Do you ever wonder what it’s all for?
Not life, obviously that’s far above my pay grade. But the club isn’t.
You might, for instance, be new around here and perhaps asking yourself – why am I getting these strange, strange emails from some guy I don’t know?
Why indeed? That’s my point.
The world has changed a lot since I started building the skinny website that would eventually become the behemoth OnlineItalianClub.com, way back in 2012, initially with the idea of marketing our Italian language school in Bologna, and with the help of a few of our teachers, who were willing to contribute exercises and the like.
Coincidentally, it was around the same time, June 2012 that the gigantically successful language-learning website, later app, Duolingo launched to the public (they were founded the year before in 2011, apparently, so did have a bit of a head start!)
But back to the emails. If you’ve had a go at Duolingo (I’ve enjoyed using them for all of the languages I’ve studied, though more so when just starting out), you’ll know that they use email to deliver notifications – “You haven’t done your daily Italian lesson, today! But there’s still time…”, stuff like that.
And very effective it is, too. The approach is called ‘gamification‘, I believe. Which means designing systems using elements common to video games and the like – you ‘play’, you win points, you increase from level to level, you win prizes, etc.
My approach has been quite different, and not quite so wildly successful. Perhaps it’s because I am one of life’s readers (newspapers, books, anything I can get my hands on) rather than one of life’s videogamers, like my teenage son.
Way back when, when I was a lonely and overwhelmed small businessperson, struggling to survive in the legal and fiscal wild west that is modern Italy, I subscribed to a blog written by a guy called Seth Godin. Seth writes wise things about marketing, three hundred and sixty-five days each year. Or even more often when he has something to sell.
It occurred to me not long after first subscribing to his blog that receiving Seth’s regular missives was not just helpful, but in a way, rather comforting. No longer was I entirely alone with my battle to sell language courses to the uninterested masses. In fact, I rather felt part of a community, at least a virtual one.
Further did it occur to me that language-learning requires more than than just the appealing bells and whistles of even the most engaging beginners’ course: a pinch each of motivation, experience, and common sense are essential to the recipe’s success.
Which perhaps explains why so may people, perhaps the huge majority of those who begin learning a foreign language, quit before getting anywhere near their goals.
I LIKE Duolingo – there, I admitted it! But no matter how many emails they sent me, I always got fed up with the videogame approach sooner or later, even when I was having so much fun! And, as a result, stopped using the app, usually turning instead to reading newspapers and listening to the radio in the language I was learning.
My son gets tired of a video games, eventually, so moves on to a new one. There’s a lesson there, and in fact, it’s one that Duolingo appears to have learned. According to my Spanish teacher (learning French with DL), they now offer ‘events’ at which you can meet up online with real people and do interesting things. Bravi, that’s the way to motivate people! I wish I owned shares.
But back to our club. It was obvious that I didn’t have time to write every day, like Seth. So I followed some other marketing guru’s advice and worked out what frequency of article writing would be manageable – three a week seemed about right.
But what would I write about, each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so over a hundred and fifty articles each year?
New exercises, initially, then when we had a decent spread of materials across all six levels, bits and pieces of language-learning advice. later, as the site began to sprawl, I began reviewing and rewriting our free online material, piece by piece.
At a certain point, we started publishing and selling ebooks, and organising one-to-one online lessons with club teachers, with the aim of paying the bills and generating a surplus, which could then be reinvested in new, free materials (this summer’s La storia di Roma series, for instance, or EasyItalianNews.com, which only breaks even episodically…)
And one day I woke up and, suprise, we had become a ‘proper business’, and so had to start paying taxes (unlike some people in the news recently.)
But back to the emails (I’m winding this up, I promise): they have two basic purposes which are, firstly, to remind you to visit the website and/or do whatever it is you do to learn or improve your Italian.
You want, or wanted, to learn Italian, right? Or you wouldn’t be reading this (it’s a confirmed opt-in mailing list, which means you must have clicked a link to agree that I could bug you.) So here I am, like a ‘momento mori’ each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to remind you of your language-learning goals, and to point out what you could be doing to move towards reaching them.
Another thought about Duolingo – it’s bascially a course in which you have to start from the beginning and, though certain shortcuts are permitted, work through, step by step, until you either reach your goals or get fed up. What it ISN’T is a corpus of learning materials, at different levels, that are free for anyone to access, and which can be used in any order, according to a student’s needs and preferences. Basically, with DL, you don’t get much say in what you learn, when, or how.
