One of my first jobs each morning is to approve comments on our various websites. That doesn’t take long, because we get so few. What we do get, though, is a mass of automated spam comments.
Automated spam comments? You probably have no idea what I’m talking about, right? The basic idea is that one can, in theory, promote one’s dodgy product or service by leaving links to the associated webpage in a comment on someone else’s site. And that, as a bonus, if Google and other search engines notice that lots of genuine websites like ours contain links to the dodgy product or service in question, that will lend credibility to the dodgy product or service-promoting website, which will then rise in the search-engine rankings.
A lot of the comments are sexual (it’s quite fascinating what some people seem to be into), and the rest are either criminal, unethical or clearly intended to lure the gullible. I can’t actually give you examples here, because otherwise this article, which will be emailed by our system to over fourteen thousand people, would go straight into their spam/junk folders (about which, more later.) But for a flavour, read this ‘poem’, which I didn’t actually write, but rather assembled by selecting from one day’s worth of spam comments on one particular website. The many mistakes are the original authors’ own, obviously.
There are, of course, automated systems that can eliminate all the spammy comments on my behalf, and so save me having to do it each morning, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, on at least three different websites (the other sites we run are only checked occasionally.) The trouble is, the software often marks genuine comments as spam, too, which would be a shame, given that we get so few.
See the problem? All comments need to be moderated (otherwise we’d be awash with spammy links to questionable websites), doing so is like walking through a sewer, but not bothering means missing genuine, if rather rare, feedback from our members, customers and readers.
Like this from Mary, for example:
I found this account the perfect accompaniment to the film. I am just beginning to supplement my language learning by watching some of the classic italian movies which I have to say I am really enjoying. However, when I watch a film there are always things (which often turn out to be key to the characters’ motivation or to the events in the film!) that pass me by. For me this is where the easy reader steps in. I read it really quickly before watching the film so I understand the context and get a general idea of events, and then again afterwards to confirm to myself that I have just understood a famous Italian film or in the case of this wonderful film, to give me permission to be confused, as I am meant to be, at the cliff hanger of an ending!
Yes, it’s an ebook review of course. But that’s basically a comment in the eyes of the website software, and attracts a tide of unsavoury computer-generated trash, too.
Why am I republishing Mary’s review/comment now? Apart from the fact that it was one of half a dozen or so that I just moderated/approved, well, because it contains wisdom. Which is rare, I’m afraid.
No need for me to repeat what Mary has so coherently explained, but I would mention that she is writing about one of our classic Italian movies ‘easy reader’ ebooks, Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, which is indeed very confusing, like many of the best-known and best-respected Italian films of the twentieth century.
More cultured people than I will no doubt confirm this, but what makes a film, or a book, or a painting, or whatever, NOTABLE is that it is, in some interesting and relevant way, DIFFERENT. Trashy novels are designed to entertain you, and if they surprise as well, then they do so in ways that are consistent with what you expected when you handed over your dollars. Need I point out that Academy Award-winning foreign films are less likely to be so predictable or easy?
Actually, yes, it appears that that might be worth mentioning, as quite often comment/review authors will say that they were disappointed by the ending of one or the other of our ‘eBook of the Classic Italian Movie‘ series (go read all the reviews and you’ll see.) No one ever writes that the ebooks aren’t faithful to the films themselves, because they are – very. They’re written by a movie expert. So guys… if our text seems a bit disjointed, or the dialogue is strange, or the characters don’t behave like people in a John Grisham novel, well that’s because the movie scriptwriters wanted it that way.
Where was I? Comments about comments, yes. Over on the club website, someone expressed their perplexity that, having bought some online lessons in our recent sale, they hadn’t yet been contacted by our teaching management team to arrange the classes:
I realise that it has only been a few days and you all must be inundated with requests for online Italian lessons after the grand January sale but … I’d like to ask how long before I am contacted about arrangements?
I published the comment, without comment, so to speak. I publish all genuine comments even if, like this one, they make us look slapdash. But I also emailed the lady, immediately, suggesting that she check her spam/junk folder for emails from our team.
