The other day, I received a sad email.  Here it is:

I am looking for someone to practise speaking with using the lingua Latina course as the basis.i have had two tutors but I am still not able to speak the language after 11 years of effort. Do your online courses help to facilitate spoken Latin?  

Practise.  He must be from Great Britain.  Anyway, here is my reply:

I believe that Lingua Latina is the best path to take if you want to learn to speak Latin.  If you have studied the language for 11 years, then I highly doubt you are going to need my help.  My advice?  Start reading through Lingua Latina.  There is nothing else like it in the Latin world. 

It is sad to me that so many students spend as much time as you have in Latin and have little to show for it.  I, myself, have spent 20 years studying the language and still have no one to speak to.  In fact, I have grown so tired of hearing the same story that I now recommend students start with Italian, French, Spanish, or another modern language.  Those languages are far easier than Latin.   If students learn one of these languages, they will have millions of people to practice with.  From there, I recommend they move on to Latin if they want to.  If they do move on to Latin, they will find it much easier after having studied a modern romance language.  If they never make it to Latin, they will still have a modern language. 

It took me a long time to reach this conclusion.  Too long, in fact.  But, my current reasoning is based on too many emails like your own.  

I am heading to Italy in June.  Before I arrive, I want to speak Italian.  Here is what I am doing to learn Italian before landing in Italy.  This information may be helpful to you, or to someone else reading this blog.

I spend one hour each morning studying Italian via the free, and fantastic DuoLingo.  This is active learning.  When you use DuoLingo, you will need to pay close attention to what you are doing.  You will spend a lot of time typing.  Be sure to repeat everything you hear in your target language.

Each time you learn a new skill, the skill will become a gold medal.  I try to get one gold medal each day.  Since there are 65 gold medals available in Italian, you can finish the Italian course in about 11 weeks.  That assumes you work 6 days a week, which I recommend.

There are 78 gold medals available in French.  You could be done with the course in 13 weeks.

There are 120 gold medals available in German.  You could be done with the course in 20 weeks.

Most Latin courses take two years.  Some take six to seven years.  Please.  If you are not able to read the New Testament in two years, run away from the course.  You are getting ripped off.

Back to Italian.  While I rake leaves, wash dishes, drive around, work out, or do anything else brainless, I listen to Coffee Break Italian.   While everyone else is watching Lost, or while everyone else is spending the weekend watching a football game, I listen to Coffee Break Italian.  In his book How to Learn Any Language, Barry Farber states:

“You can learn a language in twelve months using only the moments you didn’t realize you had.”

Turn the radio in your car off.  Turn your TV off.  Turn YouTube off. Listen to Coffee Break Italian instead.  Or Coffee Break French, or Coffee Break Spanish, or Coffee Break German.   Experiment on yourself.  Do it for a year.  See what happens.

Finally, to learn Italian, I am reading a book in Italian.  L’Italiano Secondo Il Metodo Natura.  I have only been able to find it on Scribd.  It was worth a monthly subscription.  They also have a French version.

All in all, I spend about 3 hours a day studying Italian.  That sounds like a lot.  But, perhaps it isn’t.  How many hours a day do you spend listening to music in your car?  How many hours a day do you spend surfing aimlessly online?  How many hours a day do you spend watching vapourous shows?  Count them up.  I’ll bet you have plenty of time.