From March 10th until June 8th I, like many people around the world, worked at home.
Some aspects of that were nice – spending more time wearing shorts and sandals, reading classics of Italian literature for our Book Clubs while sitting in the spring sunshine, and not having to crowd onto an urban bus, or joust on my motorbike with kamikaze Italian motorists.
I got my home office tidied up and rearranged just the way I wanted it, cooked and ate two home-cooked meals each day (gaining about three kilos around my waist in the process), and gradually got used to spending 24/7 with my family.
Since the Monday before last, though, our school has been open and classes are running (with strict hygiene and social-distancing measures in place), so life has gradually been returning to normal.
The irony is this: while I was closed up at home, my language study routine (reading news articles, listening to the radio, online lessons etc.) collapsed almost completely – too much time on my hands resulted in much less interest and engagement than usual. I kept up with the online lessons each week (which were as welcome as prison visits for a lifer), but that was about it.
Until the end of February I had been listening to two simplified Swedish news bulletins each day while I was commuting by bus (three repeats each, like lifting weights), plus live radio while doing chores at home.
Whereas from March onwards, that quantity of ‘input’ must have shrunk by at least three quarters. Most days I managed to do at least something, but my Bluetooth headphones lay completely neglected on my newly-tidy home-office desk.
Bluetooth? Everyone knows what that is, right?
But actually, until relatively recently, maybe a year or two ago, I was only vaguely aware of this tecnology myself, and hadn’t ever used it.
What happened was, my wife orders stationery – photocopier paper, toilet rolls, board pens, toner and so on – for the school. Now office stationery in Italy being a very competitive sector, her favoured supplier incentivises her loyalty by including regular free gifts with the orders – kitchenware, steel jewelery, and other such glittery bits and pieces.
Given that the photopier paper is anyway reasonably-priced, I assume that this particular company must get a fantastic deal on, say, a thousand sets of microwave-friendly ‘nesting’ plastic bowls with stay-fresh lids, so as to then be able to give them away free to bored office workers whose weekly treat is to spend a hundred dollars or so of their employers’ cash on scotch tape and post-it notes in order to bag the latest in a line of constantly changing free gifts.
Anyway, at a certain point in time, this company started giving away Bluetooth products (speakers for your computer or smartphone, cordless headphones, and the like), which must have so reduced in price, yet still not have become ubiquitous, that they made attractive free gifts.
And hence I received my first pair of Bluetooth headphones, that week there being nothing that Stefi desired more than to please her husband.
Once I figured out how to open the box, I discovered that these were basically two little plastic earpieces encased in a mini charging unit. What you do is plug the charging unit into your computer for a bit and, as it charges, it in turn is charging the tiny batteries in each plugged-in earpiece.
When all is ready, the little red light turns into a little blue light and it’s time to extract the earpieces from the charging unit and plug them into your ears.
Which was the hardest part, actually. I know where my ears are when I need to poke a fingernail into one of them to extract wax, but this was a different order of challenge to master.
Earphones eventually slotted into ears, the next step is to reach for your smartphone, open ‘settings’, and select the Bluetooth symbol.
What’s that when it’s at home? It’s the icon that looks like a space-invader that’s got tipped on its side in one of those deep drainage ditches you see running alongside Italian roads, perhaps after too much wine with Sunday lunch (Wikipedia has a picture.)
Click on the space-invader to switch on your smartphone’s Bluetooth connection. Your device will then scan for anything else that may be using the same short-range radio technology in its immediate location, hopefully find your headphones (which should have a recognisable name), and ask you if you’d like to connect to them. You would. Obviously, you have to make sure the headphones are both charged up AND switched on first, or they won’t admit any signal, and so won’t be found by your smartphone.
But actually, it’s all a lot simpler than it sounds. The ony thing I REALLY had problems with were the buttons on the headphones, which were so small I could barely identify them with my washing-up-water-shrivelled fingertips and, being black like the headphones themselves, were not visible at all until I’d put my glasses on and postioned myself by a window in strong sunlight.
Once I’d learned to switch the headphones on, though, and adjust the volume, and keep them from falling out of my ears into my cup of tea, I was ready to listen (on the bus, in bed, etc.) to any smartphone app (radio, simplified news, TV) that promised useful resources for building my language skills during moments in which I would otherwise be idle, that is to say, often.
Within a short time, I had my earphones in while I was washing the dishes, cooking, exercising, taking the bus to work, and hanging about at work waiting for something to happen.
If you’ve not being doing the same, then why not give this a try?
The free-gift headphones from our stationery supplier lasted about ten minutes before one side conked out and the volume button stopped responding to the urgent stabbing of my finger. So I went to our local supplier of all things electrical and spent rather more than I was expecting on a replacement pair, which admittedly worked much better.
Later, on a trip to Glasgow to visit my daughter at her university, I left those behind some place and was so bereft to be travelling with no Swedish to listen to, I bought another pair from the airport shop. They cost less than $20, which was pleasing, though the sound quality wasn’t nearly so good.
Which brings me back to now, and to a life that’s getting back to normal.
This week, almost without thinking, I dusted off the headphones, plugged them into my computer to charge, and yesterday, as if Covid 19 had never happened, listened to the Swedish news while cleaning up after a meal. Later in the afternoon I walked to the supermarket, listening to France.info on the way there, and CNN Türk on the way back with a backpack full of bananas, beer and other necessities.
If I can do it, then very likely you could do it too. If you already have Bluetooth headphones, then why not give them a try in an idle moment? You could, for instance, listen to our simplified news bulletin multiple times while exercising or hanging out the washing (navigate to it with your smartphone’s browser).
Or you could download the RaiPlay Radio app to your smartphone and get into the habit of listening to Italian radio. Why not explore podcasts, while you’re at it? And TV? And music streaming?
In fact, once you’ve got your technology ducks in a row, there’s a whole world of Italian out there to listen to!
Here’s a final reminder about this week’s new, B1 (intermediate) -level ‘easy Italian reader’ ebook, La coscienza di Zeno.
It’s the fourth in our series of simplified versions of classic Italian literature and is currently available at the special launch offer price of just £5.99! But only until Sunday night, after which it’ll sell for £7.99, like our other easy readers.
Also not to forget is Thursday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news, which is free to read and listen to (so why not?)
There’ll be another bulletin tomorrow (Saturday) morning – our team is working on it right now. So as not to miss that one (reading/listening practice is always valuable), you should subscribe. That way we’ll automatically email you each thrice-weekly bulletin, at absolutely no cost!
N.b. EasyItalianNews.com is funded by donations from generous readers, which is how we manage to make it free to everyone who wants it.