Seven days ago, I started my journey to learn Italian. My goal is to reach the point that Idahosa calls “The Shift” as fast as possible.
Idahosa says he expects me to get there in 2 months. I have my doubts, but so far I’m impressed with my progress.
In this post, I will walk you through what I did so far.
full episode list
- Ep. 0 | Introducing Mike
- Ep. 1 | Week 1 – Singing Practice
- Ep. 2 | Week 2 – Faking Accent
- Ep. 3 | Week 3 – Chatting w/ Strangers
- Ep. 4 | Week 4 – Script Building
- Ep. 5 | Week 5 – Blending w/ Locals
- Ep. 6 | Week 6 – Immersing in Italy
- Ep. 7 | Week 7 – Hacking Shyness
- Ep. 8 | Holiday Update
- Ep. 9 | Spontaneous Conversation
The first thing I did was research the sound system of Italian. The technical word for a sound system is “Phonology”. This is different from “Phonetics” which is the study of language sounds in general.
Per Idahosa’s recommendation, I started by searching “Italian Phonology” in Wikipedia. The article was a bit dense, but my exposure to The Mimic Method these past two years helped me understand the basics of it.
The most important was to get a list of all the consonants and vowels. According to Wikipedia, Italian has 24 consonants…
…and 7 vowels.
These symbols don’t really mean anything on their own. I needed to hear these sounds in real Italian words to make sense of them.
If you click on any of the phoneme symbols, it takes you to another wikipedia page that focuses just on those sounds. This is super useful, because you can see other languages where that sound occurs, including English.
I did a ctrl+f search for “Italian’ to find the Italian word. I then copy/pasted that word into forvo.com, which is a pronunciation dictionary, to hear how that word is pronounced.
Finally, I put all these example words and forvo links into my Elemental Sounds Spreadsheet.
This whole process took 3 hours of preparation, but as you will see in the next step – it was totally worth the time. Good news for you fellow Italian students, you don’t have to do the work 😉
The Elemental Sounds of Italian
Idahosa calls the full list of 31 phonemes the “Elemental Sounds” of a language. This is because everything I will hear or say in Italian is broken down into these 31 elements.
To build Sound Capacity, I needed to make sure I could hear and pronounce each sound. So I found an Italian voice talent on Upwork.com. She recorded the souexample words I found for each elemental sound:
After listening to it several times, I made my attempt to mimic her pronunciation:
This took me about 30 minutes to do. I found this process to be easier than I expected. I can already recognize a lot of these sounds after working with Mimic Method for so long. Most of these sounds occur in Spanish and Portuguese, so my ear was already used to them. Just need to practice wrapping my mouth around the pronunciation.
The 500 Most Commonly Used Words in Italian
Idahosa says that it’s not enough to just know the elemental sounds. I also need to build my capacity to say them in all their combinations.
When elemental sounds combine – they form syllables. Some syllables are harder for me to pronounce than others. To find out which words I struggle with, I used a “500 frequency words Italian” Wiktionary page.
I copied this into a spreadsheet and removed duplicate words that were the same.
Then, I had the Italian voice talent I found on Upwork read through all of these sounds in groups of 25. I told her to leave space in between so I could practice mimicking. Below is one of the recordings. For full playlist of Italian frequency words, click here.
After listening a few times to familiarize myself with the sounds, I gave it my first shot at mimicry. I used Soundcloud to record my voice for free. When I recorded, I didn’t use headphones and closed my eyes. This way, I could hear my pronunciation next to the native speakers to hear differences more clearly.
I sent these recordings to Idahosa to listen to. He doesn’t speak Italian, but he has a legendary ear. He was able to point out subtle differences between my pronunciation and the native speakers. He wrote them all out in my spreadsheet.
What’s cool is that Idahosa used the same text for each error, so that we can break them down in types. Of the 500 words, I mispronounced 66 (not bad!). A majority of them had to do with the /e/ vowel, and the rest had to do with other errors.
After reviewing all my mistakes, I made another attempt, then Idahosa told me which ones I fixed by turning them green on the spreadsheet.
I found this to be extremely useful. Now I know exactly which sounds to pay most attention to when I’m pronouncing words in Italian.
This whole process took me around 5 hours, during which I recorded myself saying each set of words and reviewing my mistakes after Idahosa checked them.
Italian Song Lyric Training
The next step was to build Sentence Capacity. Syllables combine together in Italian with a special rhythm and intonation. It can be challenging to hear and pronounce these melodic syllable strings at full speed, so Idahosa recommends using song lyrics to train the ear and mouth.
I went to lyricstraining.com to find an Italian song that I liked. What I found in the song “La prima volta (che sono morto)” by Simone Cristicchi. I chose this song because the rhythm and melody was simple and catchy.
The song is fast, but that’s okay because we can use technology to slow it down. I used a software called Maschine to slow down the audio (you can use the free software Audacity to do the same). Here’s what one line sounds like at 50% speed:
Using these slow recordings, I tried to transcribe each syllable by ear. After transcribing it all by ear, I then used the written lyrics to figure out the trickier words.
After transcribing, Idahosa came and listened and told me which sounds I misheard. I found the transcription and review process to be challenging but very helpful.
After doing it, I now feel like my Italian ear is 10 times stronger. When I hear Italian now, it doesn’t sound as “fuzzy”. I can hear the same syllables in normal Italian that I transcribed in my song.
Am I starting to see the “Italian Matrix?”
Singing Italian Song
The final thing I did was memorize the chorus of the song. This was by far the most challenging thing so far. I could hear the sounds, but it was difficult to remember the syllables.
But Idahosa assured me that it was just a question of practice and rest. The first time I tried, it was very frustrating. I just couldn’t remember the lyrics. My brain felt like it was going to melt.
But then I slept on it, and I would be able to rattle off the lyrics the next morning. It’s pretty incredible how fast the brain can learn things.
Putting everything together and making the transcriptions for the entire song (572 syllables to be exact!) took 6 hours and the memorization process took 4 hours (and counting).
Here’s my first Italian song recording! I hope you don’t find my singing voice too harsh on the ears:
Next Steps in Learning Italian
I am almost finished with Stage 1 of Italian – Building Capacity. I still need to practice Italian melody and mimicking full sentences without music.
According to Idahosa, my gold standard is to “be able to mimic any 8 syllable sentence in Italian, by ear, without knowing what it means.”
Idahosa will instruct me on how to make these materials this week. Then hopefully I will graduate to the Conversation Stage. This pronunciation training stuff is super fun and interesting, but I just want to know what stuff means already!
Hope you enjoyed this progress report. Let me know in the comments if you liked it. Also let me know if there’s something you want me to cover in more detail next time.
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Ciao for now!