It can be frustrating reading about how people use the free Italian materials we produce in the most PERVERSE ways.
Not sexually, or at least, not that I’m aware of, but in terms of employing our learning tools in a completely different way from how we intend them to be used.
For instance EasyItalianNews.com, which often generates emails along the lines of ‘how can I replay just the one section of the bulletin that interests me, so I can listen to it again and again and fully understand it?‘ or ‘why don’t you put time markers against the texts so I can easily find the right place in the audio, so I can listen to it again and again and fully understand it?’
For those of you unfamiliar with that website, take a quick look. Scroll down the page from the top, starting with yesterday’s date, then scanning the seven ‘easy’ articles, each with a picture, the last one being of the lovely Tilda Swinton.
Now scroll back up to the top, where you’ll see this small text: ‘Listen online as you read’, followed by an intentionally very primitive audio player.
Now, asssuming it’s not obvious to non-language teachers how this material should be used (nor to many language teachers, who can be rather dim), I wrote an Advice page, which people appear not to read, or decide to ignore… Certainly the following sections, anyway, excuse me for such a large copy/paste:
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.
Why you shouldn’t look up unknown words before you read/listen
You are right about not looking up the words – I used to do that and had lists and lists of words and the translations. Did I remember them? No!! So now I don’t do it.
I also used to look up every word I did not understand, which made it difficult to read Italian texts. Now I am following your advice and doing much better.
Anita and Jose realised that checking all the words they didn’t know was a bad idea. Here are some reasons why:
- Using a dictionary each time you encounter a word you don’t know is unrealistic. You can’t stop and look things up when you’re watching TV or having a conversation. Or in an exam.
- As preparation for using Italian ‘in real time’, you’ll need practice figuring out the big picture from the fragments of speech and text you manage to make sense of. That’s basically what this site is for.
- Time you spend looking words up is time you are NOT spending listening and reading, probably to the detriment of your progress…
- A lot of the unknown words might be infrequent anyway. So learning them would be a poor investment of your time and energy.
- And the ones which ARE frequent? Those you’ll see again, soon. And each time you encounter them, your chance of working out what they mean increases. Some words are stubborn and hard to learn, but with a lot of them, given enough examples, one day the meaning will just pop into your head!
OK, once more for effect:
“Listen the first time while following the text. Don’t pause the audio. Your aim is to get to the end, that’s all.”
What, you ask, listen to the WHOLE nine minutes and fourteen seconds of audio, without stopping at all?
Yup, exactly that.
Because the purposes of this site are:
a. to train you to listen to long-form audio, for example, a live radio news bulletin;
b. to train you to listen to long-form audio, for example, a live radio news bulletin; and
c. to train you to listen to long-form audio, for example, a live radio news bulletin.
OK, so perhaps you think that if you learn enough words and grammar structures, and if you also squeeze in some listening practice occasionally, repeating the same section again and again until you understand it ‘properly’, that the result will be that you can watch Italian TV, listen to Italian radio, or enjoy a long Italian podcast in a way that will approach what you manage to do in your own language.
If that’s what you think, then you are wrong.
Actually, it’s more or less the opposite. People learn to listen to authentic audio by actually doing it. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.
I’m not going to argue about this, because it really IS like that. And I’m a professional language teacher, so I know.
The problem for many learners (apart from ignoring good advice and misusing materials so as to waste vast amounts of their own time and so retard or eliminate altogether any progress they might otherwise have made) is that listening to authentic audio sources is difficult.
If you’ve experience learning languages, as I have, then you might be able to get past that and dive straight in. But for a beginner, and at lower levels, ‘easy’ materials, that is to say ‘graded’ or ‘supported’ in some way, are a good choice. They’re more manageable and so less demotivating, which is important.
When I was beginning with Swedish, four or five years ago, I made great use of a site called 8 Sidor, which means eight pages and has short texts with supporting audio. Besides the website, it actually comes as a newspaper for learners, printed on paper!
That material was manageable when I was starting out, authentic radio or newspaper articles much less so.
