How One of My Students Went from Zero to Hero in 3 months to Speak Italian

Belinda and Luke in Fiesole right above Florence, Italy.

Belinda and Luke in Fiesole right above Florence, Italy.

Belinda and Luke in Florence, Italy.

Belinda and Luke in Florence, Italy.

I would love to tell you the story of Belinda, one of my students. But rather than me tell you, let’s have her tell you her Italian story. Enjoy!

P.S. At the end of her story, you'll get to see of short video of her speaking Italian after just a few months!

Where My Love for Italy All Started

Since I was a child, I have had an inexplicable love for all things Italian.

We had a family friend, an artist who trained in Florence. He would tell us kids about how wonderful Italy was, what a genius Michelangelo was, how passionate and fiery the Italians were about everything from sports to food, and how we had to visit Italy at some point in our lives.

I also loved cooking and remember watching cooking shows on public television, especially Lorenza de Medici and The Frugal Gourmet’s series on three ancient cultures – China, Greece, and of course, Rome.

I was also obsessed with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which translated into a fascination with all things medieval, including medieval art and architecture, illuminated manuscripts in particular. And there was no greater source of medieval art than Italy.

And of course, Italian cinema! Classic movies such as Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso, comedies with Roberto Begnini, and my favorite movie of all time, Mediterraneo, all spoke to my heart in one way or another. And more importantly, I got to hear the beauty and expressiveness of the language!

Through all of these avenues, I picked up Italian words here and there, especially words for food. I loved how the words sounded, and could really even taste them!

I thought gosh, I would really love to be able to speak Italian someday!

Why I Didn’t Pursue Italian

But I was also a kid, a kid who didn’t realize that she could actually pursue her dreams even if they made no sense.

I thought (or perhaps was conditioned to think) that my love of Italian food, culture, and art was just a fun little hobby, a random interest that had no actual usefulness in my life.

After all, Italian was only spoken in Italy, right?

It simply was not “practical.”

As an American-born Chinese girl from New York, I simply had no logical reason to be drawn to Italian language and culture.

So I ended up following in my mother’s footsteps and studied French in middle school and high school.

I was exposed to French culture through a pen pal, visited France many times, also fell in love with the food and culture, and learned to speak the language quite well because I was interested in the cultural aspects of the language, not just the language classes.

My interest in Italian was left to simmer on the backburner. Or perhaps more accurately, bottled up to age in a cellar….for decades.

I studied French throughout high school and wanted to keep studying during college. However, I became disillusioned with language studies after I went to a second-year French conversation class, only to discover that nobody could actually speak French!

These students had supposedly had the same number of years of French study as I had – at least 6 years!

I realized that I was different because I had more exposure and practice outside of the classroom. I watched a lot of French cinema, learned all about French cheese and wine (when I was older, of course!), and admired the slower pace of life and appreciation for good food and good company that the French seemed to embody.

Disappointed in the traditional method of learning languages, I decided to stop studying languages altogether in college.

I continued my learning about French food and art, but I only practiced speaking French when I saw my pen pal and her family, which was only every few years (this was pre-video chat!).

After getting married and having children, my opportunities to speak French dwindled even further. Most of my attention went to my family, and I found it difficult to make time for the things outside of my family that I loved, the things that fed my soul.

I ended up almost forgetting about Italian entirely.