If they’re a video game, we’re more of a public library. The video game is designed to make you keep playing. But you need you mom to nag you that reading books is good for you and why oh why don’t you get off that couch, switch off the damn TV, and go borrow some books?
I’m your mom.
Purpose no. 2 is the sense of community thing. IF, and it is a very big ‘if’, you’re ever going to learn Italian, then you’ll be doing it for a long time, perhaps forever.
There’s no finish line with foreign languages. At a certain point you might actually start using your new language to do something that isn’t studying. For instance, I read newspapers, listen to the radio, and do online conversation with attractive young women.
When that happens, when you actually get out there in the world where they speak Italian, or whatever language you’re trying to master, then the learning side will more or less look after itself. However, a lot of, perhaps most people, do language-learning as an activity in itself, and not as a means to an end.
Perhaps they take an evening class because of the social side of things, or in the hope of warding off dementia. They aren’t baby birds who long to grow strong and fly the nest. They’re just baby birds who like hanging with the other baby birds.
Guess that makes me mommy bird. And the emails are either worms or pecks, however you want to take them.
A subsidiary reason for the emails is selling stuff, that so we can pay our bills and taxes (not very smart, we’re told) and keep our teachers and writers gainfully employed. About which, more in today’s P.S. (scroll down if you just can’t wait to spend some cash…)
So there. Now you know why you’re getting this article in your email inbox. There are over fourteen thousand club ‘members’, but only about thirty percent of them read these articles. To those four thousand people this morning, and I know that includes some people who have been with us from the beginning, who started at A1 and are now maybe B2 or C1, many, many thanks for putting up with me all these years!
What if you’ve read this far but, ideally, would never want to hear from the club again? That’s what ‘unsubscribe’ links are for, amici. There’s one in the footer of every bulk email our system sends out – click it, follow the simple instructions, and you’ll not be bothered again.
In fact, there’s a sale coming next week, so if you’re impatient with marketing messages, if you don’t wish to be sold something (even good somethings, that will help you learn Italian), then why not stop reading for a while? Things will return to normal on Monday 12th October. Or do the ‘unsubscribe’ thing.
A venerdì, allora.
As mentioned, next week we have our Autumn Sale, but right now there’s a half-price Ebook of the Week offer, and this time it’s the same story but in two different versions, from which you can choose, according to your learning style.
Both ebooks can be found on the Catalog page of our online shop, along with many other great options at different levels, from beginner to advanced.
Have you read/listened to Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news, yet?
It’ll take you approximately ten minutes to go through it once, so thirty minutes out of your day if you follow the procedure I describe on the Advice page, pasted here below, and listen/read three times.
Subscribing is also free. Just enter your email address on this page to get each thrice-weekly bulletin emailed to you, as soon as it is published!
Which means you get nagged by mommy bird on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and FREE ‘easy news’ bulletins to practice with on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
On Sundays, if you’ve nothing more important to do, there’s always golf…
How to use EasyItalianNews.com
If you have a low level in Italian and don’t read or listen much, this is what I recommend you do to build good habits:
- Listen the first time while following the text. Don’t pause the audio. Your aim is to get to the end, that’s all.
- Now do that again. Try and concentrate more this time, but if you don’t understand something (or everything!) that’s fine. It’s doing you good anyway. Be cool.
- The third (and final) time, try listening WITHOUT the text. You should have some memory of the content, or at least the general topics. The pictures and known information (names of people and places, for example) will help you orientate yourself. Listen and don’t worry about not-understanding. In a way, that’s the point. To get used to that feeling. It’ll stand you in good stead one day…
- Now stop. Go do something else. Drinking beer is fun.
- Do the same with the next edition of EasyItalianNews.com. Currently we publish each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Make a note in your diary. Or, if you’d like to get each edition via email (it’s free), fill in the form in the sidebar of the site and it’ll be sent to you as soon as it is published.
Obvious variations on the above include:
If you can read the texts with little difficulty but want to work on your listening, then start by just listening, without the transcript. When you’ve squeezed as much out of the audio as you can, listen WITH the transcript (it helps a lot!)
If you don’t feel comfortable reading in Italian, read and listen once, following the pace of the audio. It gets you to the end quickly. Then go back to the start and read the text again, this time without the audio. You could set yourself a time-limit, and gradually reduce it each time you read a new edition. N.b. avoid looking up words in a dictionary (see below to understand why.)
If you’re the super-confident type, pick one or two stories that interest you and follow the links below them to read the original material. It’ll be harder, but that’s not a bad thing. A combination of simplified and ‘authentic’ reading and listening can work well for some people.