When I teach, sometimes I remind my students of what they’re supposed to have learned in the lesson so far. 1.) Italian movies, particularly the notable ones, can be very confusing and have disappointing endings. Ebooks based on them are likely, therefore, to reflect those characteristics. That’s, at least in part, the point (the other point being to practise your Italian reading and listening…) And 2.) when you buy something – an ebook, some lessons – and you don’t get a response immediately, or at most, within 24 hours, check your spam/junk folder before contacting us, or look foolish.
Another genuine comment picked out from this morning’s scummy river of spam comes from Laury:
Good luck with persuading folks to learn – for my sins (no, don’t ask, not that I’d tell you 😉 ) I found myself running a small Italian conversation group (it’s a U3A group so we’re all over 60) and when I sent out an email listing some youtubes that people might want to watch there was protest, especially from one member – ironically an ex TEFL teacher – saying she didn’t have time. Horses, water, drink…!!
Ah, the people who don’t have time! And yet take on a major undertaking like learning a foreign language, so wasting some of the time they do have by taking baby steps towards a distant goal they will never, unless they give themselves a kick in the butt, have a hope of reaching.
I wonder if these are the same people who (mentioning no names) buy an ebook (presumably with the intention of READING it) and yet fail to READ either the product description in the shop, which details when and how the ebook will be delivered to buyers, or ANY of the emails sent by the shop software once the order is complete.
People who, two weeks later, when our system sends out a polite request to review (same as leaving a comment, remember) the ebook that they had bought, then go looking for it, only to discover that the download link (valid for 7 days / 3 download attempts) has now expired. People who write me asking for help, but don’t give the order number, the title of the ebook they bought, or the email address associated with the purchase…
That’ll do for today, more or less, though I’ll end by relating that yesterday I had a row with my wife and so went to sulk in the garage where, in the subsequent hour or so, I read two long articles in Spanish (from El Pais.)
That reminded me of two things. Firstly, it’s perfectly possible to get the gist of a long newspaper article even if you don’t have an expert knowledge of the language (my Spanish is still elementary), in particular if you know other, related languages. Don’t stop to look things up (I didn’t, never do) – just read!
In fact, Lauren reviewed our FREE Italian/English parallel text ebook thus:
La Sorpresa is a lovely, easy story for beginners who have a “romance languages” first tongue. Many of the words are familiar and this story builds confidence. There are a few challenges to make it worth reviewing as well.
And secondly, by actually reading (the same is true of listening) you can learn masses – vocabulary, obviously, but also grammar, and lots about the community of people who use the language you’re reading in. There’s been a storm in Spain, did you know? About which, more another day.
So what have we learnt today, class? 1.) Italian movies can be very confusing, remember, which is probably the point; 2.) when you buy something, check your spam/junk folder; and 3.) you don’t have to learn a language first, before you can read it. You can learn the language BY reading it.
A mercoledì, allora.
Saturday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news is waiting for you to read/listen to.
My approach is
1 To Listen to and Read each individual article to get the general understanding.
2 I then go back to each individual article. And then practice my pronunciation and check out a better understanding of the text and some vocabulary.
3 I then repeat the process for the next article. It is working well for me. Thank you again.
Just a thought and a suggestion.
• I have to keep going back to the top of the page to ” Listen online as you read”.
* So my thinking is that it would be useful to have the ” Listen online as you read” at the start of each article.
To which I rather testily replied:
The purpose of the material is to train people to listen to ‘real time’ audio, such as news broadcasts or live radio, neither of which have a stop button, so nor do we.
If you prefer to use the broadcasts as collections of discrete items, that’s up to you. But then, the listening material with audio could be anything, not just news, and we have plenty of free listening texts (graded into different levels) over at https://onlineitalianclub.com/index-of-italian-listening-comprehension-exercises/
I repeat: the purpose of EasyItalianNews.com is to help people who don’t listen to Italian broadcast media gain the experience and confidence to begin doing so. We think that stopping to check, listening to sections multiple times, and so on, would be counter-productive. Therefore we don’t encourage it.