Type “learn Italian” into Google and you might find OnlineItalianClub.com on the first page of results (though it varies, Google is fickle.) I tried it with Bing, just out of curiosity, and we were somewhere near the bottom of the second page, which still isn’t bad for what is basically a hobby website.
No matter, though, because you won’t ‘learn Italian’ with our site, or very probably with any of the other results you find through Google or Bing, unless you already know how to learn a language.
The chances of somone who has never learnt a foreign language before typing “learn Italian” into their favorite search engine, clicking on a result, and as a direct consequence, actually learning how to speak and understand that language are, in my humble but well-founded opinion, vanishingly small.
Why do I think this?
I’m sure you’ll be familiar with the saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime” (the origin is undertain, according to quoteinvestigator.com).
Well it’s like that.
So much of what’s out there doesn’t actually enable you to learn Italian as much as explain something about Italian. And even that may potentially be incorrect, misleading, or most often, simply irrelevant to your needs.
‘Grammar’ strikes most would-be language learners as unmistakeably relevant – how could you go wrong studying grammar?? It’s what we did at school, after all.
But it isn’t, for a lot of it isn’t actually used much, or not consistently (but how could you know which parts?)
And the parts that WOULD repay the time spent studying them might be hard to remember, unless you also do plenty of practice, using them in meaningful situations (speaking, listening, reading, etc.) But how to do that? No one said.
In short, I can tell you X, Y, or Z about Italian, and it will make little or no difference to you at all, certainly not in the medium-to-long-term.
A properly-structured course will have a greater impact, certainly. For instance, lots of people, including me, have learnt a lot from Duolingo. Though probably not to actually speak – at least that was my experience.
A language school where they know what they’re about (such as ours in Bologna, Italy) will hopefully combine learning ABOUT the language, learning HOW to improve your abilities in that language, and lots of opportunities to practice speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.
But a plenty of teachers, in any school or institution, anywhere in the world, are wedded to the idea that ‘explaining things’ = ‘learning’. It’s what teachers do, they think. Besides, it’s satisfying, and it’s often what students most want, or say they want.
But ‘explaining’ doesn’t equal ‘learning’, and both teachers and students are often wrong about what works. Or at least why it works – there was a study that apparently showed that it mattered not what the teacher explained in class, it was the fact that the teacher was explaining whatever it was slowly and clearly in the language that the students were trying to learn that was the likely cause of any eventual improvement.
You can learn a lot from a course, an app, a book, a lesson or an explanation.
But when it comes to feeding yourself for a lifetime, all the fish you catch for free from the internet, or pay to be spoonfed by trained language teachers, might make not the slightest difference at all.
A fundamental misunderstanding: OnlineItalianClub.com is not a website ABOUT Italian, though it does have plenty of content that will help you find out more about that language if you so choose. Instead, it’s a website FOR people who are learning Italian, or who might one day like to.
The club run by someone who, though he lives in Italy and has an Italian wife and kids, isn’t actually that interested in the Italian language, but IS fascinated by the mechanisms and drivers of learning languages in general. For what applies to one, also applies to the others, to a greater or lesser degree.
I’m a language teacher and a language learner.
If you want to know the meaning of an Italian word, look in a dictionary.
If you want to check the conjugation of a verb, find a website or book of verb conjugations, don’t ask me.
I’m not Italian, often make mistakes, and in any case, care very little about precision and accuracy in speech.
But if your question is about ‘how’, and during your language learning journey (assuming you get past the start line) you should have many of those, then ah hah, I’m your man.
– How can I feel less nervous about speaking?
– How can I learn by myself without spending money?
– How can I improve my listening skills?
– How can I evaluate my progress?
– How do I choose what to focus on?
– How do I know when it’s time to stop doing this thing and do something different instead?
Now THOSE are interesting questions.
I’ve been corresponding with Thomas, who is confused by what he sees as my conflicting advice about learning a language by reading it (though as he hasn’t actually followed my advice yet, it’s not so surprising…)
1. You have to try to create a reading ‘habit’, which means engaging with texts in the language you want to learn often, even when, at first, you understand little.
2. You don’t have to ‘read’ intensively (by which I mean try to understand every word and sentence in text), and certainly not at first. It would be hugely time-consuming, and very depressing.
3. But you do have to be engaging with texts – so if not actually ‘reading’, then at first just scanning what you see, skimming across the surface of meaning, without diving down, being on the lookout for stuff that you do understand, including familiar names, events you’ve heard about from other sources, and so on. Look at the pictures, at least!
4. If you don’t engage with texts (and remember, just ‘looking’, ‘skimming’, is fine at first) you won’t learn anything, or at least not this way. You could try our ‘easy readers‘, which are designed to help you learn to read/listen in a different, perhaps more familar way.
5. But if you get into the habit of flicking though an Italian newspaper app, for example, and do it dailly, you really will notice a difference. Currently I mostly read the headlines and maybe an article or two (in French and Spanish, sometimes Swedish). When I began, reading an article or two was beyond me. Now it no longer is, which is cool! Our EasyItalianNews.com website works exactly this way, but for listening. You shouldn’t attempt to understand everything – just read and listen, perhaps two or three times, to each bulletin, then stop. And chill. In time, you really WILL notice an improvement.
I was making the argument the other day that you can learn a lot about what people are talking about, and about the language itself, without knowing things directly. I used the term ‘meta’ to describe information about a word or structure, for example but not only, its frequency: if you see a word all the time, then the very fact that appears to be frequent means you will likely figure out what it is WITHOUT EVEN TRYING. And if you see a word rarely, or once only, the opposite is true.
Thomas thinks I’m contradicting myself – I say you don’t have to try to read/understand everything, but at the same time I say that you can pick up meta information which will help you learn what things mean.
Macron, the French premier, got slapped in the face by a voter recently, you might have heard as it was in all the newspapers.
So when I’m ‘looking at’ (not deliberately reading) my French news app and I see a picture of Macron in a crowd, his name in the headline, and an unknown word that might or might not mean ‘slap’ or ‘slapped’, I’m picking up on meta information, without trying at all to learn what the unknown word means. I’m just ‘noticing’ it.
And then I see another headline a few days later, containing the name Macron, the ‘maybe it means slapped’ word, and ‘four month prison sentence’. More meta information, that is to say, it’s that same word again.
See how the accumulation of meta information helps? Information about the word can pinpoint the probable meaning even if you aren’t trying. Really!
Engaging with text can only result in learning if you do it regularly, though that doesn’t mean you have to read ‘intensively’, with aim of ‘understanding everything’.
It’s an INCREMENTAL PROCESS that gives results if you keep at it. Which is, potentially, the hard part – if you do stuff that bores you, or is off-putting, or too time-consuming, you’ll probably quit, and so won’t see any results whatsoever.
So SKIP THE BORING OR DIFFICULT BITS!
That might seem counter-intuitive, perhaps, but that’s the whole point. Don’t dive deep, aim to create an ‘easy’ habit of engaging in an undemanding and superficial way, and let your confidence with texts grow over time until the moment when your natural curiosity pushes to to try a little more, and a little more…
But as I wrote earlier, ‘explaining’ stuff is rarely of much use.