How to stop being just a tourist

When they say Instagram is the most superficial social media around, that is not true. In there I was actually able to meet very interesting and talented people and among them there’s without any sort of doubt Elfin Waters.
Elfin teaches Italian in a very smart and fun way, with a “visual” approach that I’ve found both inspiring and useful. I know this first-hand as I’m still personally struggling with foreign languages and a myriad of learning techniques. For those of you who are trying to learn La Bella Lingua to have a more fulfilling experience when visiting Italy, hear what she has to say in the following guest post that I gladly share here.

joshua-earle-2521Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Last time you came to Italy, you vowed to improve your Italian. Why? Because you want to be a part of a country you feel connected to.

When you travel, you don’t want to feel locked out in a bubble. You want to tread those cobblestoned streets and BE in Italy instead of just seeing it from the outside.

So, you start your tutoring sessions, wolf down those books on verbs and do grammar exercises like there is no tomorrow.

Your next trip to Italy is worth it.

Now you’ve made incredible progress. But…

Here’s the thing. You’ve come to realize that understanding Italian is great but sometimes you feel that you’re missing the subtext of things.

What are people really saying?

Learning a language is more than just stringing words together. It’s the thoughts and the ideas behind it.

What do they actually mean? Am I making any social blunders?

The culture behind the words is important and can be hard to understand. There’s  no dictionary for that.

Especially  Italian culture. It’s a world that takes some effort to decode and understand fully.

How do you go about it?

In this post, I’ll be giving you some suggestions on how you can go deeper and get your Italian experience on the right track. So you’ll never feel like an outsider and all that world of rituals will become familiar.

Using videos and movies

Expose yourself to native content as soon as possible. Even if it’s with subtitles that’s fine.

Videos and movies are a great place to start from. Watch out, they have to be native and not some English/ American perception of Italy otherwise you’re just learning about stereotypes and clichés that Italians don’t relate to at all.

You’re probably already watching plenty of material. Now, you have to learn to make the most of it by jotting down notes on anything that you find peculiar to what your culture expects.

For example, why are people saying  prego  all the time? Why is the waiter saying it in this scene, if it means you’re welcome?  Why is this character making that gesture? Things like that.

Don’t  jot down every single thing, of course. Just set yourself a tiny goal. While you’re enjoying a movie/ Tv series you will jot down 3 things that seem different to you and that you’d love to know more about. Try to add the context and background information so that the notes will make sense to you after.

Then, you can bring these notes to your sessions with your tutor.  In fact, you could even arrange to have a session a month with your teacher exclusively about your cultural doubts.

Who can help me with my questions?

If you’re not working with a teacher, you can ask your questions online.

One of the best resources is Quora. What is Quora? It’s a question-and-answer site. The quality of the replies is usually amazing.

All you have to do is post a question in the Italian culture area and you’ll get answers either from natives that are happy to  share their culture with you or from English speakers who live and know Italy very well.

Even if you don’t have any questions to ask yet, I do recommend going through the answers in the Italian culture part. There’s so much helpful information.

Where can I find other Italophiles?

Another resource is Instagram. It’s my favorite place because there’s really a lovely community of Italophiles.

Instagram accounts that you’ll find helpful are:

  • Sara’s Instagram: she shows the tiny  things that differ. She periodically carries on a #100-day project that offers insights that I find priceless.
  • Kellys’ Dolce Vita, her intuitions on Italian culture from an American perspective are intriguing and helpful.
  • Questa dolce vita  by Jasmine, a Canadian girl who is living out her dream of an Italian lifestyle and shares her journey, the positive and the negative. It’s such a fun account!

Why not even start your own Instagram account? It would give you the chance to connect with people who share your passion.

Ask questions or, if you’re too shy, read the comments that are very enlightening.

Last, check out blogs. My favourite is Instantly Italy. What I like about it is that Cinzia also has specific courses on the topic . You can even sign up for her Be Italian for a Weekend, a free, three-day email crash course about Italian culture.

The most important thing to understand is that this is a process and that things will not happen overnight.  My suggestion is to start on this adventure little by little and allow the information you gather to seep in and accumulate. Over a small period of time, you’ll see that the pieces will start adding up and things will start to click and make sense.

Language and culture will start to mesh and be less distant to you.

So, summarizing.  We can get closer to Italian culture by:

  • Watching native movies and Tv series and taking notes of what we find unusual.
  • Share your questions with your tutor or on Quora.
  • Look for Italophile accounts on Instagram and get involved with the conversation by reading the comments.
  • Read Italian culture blogs that will give a voice to your many questions and can guide you even more.

You don’t have to do ALL these things. One or two will be enough. Because your goal is to find what’s right for you. That’s what getting closer to Italy is about.

Happy exploration!

