How to Learn Your First Second Language

Tips on how to learn a second language for English speakers

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Americans have it easy when traveling in Europe. Many European citizens begin English classes in elementary school, so we can hop around confident that most people will understand what gelato flavor we’re ordering. 51 percent of people in the EU speak more than one language. Many of them, even those without higher education, speak enough of two or three additional languages to get around in other countries. 

In the United States, it’s 22 percent that speak a second language.

Learning a second language when we’re young is a distinct advantage. Our friend’s two-year-old is growing up with FOUR languages. His mom speaks to him in German, his dad in Italian. They speak English to each other, and to make it even more complicated, he is going to a Dutch school. So when I say disparagingly, “Parlo come una bambina” (I speak like a baby), I’m being literal. 

Learning a language, really learning it, requires patience and commitment. Ci vuole il tempo – it takes time. So why bother when most of Europe understands enough English to give you a cioccolato gelato?

  1. It’s good for you. It wakes up your brain and makes you more thoughtful about how you say what you mean in ANY language.
  2. It’s fun! With the right teacher, it can become an interactive game with far more health benefits than playing Wordle on a screen.
  3. It helps you connect with other people, cultures, and ways of living in the world. This breeds empathy, which is something the world needs.

The Do’s and Don’ts for learning your first second language

  1. Do take a class where you have to actually SPEAK to another person.
  2. Don’t study exclusively on the internet and think you’re gonna do fine once you get there.
  3. Do speak even though you have an American accent. Make it messy! Make mistakes! It’s how you learn.
  4. Don’t use the “local” accent and just speak English, it’s not understandable to a non-native English speaker. 
  5. Do learn to say, “I’m studying X, please speak slowly,” or “How do you say X?”
  6. Don’t get frustrated if the other person does not understand you. Most people will be very patient if you’re trying, so be patient in return.
  7. Do use Google translate if you’re not sure of a word. I once tried to order a cappuccino “scuro” (strong). What I ordered was a cappuccino “squalo.” Go ahead, Google it. You can imagine the look I received.
  8. Don’t try to learn more than one language at a time unless you’re already a polyglot. You WILL get language confusion.
  9. Do have fun with it! You will learn more quickly if you don’t take it too seriously.

Not ready to commit to becoming fluent? Try taking a language for tourists class like this one from the Languages Corner. Learn enough to order or ask for directions and watch the doors open by locals who appreciate the effort. 

Italy holds a special place in our hearts at Body Synergy FitCation. We’ve traveled to Sicily, the Amalfi Coast, and in 2025, Puglia & Matera, so you can’t go wrong choosing Italian as your first second language to help prepare you for one of our trips. Interested in another language outside of Italian? We also offer FitCations in Greece and Croatia. Have another destination you’re interested in visiting? Complete our survey so we can add it to our list! 

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Tips on how to learn a second language for English speakers
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 How to Learn Your First Second Language

Americans have it easy when traveling in Europe. Many European citizens begin English classes in elementary school, so we can hop around confident that most