Learning the Italian Language

In Experiences, General, Italian, Learning by John6 Comments

For many years, perhaps the last ten, near the end of each year I’ve bought “The Joy of Cooking” desk calendar for the following year.  A cooking or food  tip every day; and the back of the calendar pages, when torn off, were handy for shopping lists, reminders and various notes.  I’ve even used the back of pages in lieu of  With Compliments slips when returning documents and so on.

But last year “The Joy of Cooking Tips” were finally wearing thin after all those years and I was getting no Joy when I tore off the previous day’s message every morning to read the message for the current day.  Besides, I checked out all the usual shops that have stocked it in the past, and none of them had it in stock.

So I decided it was time for a calendar change.  I considered many options over the final weeks of 2009, including the New Yorker Cartoons.  But in the end, on the last day of 2009, I bought the calendar below, that had a strong appeal to me.

I half-heartedly tried to learn Italian many years ago, before I retired, with such little success that I didn’t learn one new word (we all know some Italian words).

So I thought it would be very interesting to get a desk calendar that would present me with a new Italian word every day, and I would see how much Italian I could pick up by the end of 2010.

I want to make it very clear that despite the title of this post, and that I’ve told some friends that I’m trying to learn Italian this year, that is very definitely not the case.

My sole aim, on 31 December 2009, was to see how much Italian I could pick up in 2010 from the desk calendar, and perhaps from other sources.

I had and still have no intention of trying to learn Italian. I do not expect that I will ever be able to have a conversation in Italian or with an Italian.

I just enjoy the learning process, and am taking it very seriously. But the problem is that a lot of what I’ve read doesn’t add up. I’ve found it very confusing and at times I’ve felt like giving up. But in the past two days I’ve begun to realise that some of the guides are aimed at teaching or explaining enough for a tourist to get by, and are not aimed for students of Italian.


  1. Learning a language from a desk calendar – that’s novel.

    If you can learn enough to understand a real Italian restaurant menu, that would be great. Perhaps even order in Italiano.

    1. Author

      Colin, your first comment has hit the nail on the head, and I’ll explain why in my next post.

      I think it will be a while before I can understand an Italian menu other than the words most of us know because they have been adopted into English. But now that you raise the matter, it could be a good idea to learn the words for those seafood things I’d wouldn’t want to order by accident.

      You might be intrigued to learn that you raised an interesting difference in the Italian language when you wrote “Perhaps even order in Italiano.” You wrote this in English and finished with the Italian word for “Italian.” But it’s actually “italiano.” In the same way, Australian is “australiano.” No capitals for the adjectives, only for the countries. Italia and Australia. And all nouns have gender in Italian. There is no neuter. Australia is feminine, but australiano is masculine.

      The pronunciation of australiano is ah-oo-strah-lee-AH-noh. The ah-oo is a dipthong, and is said as one syllable which sounds like ow (as in owl). Try it! It’s fun.

  2. Hi John,

    What great news … but you have always been able to speak to this Italian!

    It is heartening to see that you too still find that the act of learning can be both joyful and satisfying. And the subject matter is as broad as imagination itself.

    Unfortunately, my imagination is still limited to work related subject matters.

    Luv, Raffelle Junior

    1. Author

      Hi Ralph,

      I think it’s good that you’re concentrating on work related matters. Employers generally like that.

      I’m not sure how long my enthusiasm and interest will last for trying to teach myself a bit of Italian. I didn’t expect it to last beyond the first week, so I’m surprised that I’m still at it. Perhaps that’s the advantage of the Living Language desk calendar, as I get a new word six days a week (Saturdays and Sundays are on one page) and a sentence in which it’s used. It’s often the short sentence that’s of most interest as it introduces verbs and adjectives. Mind you I don’t remember many of the words.

      1. Hi John,

        Perhaps you could start to watch a bit of the Italian News on SBS (if they have a segment) to experience a genuine accent and inflections … you may find it confidence boosting if you can actually understand something here and there.

        Here’s a maybe useful URL google gave me when I checked above spellings:

        Sometimes the cultural obvious escpaes us for a VERY long time … with Mario and Maria in the family circle, I always wondered why my Uncle was named Nicolo – Uncle Nic for short. Nicolo always sounded very feminine to me during my childhood. But only a few years ago I relised that Nicolo was male for Nicola; Mario for Maria; etc etc. Easy when you figure out the language rules.

        So it’s perhaps more than strange that the only language I have studied was French – for three years in high school!? But it was the only one on offer and it did keep me away from other electives like Music, Dancing and Physical Education (go figure why I avoided the last one at the time, eh?).

        One can never know just when and where skills may prove useful … last Friday I was able to decipher a Bank Statement entry of IFE that was thought to belong to a customer called Ironclad Mining. I mentioned to my bemused helper that Fe was the Chemical symbol for Iron (from my high school Chemistry) and suggested that she bring up ASX website and do a share search for IFE (something my self-funded retiree planning has me do every night since leaving EIXL/FBG in 1996) and behold it was the company in question.

        So a mix of decades old high school chemistry and comparatively recent retirement planning skills combined to solve an accounting problem – howzat!

        Your basic italian skills could save someone’s life who falls in a supermarket or restaurant and only speaks Italian … your few words could bridge the gap for immediate medical information, or perhaps just a calming reassurance that they are not all alone in their sudden plight. Or, as I did with my enormous French skills, was able to ask for the amount of taxifare back to the Oriana in French speaking Nouméa back in 1979 or so.

        Keep at it for while longer and you may find some new lines of communication with all sorts of unexpected persons, places or events. LOOK … it got me away from my work and back talking with ya!

        Cheers, Ralph

        1. Author

          Hi Ralph,

          Thanks for your further comments. I’m really thrilled that you’ve begun writing again. I missed you. I’m pleased that my Italian studies have awakened some interest in you. I’m not going to reply to anything specific in your most recent comments, as you’re obviously enjoying the subject and your own take on it. That’s good, and I’d like to encourage it. But not at the expense of you neglecting your own priorities.

          But I will mention that the URL you suggested is a great example of “All that glitters on Google is not gold.” And unfortunately, the only rule for masculine and feminine nouns is they are one or the other. Endings of o and a as in Mario and Maria, are a helpful guide, but there are a lot of exceptions, and of course there are all the other endings, such as Giovanni (John) and Guiseppe (Joe), and this barely touches the surface.

          Your name is easy – Rodolfo.

          So, would you think rice, spaghetti, cabbage, apple, computer, DVD, are masculine or feminine? Sadly, the only rule is that you have to learn the Italian words and their genders, and remember them. The gender of nouns affect many other words in sentences in which the nouns are used.

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