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How to Overcome Recurrent and Fossilised Mistakes in Italian

“Why do I make the same mistakes all the time?” I hear you saying. Well, it’s natural to make mistakes when learning Italian, and today we’re focusing on this specific type of mistake: the recurrent one. These are the mistakes people make consistently. They are called fossilised mistakes because they have become habits over a long period of time. Here is how to overcome your recurrent mistakes.

In this blog, we will learn:

  • What a fossilised mistake is
  • How to overcome a fossilised mistake with
  • A four-step strategy
  • 7 of the most common recurrent mistakes in Italian
  • Quick techniques to overcome recurrent mistakes

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But first, let’s play a game:

Can you find 7 mistakes in the following text?

” Ieri ho andato al bar, qui a Roma. Lì ho mangiato la colazione. C’era anche la mia moglie. Lei ha preso un cornetto e io qualche biscotti. Un tempo siamo andati a Milano, e abbiamo fatto colazione, non con il cornetto ma con la brioche! Sappiamo bene Roma ma non molto bene Milano. Tutti che conosco dicono che preferiscono Roma.”

The solution is towards the end of this blog.

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What is a fossilised mistake?

The term refers to mistakes that we make consistently, which have become habits over time and are done automatically. If you are making these kinds of mistakes, don’t be too hard on yourself. This is natural in language learning. It happens to all of us, and the good news is we can overcome them. In this blog, we’ll look at how to do just that.

How to overcome fossilised mistakes, those mistakes that have become a habit. We have a four-step strategy:

1.            Notice

2.            Analyse

3.            Record

4.            Practice

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The first step: Noticing

The first step is to become aware of these mistakes. Often, we aren’t aware of the mistakes we’re making because we’ve repeated them so many times that they now sound correct to us. Therefore, it’s crucial to start recognising them first.

Why friends won’t correct us

When speaking with friends and family in the target language, they usually won’t correct us. The goal of the conversation is to communicate, and its urgency doesn’t allow for corrections (unless they don’t understand what we’re saying). This is why we suggest working with a good teacher. A fully qualified teacher understands the importance of mistakes and how to address them.

You can do a lot of work on your own in language learning and you should, but a teacher can quickly identify not only what is wrong but also how to rectify it. If you are in one of our classes, the teacher will skilfully identify the right time to draw attention to recurrent mistakes. They will remind you of the grammar rule and suggest corrections and practice. Furthermore, all our classes are recorded, so our students can watch the lesson again, observe themselves speaking, listen to the corrections, and take valuable notes.

Alternatives

If you cannot afford individual lessons, group lessons are much cheaper and you will get a similar result. Consider that fossilised mistakes are common and are probably made by most participants, so corrections will be relevant to all. Look at the 7 most common mistakes listed towards the end of the blog. Is there one that you regularly make?

If even group lessons are out of the question, I suggest reading as much as possible, watching TV, films, and videos, and speaking at any opportunity. In this case, recording yourself will be crucial so that you can compare your version with the original. Check out the shadowing techniques in this blog if you’re interested. It takes a lot of effort but can be done.

To summarise, recognising your fossilised mistakes is half the journey.

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Second step: Analyse the mistake

Now that you know what the mistake is, you can reflect on and analyse it to understand why you are making it. It’s easier to rectify a mistake if you understand its cause.

Interference

Often, a recurrent mistake is due to interference from our native language. For example, in English, the word “time” has different meanings: the time on a watch and time as in “one time” or “a few times.” In Italian, we use two different words to express these meanings.

For example:

– The time passed quickly. → Il tempo è passato velocemente.

– One time (once) I went to China. → Una volta sono andato in Cina.

Pronunciation

Another common mistake involves pronunciation. Sometimes this happens because a sound doesn’t exist in our native language, such as certain diphthongs. Other times, it’s because we’ve generalised a pattern as a rule.

For instance, take the word maschera (mask). This word is pronounced maaas-che-ra, with the accent on the first syllable. Most Italian words are pronounced with the accent on the penultimate syllable, so it’s easy to make a mistake with this word. Our brain has generalised a pattern that exists, but it is just that—a pattern, not a rule.

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Third Step: Record Them

After identifying your mistakes, keep a notebook where you record them. Be sure to jot down an explanation of why you are making each mistake. Writing it down is a powerful technique and far more effective than just being told about it.

