I speak and write fluent Italian and have used it on a daily basis for my whole adult life. I am a bicultural Italian-American, fluent in both languages and cultures. I lived and worked in Milano for more than seven years and while living in Los Angeles now I continue to use the Italian language daily.
Before starting Italian studies, I was prepared by a bit of familiarity with it from growing up Italian and from four years of high school French, taught by the Latin teacher, who gave us a very thorough grounding in grammar. The UCLA Italian department when I was there ran a high-intensity version of the Direct Method for first year Italian, under the direction of the late Prof. Mirella Cheeseman and Prof. Marga Cottino-Jones. We also had an excellent conversation teacher, the late Prof. Althea Reynolds, who showed me how to lead students to speak, how to prompt students with idiomatic expressions and how to use theater to teach intonation and pronunciation. Geoffrey Meigs and Elise Magistro were enthusiastic and effective TAs. I had second-year Italian from Pier Massimo Forni, now a professor at Johns Hopkins University. Overall, the lessons I received at UCLA prepared me very well for living in Italy, for speaking the language and also for teaching English to Italians.
Yet, as well organized and useful as those classes were, I really learned to speak Italian by following my cousin around Milano, where I acquired the cultural awa. I spent hours listening to her friends talking and I could understand more and more of what I was hearing. This proved to be the ideal way to train myself to speak, first watching and listening and then gradually speaking.
Today I still speak fluent Italian and I enjoy translating old Italian literature into modern English. Many pages on this site have some examples of my translations of Machiavelli, Boccaccio and others. Look on the pull-down menu under “Italian” to get to those various pages.