Becoming proficient in a foreign language means being able to use and understand a number of different aspects—vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and so on. However, it takes a while to be able to put all these elements together and be sure that what you are saying sounds like natural Italian.
Or any language for that matter. It's also true that it takes a while because I took a nice whole year to indulge myself in the Italian language. It is a wonderful love affair. I did these for my Italian journey.
Language allows us to express ourselves and interact with others. In any given situation, we perform different language tasks, such as asking for information, agreeing and disagreeing, complaining, making suggestions and so forth. To do this, we use linguistic structures (How...?, When...?, Could I...?, I'd like... and so on) which can be used in a variety of contexts.
Although I was not completely proficient with Italian, I was able to communicate with the locals during my two trips to Italy in 2013 (for one month) and 2014 (for three months). The experience was priceless. I was able to ask for information, express my opinion, and engage in general conversation including buying stuff. Almost all the Italians I came across in Italy didn't speak English, so I was fortunate that I do.
A conversation, by definition, is a two-way process. It is as important to understand what is being said to you as it is to be able to respond.
Absolutely. Which is why just parroting a phrase book will not do (but getting acquainted with one certainly helps). Which brings me back to the first excerpt above that vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation are important. I don't need to be a perfect-sounding Italian speaker (some accent is a sign of bravery!) but speaking it correctly will avoid as much confusion as possible. For example, leggere (to read) and leggere (light) are two words spelled exactly the same but when pronounced differently means another thing. One final note, it would be awesome if someday I do speak like a native Italian!
P/S: Today I signed up on LingQ.com and their 90-day Challenge. I'm using it to experiment on Spanish!