  I mean, what was I thinking? Looking back, it all reminds me how naive I really was. And at 24…

But hey, I got there in the end.  I speak Italian very well now I’m told, but on all my trips back to Perugia since that first one, I’ve scarcely set foot inside Palazzo Gallenga and certainly not to study the language.  Not that I have heard anything but praise from students.  It’s just that once we’re all grown up, the classroom scene isn’t for everyone.

I’ve posted before about how having even a little Italian under your belt before you go makes all the   difference.  It’s a mini soapbox of mine.  But today I want to share some fledgling, outside-the-classroom ideas for learning Italian in Italy whatever your level:

Language + shopping.   A natural fit I think.  Food shopping say is always a great way of putting even the most modest language skills through their paces.  My way, you’d have a combination Italian tutor/slow food shopping companion along of the ride.  And, of course, food is just the beginning. Variations might see you opting to learn Italian while shopping with a fashion stylist or an expert in local antiques.  Preferably on a day trip to Florence those two.

Walk + talk.  Simple.  Learning Italian on the move,  one-on-one.  I can imagine this working very well in Perugia.  There’s something new to talk about at every turn.

Language + photography.  Walking the city, camera in hand, with a professional photographer who provides tips on getting the perfect shot as you go,  all in Italian of course.  This is a variation on a piece I saw in the Guardian years ago about a photographer in Rome who holds mini masterclasses on the streets of the capital.

Language + cooking.  A bit of a classic but from what I can see the huge majority of cooking classes in Italy for non-italians are run in English.  What a waste!  cooking is so visual and viceral. Who cares if you don’t pick up every word?  I see this working in home kitchens, not the big cooking schools.  Just you and nonna cooking lunch and chatting, maybe doing the morning shop together.

Language + pampering.  I once heard of a retreat in Todi (Umbria) offering language learning alongside their range of health and beauty therapies.  Not sure how this one works, but it sounds very relaxing.

Sink or swim.  An idea inspired by the textbook ‘live like a local in Italy’ experience of the Australian writer Rod Jones, learning the language by staying with a local family or couple in a beautiful, isolated hill town where no one speaks anything except Italian.  Rod’s story is worth the read for the descriptions of the food alone.  If I were starting my Italian language journey all over again this would be my classroom of choice.

Perugia, Corso Cavour heading towards the centre

Getting the picture?  And I haven’t even touched on the possible movie/concert,/art exhibition/museum/wine tasting/dinner date variations. This all needs fleshing out, of course, if it’s ever to become part of my ‘live like a local in Italy’ experience but I’d love to hear what you think so far. Maybe you’ve already done something similar in your travels or even at home? Just leave a comment.

Oh, and I couldn’t sign off today without a new top tip:  Remember, your humble and imperfect Italian will always take you further than raising the volume in English.  And your waiter will thank you for it.


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