We get this question a lot and it’s probably the #1 frustration of all language learners of any language.
There are countless blogs out there that simply suggest to practice more listening. While that will certainly help, it is not the core issue here.
There are two main problems if you struggle to understand someone when they speak fast:
- You don’t have a strong handle on the sounds of Italian.
- You have to translate words in your head.
While number one can be fixed with more listening practice, number 2 is the big issue.
In fact, even if you know every word someone just said, if you have to translate to your mother language, you’ll simply never keep up. In order to understand people that speak fast, you have to understand Italian as is – not the translation of the Italian words.
Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with translating. We are not suggesting learning a language by looking at a pictures and trying to guess what the meaning is, like Rosetta Stone.
In one way or another, you will ALWAYS be translating something. That’s a fact.
Even when you become fluent, there still will be words you translate.
BUT you will not be translating every single word you come across. With time, and practice, the amount of words you will be translating will decrease. There are always words that are new to you, beyond your current ability. Some of them you might have encountered a few times already, but you might have not yet used in conversations yet.
The orange area above represents the words that you will have to translate. With time, as you learn new words and then solidify them by using them conversation, the orange part will become thinner and thinner.
The dark blue area represents the words that you don’t have to think to use. They simply come out. And if you are able to SAY something without having to think, then you can certainly UNDERSTAND something without having to think.
So if someone is spitting out words at crazy speeds, but using words only from your dark blue area (and a few words here and there from the orange area), then you will most likely be able to understand.
At the beginning, that’s just “ciao”, “grazie”, and “come stai?”. You obviously don’t need to translate those – you understand them for what they are.
As you learn more and practice your conversation skills more, you will actually be able to understand more. That’s right – to understand people speaking fast, you will need to practice your speaking more! I know it may sound counterintuitive, but SPEAKING MORE will allow you to UNDERSTAND MORE!
You will start with “Andiamo al parco?” (let’s go to the park?), then “volevo andare al cinema ma sono dovuto rimanere a casa” (I was going to go to the movie theater but I had to stay home), then more advanced things like “se fossi rimasto, saremmo andati a vedere il film insieme” (if you had stayed, we would have gone to see the movie together) or “se l’avessi saputo prima, sarei rimasto a casa” (if I had known what before, I would have stayed home).
The key to understanding is more, is not practicing more listening, but actually learning something and then using it in conversations as soon as possible to put it in your blue zone.
Now that you know the key to improve your listening and understanding, it is up to you to put it in practice. If you need help with getting started, the follow our Learning Method, it will guide through the most important steps in learning the Italian language.