I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

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Oh-ctober! Language learning recap

Language learning recap for #clearthelist: what I’ve done in September, plans for October and news about life around here.

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The whys and hows of arguing with an Italian

The most romantic of us would like to see love as a force that conquers all, but intercultural relationships can be tough. A partner from a different background challenges the beliefs and habits we developed while growing up in our native land. Some things we were taught since childhood sound new to them, some values are opposite.
While every single person is a unique combination of quirks, identifying which traits come from our partner’s upbringing is vital for a successful intercultural relationship.

My own experience with a Swedish partner taught me to be more conscious of cultural differences and their impact. It’s a long and sometimes frustrating process of adjusting, unlearning and relearning. On the way, I gained new awareness about the Italian culture and about myself.

One important thing I had to face is the peculiar way Italians argue and how this can sometimes be overwhelming. As brilliantly put by one of my housemates: “You don’t argue with an Italian. An Italian argues with you“. She’s Spanish, so she knows that siamo sulla stessa barca.

So if you have an Italian partner or Italian friends you might want to read on and learn more about the fine art of arguing with an Italian. Though hopefully, you won’t have to apply it a whole lot!

Siamo sulla stessa barca: We are in the same boat

arguing with an italian

Why do you argue with an Italian?

There are of course a number of personal reasons that may lead to a fight, but there can be some common patterns when it comes to cultural differences. After all, we know there are some things that your Italian partner doesn’t approve at all…
Four big sensitive topics with an Italian are food, hygiene, jealousy and religion.


Because of our long and renowned culinary tradition, we easily get a bit snobbish about food. We have the best ingredients, the best recipes and the one and only right way to serve food, so don’t mess with us on this!
Living abroad probably makes Italians more open to trying new things, but most of us will likely hold in our hearts the certainty that le ricette di nonna are the absolute peak of world cuisine. But yes, we can try to have it your way tonight! Wait… are you putting parmigiano on seafood pasta!?


Italians are also considered a bit fussy about hygiene. Be it personal hygiene or house cleaning standards, we wash and clean a lot. I’ve already mentioned that we have more bidets than anyone else in the world. We don’t really get why you’re not rinsing dishes after you wash them or the bathtub after taking a bath. So while we get annoyed because the kitchen you just cleaned up is not actually clean (by our standards) you’ll probably get frustrated at being treated like a child who needs to be taught stuff all the time.


Now, I hope you don’t get the chance to experience the wrath of a jealous Italian. The upbringing in a country where gender equality is still far from being achieved makes relationships between men and women quite complicated. Many people are still convinced that a man and a woman can’t be just friends, or that men are all “hunters” and women are desperate to “steal” your man. This can lead to endless discussions whenever you catch up with a mate or grab a coffee with a female colleague.


Finally, for some Italians religion is still a big part of life. Whether they want you to andare a messa with them, or their Catholic beliefs shape their mentality, this can cause some trouble if you come from a country with a secular tradition. It sounds a bit last century to be against marriage for same-sex couples, abortion or divorce, no?

Le ricette della nonna: Grandma’s recipes
Andare a messa: To go to the Mass / To go to church on Sunday

How do Italians behave in an argument?

First, I have some bad news for you: you’ll probably argue with an Italian more often than you would with a Brit or a northern European. This is because we come from a more individualistic culture and therefore we are less scared of confrontation. If anything bothers us we speak our mind and we are quite vocal about problems. This might sound stressful, but Italians prefer to go through an issue as soon as possible and get it out of the way. This means, on the positive side, less passive aggressiveness and a faster resolution of misunderstandings.

As for the actual “how”, let’s imagine your stereotypical hot-blooded Italian, gesticulating, raising their voice and all. It might look scary, but sometimes it’s more about getting carried away than actually being that mad.

Two things that would be considered unacceptably rude in other countries are not uncommon in Italy: pointing one’s finger at someone and interrupting when someone is talking. Both are impolite in Italy, but not as much as elsewhere.

Italians can point a finger at you as an obvious gesture of accusation, as in “Hai finito tu il caffè?“. They can also use it in normal situations to make it clear they’re asking you something, as in “E tu che cosa ne pensi?“, so don’t take it as a sign of disrespect.

The same applies to interrupting you while you’re speaking. In an argument, it’s probably going to drive you crazy how Italians talk over you. In everyday life, though it’s way more common for people from southern Europe to have animated conversations, where the words of one fuel the ideas of the other and we end up interrupting, being interrupted, interrupting again.

