Wait! I just got done writing that teaser headline and thought I better do a bit of research first, lest I be proven wrong.
Ok, so, some people do talk about it.
Wow, synchronicities! Not only is Fiona, the writer of the above-linked article, a native English-speaking woman who also speaks Italian, she’s also living in Italy, just like me!
Well then, let’s just say great minds think alike. I am going to then expand upon Fiona’s article without repeating her great advice.
No one talks much about the fact that learning tarot can and should be approached just like learning a foreign language.
I can confidently say that because, like Fiona, I also speak Italian, and now that I’m trilingual, speaking English, Italian, and conversant in the language of tarot (having recently gone pro as a reader after 12 years of private practice), I can see so many similarities.
As a beginner, it can help to have advice from an already-fluent speaker about how to approach your learning.
Here are my Top 5 Tips for Learning the Language of the Tarot:
1. Always remember that your learning will be gradual, and cumulative.
When I first was learning Italian, I wanted it to come all at once. I wanted to be able to converse fluently from the get-go, but after having studied for over 3 years in the States, the first time I touched down in Italy and was faced with the simple task of having to order a sandwich ALL BY MYSELF, I froze. I ended up timidly pointing to the object that I wanted to eat, feeling embarrassed and ashamed that in this “moment of truth,” I wasn’t able to pull out anything, and I stood there MUTE.
When you first start out with tarot, be easy on yourself! Maybe, if you’re a real perfectionist like I am, you don’t want to jump into giving full-on Celtic Cross readings live to people in your first weeks of learning the tarot. There’s really no way to speed up your learning to a point where you can gain fluency just by reading more or doing more. The language of the tarot, like any foreign language, has to be built upon, layer by layer, and absorbed gradually. You really can’t rush this process to produce results. You simply have to live it and walk through it, like any other skill or discipline that you’d like to become proficient in. And each foundational step builds on the future learning, so just like with a foreign language, you might start out simply pointing or speaking in a sort of cave-man like dialect, with tarot you might start out by using simple key words.
The goal of fluency is to get you speaking creative sentences that you alone construct, without having to look things up in your dictionary or phrase book, just like the goal of tarot fluency will be that you can weave a story among the cards that is relevant for the querent, without having to flip through books of key words.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
As with all things in life, but even more so in learning a foreign language, you absolutely have to make mistakes in order to improve your learning and skills. The only way you can master a language is by experimenting with it in the real world, and then getting feedback about your speech, so that you can integrate the feedback into your learning and improve, step by step. Reading the tarot is like speaking a foreign language: just as you have to speak a foreign language in order to have correct verb conjugation and good pronunciation, you have to read the cards for someone in order to learn and improve. You may want to start reading for yourself (many learners and pros alike pull a card a day), keeping a journal of your thoughts and impressions as well as daily events that relate, and then progress to doing short one to three card readings for others. Reading for trusted friends and family might give you a safety net or a sense of security, while for others, signing on to offer free readings through an online page or doing an apprenticeship online with one of the tarot card associations is a good way to put yourself out there and try your skills in a low-risk situation.
Reading for others can feel scary at first, because you don’t have any guarantees about how the cards will come out or how your reading will be perceived by person you’re reading for. However, putting it out there is the only way you’ll ever learn how the cards apply to different questions and life situations. This isn’t brain surgery, it’s tarot! Have fun and experiment.
3. Use books as a basis for learning, but don’t overdo it.
Just like owning ten dictionaries won’t help you learn a foreign language any faster or better, owning every tarot book on the market isn’t going to make you any more of a pro in the long run. The best bet for learning tarot, as for learning a language, is to get a few good quality reference books, and stick with them as the basis for your learning. The reference book that served me very well in my learning stage was Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot, which nowadays is available online for free. Others are very impressed by Brigit Esselmont’s Tarot Foundations. Still others swear by Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom or Mary K. Greer’s Tarot for Yourself. It’s best in the beginning to avoid tarot books on specialized topics, like reading the court cards or a whole book on reversals. Another excellent resource in the tarot world, Theresa Reed (better known as The Tarot Lady), has an excellent list of 25 Must Read Books (when you’re ready to branch out) and Brigit has compiled her list of Best Books for Beginners.
Just stick to the basics at first, and then branch out, just like in a language you first buy a dictionary, then you move up to reading an actual book in the foreign language itself.
4. Get involved with other people learning the same language.
I can’t count how many times I’ve said to people, if you want to really learn Italian, you should move here to Italy! Or, even better, if you really want to learn a foreign language, fall in love with someone who speaks the language! There are so many really great online resources for learning tarot, but the best learning happens when you’re interacting with other people. Find some tarot buddies through an online forum or blog, and then have personal interactions with them to enhance your learning. Trade readings for each other, discuss what books you find helpful, attend conferences, take classes.
One of the best ways to make new learning stick is by sharing the learning process with others through personal interactions that are meaningful to you.
5. Don’t take it so damn seriously!
When I was first learning Italian, boy did I ever want things to come out the right way, right away. I always felt embarrassed if I had to look something up, or if I didn’t know the right way to express what I wanted to say. I beat myself up inside for not being quicker, more competent, at first. I hated that feeling of not being able to interact at a table full of people, even though I’d only been in Italy for six months.
Learning will come, with consistency and practice. Give it that time, and in the meantime, lighten up! Good things come to those who wait, and good things are ahead!
What tips would you give to a beginner learning the tarot? If you’re a beginner, what is helping you learn the cards?