Thanks to everyone who commented on Wednesday’s article.
To read what was said, or to add your own thoughts, click here.
Incidentally, all previous articles can be found on the club website, here.
Scroll to the bottom of the page and click ‘Next Page’ to travel back in time and read years’ worth of my nonsense!
Anyway, today I was searching around for a topic that I hadn’t already covered many times before, and I remembered something that a club member wrote to me in an email recently.
I’d asked, I think, if she’d liked the new, free conversation prompts.
She replied that they were too personal, that she didn’t enjoy that sort of probing, ‘what do you think?’ conversation.
It’s not an unheard of reaction.
Most people, though, enjoy talking about themselves, their ideas and opinions, and what they would or wouldn’t do or think in a given situation.
Bet you’ve had that “What would you do if you won the lottery?” conversation a few times, haven’t you?
But what is, after all, the point of studying a foreign language, if you’re not intending to use it at some point (ideally right now) to interact with the world?
And yes, of course, you could keep those interactions impersonal and controlled…
But what a bore!
All that time and effort put into learning the new tongue, and yet there’s nothing INTERESTING to say?
Nothing controversial? Nothing witty? Nothing flirtatious or polemical?
No desire to use the new language to probe the innermost thoughts of the people you’ll interact with?
Or just to get to know them better?
I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I teach a lot of one-to-one lessons, going out to local companies and sitting alone with a manager or personal assistant, encouraging them to chat in English.
Mostly it’s about boosting people’s confidence, making them feel that they CAN communicate in another language.
Topics of conversation include the dreadful state Italy is in, the weather, company gossip, what we did at the weekend, and language-learning, of course.
There’s a lot of work-talk, but I also hear about their husbands or wives, their kids (the dreadlocks, the piercings, the disappointing school results), their hopes and fears for the future, and their health problems.
I know who has a secret cigarette habit that their partner is unaware of (and so always carries a toothbrush), who would love to change their job but is frightened to take the leap, who loves buying books but never has the chance to read them, and so on.
With some of these people, I’ve done fifty or so hours of conversation, one-to-one, alone in an office with the door closed.
How could it not be personal?
Besides being a teacher, I’m also a student.
And this week I just bought another forty hours of Swedish lessons (that would be eight packs of ten thirty-minute lessons in our system…)
Lesson forty-one was this morning, and a lot of it was spent talking about this article – why I write for the club, and about what.
My teacher couldn’t see the point, and wanted to know why I didn’t use Facebook to connect with learners of Italian.
The word ‘marknadsföring’ (marketing) came up a lot. Did we pay to advertise? Why not?
I explained why our ebooks aren’t for sale on Amazon, only at our own ecommerce store https://easyreaders.org/.
So, a fairly detailed conversation about my work, followed by some chat about our plans for the weekend.
He’ll be helping a neighbour install a loudspeaker (called a ‘highspeaker’ in Swedish, apparently) on their TV so as, rather counter-intuitively, to reduce the sound of the TV coming through the wall into his own flat.
The new highspeaker will ‘direct’ the sound away from the party wall, and towards the neighbour in his armchair, so enabling the volume to be set lower.
In the end, all questions are personal to some degree.
Not intimate, certainly.
But if you want to speak better Italian, you have to speak ABOUT something.
Learning how to interact with others in your new language takes time, a lot of it.
That’ll go a lot easier for you if you have a plentiful supply of topics to chat about.
So here’s how to have a successful conversation lesson, whether one-to-one or in a small group.
It’s not hard: ask questions, listen to others, share.
Take turns to speak, but don’t be afraid to interrupt.
Aim for a natural interaction pattern.
When you find an interesting topic (bitching about your colleagues, why learning grammar is a waste of time, the state Italy is in), go with that.
Above all, let it fun!
Ideally you should be happier at the end of the lesson than you were at the beginning.
If it ain’t enjoyable, you’re doing something wrong.
“Had a nice lesson, dear?”
“Very nice, thanks!”
All the free conversation prompts are here.
I’ll be adding more as soon as my wife gets around to translating them.
If you don’t have someone to practice speaking with (aww…), you can at least read the questions.
Check the words you don’t understand – maybe write down a few answers.
Or bite the bullet: spend a little cash: get yourself an Italian teacher.