And now, your turn. What do you do to get closer to Italian culture? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Elfin WatersBio Author

I help English speakers find fun ways to  learn Italian even on the busiest of days. You can follow me on Instagram where I give daily lessons for intermediate students. Get my free guide on learning Italian by watching videos and movies here



20 thoughts on “How to stop being just a tourist

  1. You always have such insightful views on everything Italian. I used to feel that the best way to learn a different culture was mixing with the people, fully immersing in it rather than viewing from the peripheries. Sometimes I wish I was a teen again, when I used to have pen pals and exchange letters with people all around the world…
    Hope you are well! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Thank you dear!! ❤❤
      Yeah, the cultural aspect is fundamental to have a better grasp of the language. But I have to be honest: the pen pal thing never worked for me. I was a member of the International Pen Pals association and when I sent letters I never received one in return 😂 Not even once! 🙈

      Hope you are well too, I’ll soon send you an email ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Really?? I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work for you! People are so rude! Silence is honestly the worst treatment. I think I enjoyed my pen pal days mostly because I knew they wouldn’t last 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. fkasara

        Haha 😂👍

        Yeah, not even one reply, I was enraged about it 😂😂 The first pen pal they associated me with was Australian btw 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sara and Elfin….congrats ladies, this is an exceptional post. Sara, so happy to see Elfin as the guest and Elfin, well I’ve been watching your videos since forever on Instagram, they’re the best! I really love that you guys decided to write about how to learn Italian, from the native speaker side. Lately, we get so much advice from people who have “learned Italian” but maybe not the cultural nuances, just like you say in the post! Thanks for the mention and I’m sharing immediately! Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Right!? Elfin’s videos are the best!

      The cultural nuances are fundamental to have a better grasp of the language, especially in a society like the Italian one.

      Thank you for the compliments and for sharing! ❤❤


  3. When I first started studying the language 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to find an email pen pal in Milan. We exchanged emails regularly and met a few times. Eventually, that ended, but I then I got myself an Italian boyfriend. Sixteen years later I’m now living in Italy with him and trying to relearn the language, but I’ve certainly picked up certain cultural things from him over all these years. However, I also picked up a lot of Dutch words and cultural things from the past nine years. It all gets a bit confusing these days! 😀

    Thanks for this post. Now I’ve found some more new people to follow!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      I bet it must be indeed confusing sometimes between Dutch and Italian, I used to have the same problem with German and English 😨 Mixing words all the time!!

      They are all inspiring people! And the videos of Elfin are just amazing, they help you grasp even the idiomatic expressions which are the tricky ones! I watch her videos all the time, even if I’m Italian 😁👍

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m looking forward to watching more of her videos. It might help me get back in the swing of studying. I’m in such a mid level right now that it’s hard to get back into it. Some simple things have been forgotten, while other more advanced bits I remember.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oookay, but the best advice is missing: learn the culture from an Italian and their family (or several). Maybe it’s just too obvious… 😉 Nothing like sharing intimacy with a native. Thank you for the links. They seem useful and helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. fkasara

      Yep, but unfortunately not everyone has the opportunity to be immersed in said culture all the time :/ The Internet is a precious resource nowadays for language students. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for a very interesting post. My experience is the reverse: learning English as an Italian speaker, but I find that your advice rings true to what I did when I was learning English. I never really learnt English well until I moved to the UK so I guess that spending time in Italy would probably be the best thing to do. Italian films also offer a good picture of the socio-cultural landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. fkasara

      Yeah, I’m Italian too, and I made a big improvement with my English the moment I went to Ireland for a EU-Project! I have to say, though, that I’ve met several young people that speak and write a decent English, even if they have never spent time in UK/theUSA…I think that the Internet is playing a major role now…I was born in the 80s and when I was a teenager I wasn’t as fluent as certain kids nowadays!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sara and Elfin, thank you for this fantastic post! I learn so much from both of you about Italian language & culture. (I certainly hope you team up again in the future!) I have never thought of using Quora as a language learning resource before, but I’ll have to check that out! When I think back to when I first started learning Italian over 12 years ago (with years of not studying in between)…it is so much easier nowadays with access to native speakers online. I love how Elfin uses Instagram to teach Italian, it’s such a fun way to squeeze in a little Italian every day. Thank you to both of you for making social media a great place to learn and connect. ❤


  7. I started to learn Italian for pleasure at university. It was a lot of fun. When I moved to Italy five years ago I realized how much learning was still in front me. What really helped me was * talking Italian all the time with my husband, his family and my newly made Italian friends; * starting a new job in Italy; * having to deal with the everyday routine entirely in Italian; * talking over the phone with complete strangers (as part of my job) and * not being ashamed to say ‘I’m sorry I didn’t understand what you’ve just said’. It took me less than one year to improve significantly. Good luck to all those on-the-road!


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