Prioritise your mistakes. Don’t try to improve them all simultaneously. Focus is key to improvement.

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Fourth Step: Practice

A mistake becomes fossilised when it is repeated over a long period. Our brain becomes used to it without noticing. Therefore, we need to start noticing when we make it. This is why I suggest focusing on one fossilised mistake at a time. Don’t become overwhelmed; take baby steps for all difficult tasks.

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Quick Techniques

The Post-It Note

A quick technique is to write the correct version of your mistake on a post-it note and stick it where you can see it. For example, you could stick it on your computer or tablet during a lesson so it’s front and centre while you’re likely to make the mistake. Think about phrases like “one time” una volta or “two times” due volte —these are common phrases you might use in your next lesson.

Use It in Writing

Another technique is to practice using the correct form in your writing. Plan your next homework assignment by including one or two of your fossilised mistakes. You can also create flashcards with the word and a few example sentences to use in your next speaking practice.

Record Yourself

Use your phone to record yourself saying these sentences. By listening to the correct version, you’ll start re-wiring your brain to recognise it and form a new habit. Repetition is key in forming a habit, and it’s crucial in language learning. Be patient; it takes time to form those new connections and eradicate the mistake.

By following these steps and techniques, you can effectively overcome your fossilised mistakes and improve your Italian language skills. Remember, patience and practice are essential in this journey.


7 most common mistakes in Italian

But let’s go back to our game… How many mistakes did you identify? Here is the solution:

Ieri 1. ho andato (sono andato) al bar, qui a Roma. Lì ho 2. mangiato la colazione. (ho fatto colazione) C’era anche 3. la mia moglie. (mia moglie) Lei ha preso un cornetto e io 4. qualche biscotti. (qualche biscotto) 5. Un tempo (una volta) siamo andati a Milano, e abbiamo fatto colazione, non con il cornetto ma con la brioche! 6. Sappiamo (conosciamo) bene Roma ma non molto bene Milano. 7. Tutti che (Tutti quelli che) conosco dicono che preferiscono Roma.

1. Ho andato… instead of sono andato

The verb andare takes the auxiliary essere.

If you have the time, read my full blog on how to choose between essere and avere. If you don’t have the time you can download it. Either way, click HERE.

2. Ho mangiato la colazione… instead of ho fatto colazione

In Italian we never use mangiare with meals. Instead, we use the verbs fare colazione, pranzare, fare uno spuntino, cenare, etc.

3. La mia moglie… instead of mia moglie

With the members of the family – when they are singular – we do not use the article.

For example, mia madre si chiama Lina, i miei fratelli Enrico e Silvio.

4. Qualche + plural…instead of qualche + singular (qualche biscotto)

Qualche is always followed by a singular noun.

See these examples: Qualche volta vado a Roma. Ho mangiato qualche acciuga. Ho letto qualche libro.

5. Un tempo… instead of una volta

In English the word time has different meanings. For example: the time of the watch or the time as in the phrase one time a few times. However, you can see that the word has two different meanings. In Italian we use two different words to express the two meanings of the word time.

Another example: Sono andata in moto solo tre volte. (I rode a motorbike only three times.)

6. Sapere… instead of conoscere (conosciamo)

Conoscere and sapere both mean to know in English but they have different meanings. The verb “conoscere” is about acquiring familiarity or experience with people, places, objects, or topics.  Therefore, in our case, as we are talking about Rome, you must use conoscere.

I have a full blog (both in Italian and in English) about these two verbs. You can read it HERE. Perhaps another time LOL.

7. Tutti che… instead of tutti quelli che

This is easy, in Italian we never say the phrase tutti che, we say, tutti quelli che, tutte le persone che, tutta la gente che, etc.

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Don’t be afraid of mistakes

I hope this guide has been helpful to you. Identifying and addressing your recurrent or fossilised mistakes is a crucial step in mastering Italian.

Remember, mistakes are an essential part of the learning process, so embrace them. Only those who try can make mistakes, and each mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve. Celebrate your mistakes as milestones on your journey to fluency. If you wish to read more about the psychology of recurrent mistakes here is an article.

Keep practicing, stay patient, and most importantly, enjoy the process.

Boun lavoro!

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