How well did you do in actual speaking situations?
I've been doing Italian for quite some time on Duolingo. More than my current streak suggests. I've been really working on keeping my entire tree gold as of late.
While we all realize that using Duolingo alone will not make you fluent in any language by any means, it does help a whole bunch.
My question is, how many of you actually tested what you've learned on Duolingo in Italy and how well did it go/hard was is still to communicate with locals?
I'm living in Italy with my fidanzato, and since we have no plans to leave, I've finally got my act together and started this course in earnest. I have a background with other romance languages (French and Spanish, as well as 2 years of high school Latin), which definitely helps. I understand a lot more than I can say.
I have noticed a distinct increase in my confidence in social situations, even though I certainly cannot express myself to the same extent as I would in English. I'm willing to try, and quick to notice when I am saying the wrong thing and correcting myself.
The real shortfall with Duolingo is that it rarely challenges the students to put together what they are learning in "surprise" situations; they often follow the same formulaic sentences that don't require a lot of mental work once you figure out the pattern. The problem is that outside of the online classroom, without a lot of practice, I find myself struggling to find the right words and figure out how to put them together. Often, if I catch myself thinking a simple sentence in English, I'll quickly test myself on how I would say it in Italian, and occasionally the fidanzato has me translate some short articles from magazines etc.
Obviously I can only speak from my experience, but all of that being said, if you are planning on travelling to Italy, you will find no shortage of people who are genuinely thrilled you've made an effort to learn, and will be patient and playful with you.
I went to Venice and Milan at the beginning of July after a year or so of using duolingo consistently. I was able to communicate well enough for most things if the other person spoke slowly and clearly. However, I think this was mainly down to my time spent speaking with natives on skype and facebook. Duolingo gives you a strong foundation to build upon but like you said, it will not make you fluent on its own.
The main difficulties I had were the regional variation in pronunciation and accent that I hadn't encountered before, especially the Venetian habit of chopping off the final vowel. Not having a large enough vocabulary was a big problem for me but that's just something that will come after reading a good number of Italian books.
I went to Italy after a year on Duolingo and was able to say most things i wanted to if I had enough time to plan ahead, but i'm talking about pretty basic stuff. I think I would be quite a bit more confident now.
I am in Italy right now. I'm having some difficulty understanding Italians talking. I need to really concentrate to understand. That can be draining, but speaking isn't too bad anymore. I can say simple sentences well. What I mean by that is present tense, past perfect and imperfect, infinite phrases and, sometimes, conditional and future tense sentences. Duo doesn't do an amazing job preparing you to speak, so all I can offer for advice is to make sure you starting speaking it, even if it is to yourself. I write to my girlfriend almost exclusively in Italian now (she is a native speaker). That helped me think in Italian better. Buona fortuna!
I just spent the summer studying abroad in Florence and visiting family in Rome and I managed to speak rather well. When people spoke fast it was difficult, however, I still understood a decent amount. Unfortunately, when I was in Naples or visiting my cousins from Sicily, I was clueless when they were speaking their native dialect.
I've been learning Italian for approximately 10 years now, and have only just in the past couple of weeks got turned on to Duolingo, so I thought I'd give it a bash and see how it rates me. I went to Lombardy about five years ago and could get by in the basics, but I decided to step it up and I went travelling around Rome and the south of Italy last year - after three or four days being immersed in Italian (which really helps) I found that my speaking skills had come on in leaps and bounds. The main difference, however, between Italian and French is that in France they have imposed standard French across the entire country and tried (and almost succeeded) in stamping out regional dialects. In Italy, which is a much more recently-formed country, the dialects are still very strong, and the Campanian, Sicilian and Venetian dialects are often, and with some merit, argued to be completely different dialects. When I was on the train in Sicily there was a train announcement and the only words I got were 'in ritardo' and 'rotto' - I'd just started talking to a Sicilian girl who had been living in Switzerland with her partner, and she turned to me and said 'That's one thing I don't miss about Sicily - the fact they don't pronounce any of their words'. Seriously, everything just blurred into one noise. It was like being back home in Yorkshire. So if you are learning Italian and want to speak and hear the Italian you've been learning, if you haven't been to Italy yet, it might be an idea to start in Florence, as the Tuscan dialect is that which was used for standard Italian.
If anyone's interested in any book recommendations, for GCSE we used 'Amici', which our tutor preferred for it's sensible structuring and which was also great fun. There's also a workbook and extensive collection of audio CD's to complement it. At AS-level we used 'Crescendo' which felt like a huge, huge step up at the time, and isn't anywhere near as user-friendly, but if you have the patience to work your way through it you'll be well-rewarded. An amazing book, which is a bit on the old-fashioned side but really shows how immersive and comprehensive language learning must have been in UK schools 30-40 years ago is 'Italiano Vivo'. It's hard-to-find and often a bit pricey, but our Italian tutor used to tell us if we had the time to work through that we'd know Italian inside out. Others I've picked up along the way are the BBC's 'Italianissimo', which I find a bit scatty in its structure, 'Azione Grammatica' (an easy-to-use grammar book with exercises), 'Parola per Parola' (themed vocabulary units), 'Easy Italian Reader', 'Better Reading Italian', and I've recently got a couple of books called 'Dirty Italian' and 'Barron's Italian Idioms', which deal with all of slang and proverbial phrases which I found Italian contains so much more of than English.
I'd also recommend watching some Italian films to become acclimatised to the native sounds, preferably from all over the country - one of my favourites is 'Il Divo' which is a fantastic film about corruption in the Andreotti government and their links to the cosa nostra and Tangentopoli scandal that ultimately proved to be his downfall. In fact, anything by Paolo Sorrentino is a good place to start, although 'Gomorrah' may be a bit tricky to understand because it's all in the Neapolitan dialect, but well worth a watch if you're interested in the seedy underbelly of the Camorra crime syndicate. The classics are also worth a watch as well - 'Roma, Open City', 'The Bicycle Thieves', 'Life Is Beautiful' - they have a long and amazing history of film-making, despite Tarantino's comments. There's also the 'Inspector Montalbano' series, which has been going on for some time now and can be purchased on Amazon, and music-wise one of my favourites is Vasco Rossi, but if you Google Italian music and the genres you like you should be able to find absolutely anything. Buona fortuna, e spero che io ti abbia aiutato un po'!
Can't you just test out your skills by speaking with native speakers? Or maybe taking classes in the language you're learning or some private lessons? Otherwise I think Duolingo is not enough....