• Nov 8, 2017


by Andrea Virga


This post can be considered a short handbook on how to use (and learn) foreign languages, for those who have not been lucky enough to work them out since childhood.

When I was 16  I used to spend hours on the phone with an Antwerp-based sweetheart I had met on vacation; at 20, during my Erasmus semester in Hamburg, I had the chance to share an apartment with German-native speakers only, and at the age of 25, my band (and drinking) buddies in Ireland made a nearly English native speaker out of myself.This is why I decided to draw up few easy rules for those of you who may not be familiar with foreign languages and are looking for a way to improve their level.


First of all, congratulations: this is a good start!  A foreigner trying to greet or thank in the local language is likely to be appreciated by native speakers, and even the coldest Viking will smile after a shy “takk” or “god morgon”. If you feel ashamed, or simply not interested in the local language, you should remember that learning a simple “sayonara” or “choukran” is no big struggle and might get you out of uncomfortable mishaps.

Nowadays, in business and politics, it seems to be common practise to show off a sort of English look-alike gibberish which claims to be work-friendly, but it’s just amelting pot of unaware lexicon. Don’t forget that English is not mandatory if you’re in a different linguistic context, and – on the contrary – a bad try may turn out to be awkward and counter-productive.

On the contrary, speaking a foreing language is essential when one is travelling aborad and needs (or wants) to communicate with locals.No worries, though: beginners won’t need to make any particular effort while speaking, since chatting abilities gradually increase as we learn new words, so the less you know the less youtalk; nobody will ever complain and some good-hearted native speaker may even provide useful linguistic advice.. 


If you cannot afford study trips, internships abroad, or expensive private classesthere is a neat, clever and subtle solution (although not completely effective) itcomes from TVor on-line streaming. Movies, documentaries, TV-series, newscastsand so on: they are all ok for your purpouse.. You can initially activate subs in your mother tongue, then in the original language, and then just go without them. This is the perfect way to combine business with pleasure and learn new words and figures of speech

Last but not least: when you are on holiday, meet locals. In 2014, during a trip to Maui, I thought my English was quite good; then I met a random Australian dude and I totally changed my mind.


Last but not least, avoid learning languages withimprovised teachers. This may sound obvious but trust me, I met so many people making terrible mistakes at the end of rough language courses. Some mistakes are hard to correct once internalized, and as we’re trying to learn something new, we’d better do it properly.


Do not trust those who tell you that everybody can speak English. Everyone just speaks it badly.


Andrea Virga – Failed translator who lets off steam with rock music and surf. Born in Asti, he lives in Genoa and is lucky enough to deal with virtues and vices of both cities. He promised to friends and family he’ll change his hobbies as soon as he becomes a freelance.


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