There are two big taboos when arguing with an Italian: one is la mamma and one is God. No matter if you’re angry out of your mind, leave these two out of the argument.

Maybe you heard it on the street or someone taught you, but never ever reply “Tua madre!” (your mother) if you want to avoid offending the other person immensely.

Also be careful because bestemmiare (cursing God) is very much frowned upon and you don’t want to be heard saying anything that involves God or any member of his family… In some regions though, like Tuscany, Friuli Venezia-Giulia and Veneto, more people use bestemmie as a common exclamation.

La mamma: mom
Hai finito tu il caffè? Did you finish the coffee?
E tu che cosa ne pensi? And what do you think about it?
Tua madre! Your mother! A way to reply to an insult that you DO NOT want to use.
Bestemmiare: To curse God

How to positively end an argument with an Italian?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a catch-all solution for this one. Trying to understand each other’s points of view and to compromise when possible are a good starting point.
Another important achievement when in an intercultural relationship is learning to see the cultural differences in the other’s behaviour. This can avoid further misunderstandings and fights.
A word or a gesture can have an unexpected meaning even in a culture relatively close to yours, so keep questioning what you think you know. With every challenge come new discoveries and even more fun: don’t forget to look beyond the surface!

Have you ever had an argument with an Italian? What struck you the most? If you are in an intercultural relationship or you have friends from different countries, have you noticed any differences in the way you argue?

Tired of fighting? Get the latest addition to the secret library: 10 Italian expressions to make up, after an argument. Click on the image to sign up and get access to free learning resources 🙂

arguing with an italian

For more tips and insights about Italian language and culture don’t forget to check Instagram! 🙂


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Clearthelist September 2017 – Time for a change!

This month’s #clearthelist will be a bit different from the rest. While I was thinking about what to write and what to plan I had a revelation, so things will change a bit for me in September.
August was a time for holidays and reflection after a messy July. I’ve been busy planning work related things and I’ll be even busier doing in September.
I also had the chance to assess where I am with Swedish – more of it in a moment.
Finally, I failed badly at my Japanese August on Instagram. No big deal.
Alright, let’s start!

Where am I with Swedish?

I’ve been studying Swedish now for about one year, at first very casually. Since January I’ve been more consistent, but I haven’t studied intensively at any point.
I am now at the point where I understand what’s going on with the language. How did I find out?
First of all, I recently tried and reviewed Interlinear Books. It gave me the chance to strengthen my self-confidence when reading, as I managed to read a real novel without too much struggle and using the translation only occasionally.
Second, I spent a week in Sweden and this gave me a clear idea of my strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, I can follow a casual conversation between natives without many problems. On the negative, I still cannot answer promptly and interact effectively. I still speak slowly and need to rehearse a sentence in my head before being ready to say it.
Despite that, I surprised myself by actually using Swedish every time I could in shops, bars and restaurants. I was afraid everyone would immediately switch to English, but no one did! So yay for trying!

Tomorrow I’m off to Stockholm again for the wedding I wrote about a few months ago and I am shamefully unprepared. Still, it’s good to know that I can tell people to go ahead and speak Swedish because I understand what they say. Maybe I won’t charm them with my language skills, but at least I won’t be a bother! Silver linings…

clearthelist september 2017

What about September?

So about the changes I mentioned earlier, the plan for September is that I will have no plan.
I know that this whole Clear the list thing is about sharing goals, so shall I be disqualified maybe?
I’ve been reading a million times about how setting achievable goals is key if you want to learn a language. It’s all over the language learning community and I’ve accepted this fact without questioning it. The truth is I’ve always been a bit of a Bastian contrario, as we say in Italian (Mary Mary quite contrary in English). I’m used to questioning everything, especially if it’s something that doesn’t resonate with me. So while I agree that one should be consistent to make progress, I don’t necessarily feel like goals are a part of the equation for me.

Goals can be great sometimes, but other times they make me feel anxious and constrained. That’s why for September (and possibly longer) I’ll try to go ahead without a study plan and without setting monthly goals. I feel more confident in doing so since I teamed up with Tiia to support each other as study buddies for Swedish. Chatting with her helped me to see things more clearly and to be more forgiving of my failures, which was refreshing.
So this is all for now, in September I’ll stay loose of any commitment. We’ll see in a month how the experiment goes!