And so I was encouraged to continue, and so I developed the habit of listening every day, and so I improved, as I knew I would when I first came across the website (which is also available as an app.)
Then, at a certain point, I discovered Radio Sweden på lätt svenska (Radio Sweden in easy Swedish), which is harder and doesn’t have the supporting text, despite what they promise. So it’s much more similar to an authentic radio broadcast. I listened to that every day for months, and guess what, I improved some more!
And then it was Swedish summer, when everything stops because people are doing non-work stuff like spending time with their children or grilling korv at the summer houses. A strange way to run a country…
But no Radio Sweden på lätt svenska for the whole of August!
OMG, what would I DO?
With no other options, I started listening to the Toppnyheter (top news stories) on this page. Today it’s fifteen radio news stories, collated from different state radio channels. They’re authentic, not simplified at all, and so are two steps up from the by-now-easy 8 Sidor and noticeably harder than Radio Sweden på lätt svenska.
But by the end of the summer break, I was used to the enhanced complexity so, in the end, never went back to either of the learner resources. I still try to listen to Toppnyheter each day, several years later, using an app on my phone, to maintain my Swedish if not to improve it.
While doing my own learning, and at the same time running OnlineItalianClub.com, it became very evident that, in comparison with what was available for learners of Swedish, students of Italian were poorly-served with free-to-access, ‘easy’, ‘graded’ or ‘supported’ materials.
So, I decided to create my own, with the idea that anyone who chose to would be able to benefit from something similar to the resources that the Swedish state were making available to me and to the million Syrians that they were hoping to assimilate at the time.
Watch my lips, so to speak.
THE PURPOSE OF EasyItalianNews.com IS TO GIVE YOU PRACTICE LISTENING TO LONG-FORM AUDIO.
Which is supposed to be a transition stage, between not doing long-form listening at all and your eventual destination, the point at which you can listen to the TV, radio, or a podcast and get the gist of what you hear.
My version isn’t exactly like either of the Swedish resources, in the sense that it has the supporting text (unlike the easy Swedish radio broadcast), but doesn’t offer the option to listen to each story individually (unlike 8 Pages).
Why? Because that’s the way I used the materials to teach myself Swedish – read and listen to the whole thing, repeat, repeat again if time, stop (see above) – and it worked well for me, so should work well for other people, assuming they are capable of following simple instructions…
‘But that way, I don’t understand anything/much/everything!’ (underline the term that best applies) you protest!
Yes, exactly. THAT’S the point.
You are, or should be, training yourself on texts that you will listen to but understand little/some/most (underline the term that applies) of.
Because that way you will be practising listening to harder material that you could understand completely, so stretching yourself towards the future, hoped-for goal. See? It’s not such a hard concept, is it?
And while doing this ‘training’, you will, at the same time and without really being aware of it, be developing what language teachers call ‘listening strategies’. Which basically means guessing and figuring things out as best you can, in real time.
It’s that last part, IN REAL TIME, that matters so much to your language-learning progress.
If you’re constantly starting and stopping, if you’re aiming to understand ‘everything’, if you treat what you read as a source of new words to be studied and memorised, then effectively you are negating the purpose and value of the material we provide.
And the opportunity cost to you (= what you don’t get as a result of the choice you made) is that you will not be improving your listening strategies, and not clocking up the tens, hundreds, or thousands of hours of listening practice that you’ll need before you are able to truly function in Italian.
But have it your own way.
Just don’t come complaining that you find it difficult to understand Italians because they talk too fast.
The Summer Sale starts on Monday, when I’ll be publishing a coupon code useable to save 20% on the price of everything in our online shop. Watch this space.
Existing online students should have already received the coupon code, in an email from our teaching manager, Lucia. If you don’t see it, check your spam/junk folder.
Both one-to-one lessons with a native speaker and our ‘graded’ ebooks are excellent ways to build the listening skills and strategies mentioned above (reading too in the latter case, obviously.)
If you don’t want to hear about the Summer Sale, there’s an unsubscribe link in every bulk email I send, including this one. Use it.
Or stop reading until July 12th, when our free 30-part series of articles with audio on the Italian Middle Ages begins.