Last time we were in Italy, my wife and I vowed that we would try to learn some Italian before we return (she has some high school French and I have a fair amount of Spanish). Well, we never did much about it. I will confess that despite being often skeptical of the paradox of choice, it may actually explain my lack of action. I could not make up my mind between the various courses.
Then along came my son, who has decided with his roommate that they want to do a semester abroad in Italy next year. I am not sure why he chose Italy -- I can only assume it had something to do with my euphoric descriptions of finding myself in Milan on Vogue fashion night and being surrounded by Italian models. You know that language course ad with the guy picking up the Italian course so he can have his one chance at the Italian supermodel? It's a funny ad, but I fear it may actually hit kind of close to home in my household.
Anyway, my son pushed me over the top to buy a course. The conflicting online reviews can leave your head spinning, but the general conclusions I came to were:
- Rosetta Stone is all marketing, but not the best course
- Pimsleur got the most positive ratings.
So I went with the Pimsleur course. It is PC-based, which fits how my family works. It allows four installations, so each family member got one. And it allows its lessons to be downloaded to mp3 files so you can listen in the car or on your iPod (though you lose out on the other parts of the lesson which are non-audio).
So far, 20 days into the thing, I have been happy. I have never thought of myself as good at languages but I have decided to trust the process. So far, I feel like I am learning and retaining a lot. My son reports that he thinks it is better than Rosetta Stone, which his roommate is using.
The weird part for me, who learned Spanish from a grammar nazi, is to work with verbs without first learning all the conjugation rules. In fact, the course seems to work this way -- you learn examples and phrases first, then over time go back and learn the grammar behind what you are doing. It seems to work, for a few reasons. One is that a lot of the verbs you need early on to say basic things (is, go, like) have non-standard conjugations anyway, so memorizing them is what you would have had to do with any approach. A second reason is that it is a hell of a lot more fun to say useful things than to spend what I remember to be years farting around with conjugation and use rules for the subjunctive. After all, I am not trying to write an academic paper in Italian, I am trying to enjoy my tourist experience. The third reason this is working for me is that I do remember a lot of my old Spanish verb conjugations, and it turns out Italian conjugates (at least in the present tense) very similarly to Spanish.
Postscript: To the early joke about learning Italian to meet women, I will say we were all laughing through about the first 7 lessons of Pimsleur. If you had designed a course solely to pick up people of the opposite sex, I am not sure one bit of the first few lessons would have been different. Seriously, we were repeating phases like "do you want to have a drink at your place or mine?"