Do you think that short-term goals are necessary to successfully learn a language? Have you ever thought of studying without a fixed plan or routine? Let me know what you think, even if you totally disagree with me! 🙂


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Read between the lines: Interlinear Books Review

Reading has always been one of my favourite activities when learning a language. Crawling up in bed with a book in my target language makes the bookworm and the introvert in me feel all warm inside. What really breaks the magic of this moment is having to look up words in the dictionary. How can one be absorbed by the atmosphere of a tale if they have to stop at every sentence, search for vocabulary and try to guess which of the different meanings they found is the right one?
The thought of reading a real book in Swedish was still daunting so I stuck to children comics. Sure, Bamse’s adventures are great, but not too much of an exciting read…
Therefore I was delighted to have a chance to try Interlinear Books and to challenge myself to a real Swedish book!

interlinear books review

What are Interlinear Books?

“Subtitled books” describes well what Interlinear Books are: novels that include the original text and an (almost) word by word English translation below, in a smaller font. I say “almost” because what they translate is the minimum possible unit which makes sense when translated. If you have an idiom, for example, or an expression doesn’t make sense if translated word by word, they translate it as one unit.
You can find two examples underlined in the image below.

interlinear books review
By the way, this is also how the Interlinear Books look like on your smartphone. It was great to have it with me all the time and read it on the go. Even in such a small format, I found it easy to keep my eyes on the main text without slipping to the English translation.

The biggest advantage I experienced using this tool and the reason why I loved it is that it made me feel a lot more confident.
Knowing that I had the meaning under my eyes actually helped me look less at the translation and try to grasp the sense of a sentence without external help. When I read a novel in my target language I tend to look up every single word I don’t understand, making the whole reading much less enjoyable. Interlinear Books, though, made me into a less anxious reader. I took my time to appreciate the prose style, the use of words and to try and figure out more by myself, without jumping at the translation the whole time.
Halfway through I realised that, despite being still a beginner, I was actually reading a real Swedish novel!

About the book

Herr Arnes Penningar is a 1904 novel by Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf. The author was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her best-known work is The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, one of the most famous Swedish children books, translated into over 30 languages. It’s the tale of a boy shrunk to the size of a thumb and travelling the country on top of a goose, with insights on history and geography of Swedish provinces.
Herr Arnes Penningar takes us to 16th century Sweden, depicting the harsh winter, the lives of people as well as subtlety describing the landscapes of the region. It’s a captivating novel somehow close to Edgar Allan Poe’s atmospheres, but I don’t want to spoil anything: it’s an absorbing read that deserves to be discovered page by page.

Who is it for?

Interlinear Books can be very beneficial for any learner who already has a grasp of grammar in their target language. The translation will help if you’re struggling with vocabulary, but you need to be familiar with the sentence structure.
I would recommend it if your level is from upper beginner/intermediate onwards.

What’s not great?

You might have guessed I’m a big fan of Interlinear Books by now, but perfection is not of this world.
This rose has its thorn as well, and it would be the price. It ranges from 12.99$ to 29.99$, which someone might find quite costly for an e-book.
For me, it’s clear that behind these books is a lot of work, love and passion, and the price is commensurate with the quality of the product you get.
If you would like a taste of it but you’re not quite ready to buy they also have some interlinear short stories on their blog.

Bonus tips: how to make the best of it

Grab an audiobook

Listening to the text while reading it will help you retain more vocabulary and get you familiar with the pronunciation of new words.

Read out loud

Practising your speaking skills doesn’t necessarily mean having a conversation partner! You can exercise by yourself by reading out loud a text: another method to make new vocabulary and grammar structures stick easier in your brain.

Resist the temptation to check the translation

It might be tempting to look at the English translation every time you’re not sure about a word, but resist! If you get to the end of the sentence or the paragraph you’ll often be able to guess the meaning of it.

Summarise it

This is a great way to move the vocabulary you learned from passive to active knowledge. After you finish reading a chapter try to summarize it using the words from the original text. It works both as writing and speaking exercise.

On the Interlinear Books blog, you’ll find more tips on how to use them for language learning.

To sum up

  • Offers excellent pieces of literature by renowned authors.
  • High-quality translation.
  • Many versions available for different devices.
  • The text is clear, easy to read without slipping to the translation below.
  • Lets you enjoy reading in your target language without worrying about vocabulary you don’t know.
  • Useful to increase vocabulary and grammar knowledge: it’s an enhanced reading tool.
  • The price could seem high.
  • Not for complete beginners.
  • Still not many books in the catalogue.

