I can't be the only person trying to learn Italian who is frustrated by how superficial a lot of language courses are - am I? Since we don't learn a second language in the same way we learnt the first, we need a bit of structure (I mean, grammar) to help us make sense of it all. Just when I was about to give up, I discovered a course that sees things my way. When I was at school, in the 1980s, I was taught French and German grammar. We learnt verb conjugations off by heart, we understood adjectival agreement, we knew what an indirect object pronoun was.
And it has stayed with me. Of course, old-fashioned language-teaching methods have their faults but, to me, they are more effective than the dumbed-down courses that keep tumbling on to the market every day. The principal drawback to the traditional system is the emphasis on reading and writing; oral communication should be encouraged first. Modern methods focus on speaking and listening, which is good, but what I find difficult and annoying is that the grammar is rarely presented in any systematic form. We tend to have the word(s) for "I am" on page 2 and "She is" somewhere further in.
What I want is to see the whole of the present tense of the verb To Be conjugated in all its persons, in one table. The current obsession with instant satisfaction clashes uncomfortably with study. Even the most experienced linguist, working with the best teacher, would struggle to learn Italian a day, or even a week. Courses that suggest you can achieve this would be better off promising less and delivering more.
Yes, you can 'get by' in Italy with a handful of set phrases that you've learnt in a couple of hours, but this is not my idea of 'speaking' Italian. I want to be able to have a real conversation. The unpalatable truth is that it takes some hard work to learn Italian well. Getting to grips with all the articles, distinguishing formal from informal "you", memorising verbs, getting used to omitting the subject pronouns It's a sweat to get over the introductory hurdles, but I can tell you it's worth it. Grammar is like a map: once you know how to use it, you'll rarely go wrong. However, if you don't know how to read it, it can't help you.
The first phase of your language learning needs to be understanding the 'symbols' and getting to know where they take you. When you know this, you can branch out accurately, with confidence. As I see it, the primary role of teaching materials is to explain how the language works, in terms both of grammar and of functional language (eg, telling the time). They should also provide practice exercises, since people learn best by doing something active. Three or four months ago, I bought an e-book called Italian for Beginners and I've just finished studying it.
It's taken me to probably intermediate level and, while there's still more to learn, I'm confident that I really know what I've covered so far. Adesso parlo italiano abbastanza bene!.
If you are keen on Italy and want to speak Italian properly, visit Italy Info and download Italian for Beginners.