On the Interlinear Books website, you can find more info about this great tool for language learners and have a look at their catalogue. At the moment they have books in Swedish, French, Spanish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Greek, Portuguese, but I hear there are more languages to be added soon so keep an eye on them!

Do you like reading as a language learning activity? Do you usually look up every word you don’t understand or do you prefer to grasp the general meaning, even if you’re missing some vocabulary along the way?


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Clearthelist: language learning goals August 2017

I’ve had a look at my diary to understand what happened in July: I feel like it literally disappeared in front of me. You know when your projects end up all over the place and you don’t seem to be able to keep track of them? My July has been a mess made of too many ideas, too little facts and way too much stuff being postponed.
Whenever a new idea pops up in my mind I get restless and I can’t wait to start working on it, leaving all sorts of unaccomplished tasks behind me. It’s frustrating and it’s starting to make me feel quite anxious. I would like to be able to focus and to be more disciplined.

Phew, enough with rants. This month wasn’t a great one so I wanted to be honest about it. It’s no use to make everything seem pretty and shiny here on the blog when in reality I’m struggling. Hopefully, I will find a way to deal with my plans better and to concentrate my energy on fewer projects. Maybe it just takes a bit more time to settle into the life of a freelancer.

language learning goals august

July review

Despite that, I am satisfied with the language learning bit.
I kept enjoying studying Swedish and I dedicated time to it consistently every day.
The Instagram challenges were a good way to stay motivated and I’m proud I posted every day for #languagediarychallenge. I had to give up #IGLC after half month as I realised that creating the images was taking me way too much time. Next month I’ll try a more relaxed approach instead.
Everything else went pretty smoothly:

  • Memrise: learn 100 new words. ✔
  • Babbel (affiliate): review weekly and do one new lesson per week. ✔
  • Learningswedish.se: one new lesson per week. ✔
  • hejsvenska: one session per week. ✔
  • Rivstart books: two sessions per week. ✔
  • SFIPodd: one session per week. ✔

Moreover, I had the chance to try Interlinear Books and I’ve been using it to improve reading skills. I’ll write a review later in August to tell you more about it. Spoiler: it’s good stuff.

I got curious to try Duolingo for Japanese after its recent release. I have mixed feelings about it but I have to admit it’s addictive and despite it being too easy for my level I feel a bit of a thrill for Japanese again. I’m rushing through the tree to write about it soon.

Plans for August

My Swedish routine will stay pretty much the same:

  • Memrise: learn 100 new words.
  • Babbel (affiliate): review weekly and do one new lesson per week.
  • Learningswedish.se: one new lesson per week.
  • hejsvenska: one session per week.
  • Rivstart: two sessions per week.
  • SFIPodd: one session per week.

In addition, I will try to finish the Interlinear Book I’m reading and I’ll throw in some Duolingo sessions whenever I feel like it.
In August I will be in Sweden for a week, so my main goal will be to actually talk to people I don’t know. I want to start ordering at a restaurant, buying something at a shop or asking for information. The main obstacle here will be to overcome my shyness.

I’m going to complete the Duolingo tree for Japanese, hopefully within a week / ten days from now.
As I seem to be more keen to study Japanese I will use Instagram to practice it this month. It feels like a good way to dip my toe in the water again very slowly, to recover bit by bit from my Japanese burnout.

I will take it very easy with French, reading a few articles and commenting posts if I have the chance.

August will be a month when I try to reassess my priorities and set an effective working routine. That way I will be able to be in full force in September, a month that always feels like a new beginning for me.
To do so I will implement a daily planner I created to help my boyfriend during the study weeks before university exams. It is based on the Pomodoro technique and I was so happy to see how well it worked for him that I want to share it with you as well. 🙂 It’s created with full-time students or freelancers in mind, to help them make the most of their days.
I modified it slightly and you can now find it in my newborn (but soon growing!) resources library. Click on the image below to subscribe and get access. If you try the planner I’d love to know what you think of it and if you have any suggestions to improve it.

free daily planner

That’s all for this month, time to get to work. 頑張りましょう!
What are your plans for August? Are you taking it easy during the holidays or are you going to use your free time to study some more?


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.