This yesterday, via email, from Angela, which I thought might be of general interest:
Please can you advise me re learning Italian. Like most of the world I am at home for a long indefinite period and want to move on from domestic organising which dominated the first week and challenge myself to something a bit more intellectual.
I’m looking for a beginners course which I can work through to get to grips with the basics so that I can then use the other materials which you sell. I don’t want interactive to start with though I would probably move on to that.
I would appreciate your advice.
To which I replied:
I’ll be happy to help if I can, Angela, but a good starting point would be to take a good look at the website – there are literally thousands of pages of free materials, no need to buy anything. https://onlineitalianclub.com/ The A1 (beginner/elementary) materials are here: https://onlineitalianclub.com/free-italian-exercises-and-resources/online-italian-course-beginner-level-a1/
People learn languages in different ways – a beginners’ course, like for example Duolingo.com, is ideal for someone who has no previous experience or who likes plenty of structure and gamification. Others prefer to be more autonomous and choose, for example, in depth study of grammar, or like me, lots of reading and listening. It depends a lot on a person’s learning style and experience.
A good starting point is to try different activities and see if you can build up a portfolio of things that you enjoy doing and that work for you. If you need guidance, there’s an article here https://onlineitalianclub.com/how-to-learn-italian-or-any-language/ and lots more here https://onlineitalianclub.com/best-of-onlineitalianclub-com/
I’d just repeat one of those links, as the linked-to article is an attempt to summarise what I know about learning languages (teaching is a different process…). If you haven’t read it, you probably should:
But anyway, Angela got me thinking about one of the words she used, a word I hear a lot. Can you guess which one?
“…a beginners course…”
It’s ‘course’, of course.
Italians are obsessed by them, which is one of the reasons the word is so ubiquitous here.
In Italy, you wouldn’t just go to the swimming pool to get a bit of exercise and show off your new Speedos- you’d do a swiming COURSE.
Ditto with salsa, or yoga, or pole-dancing, or language-learning. If it ain’t a vero e proprio ‘course’, then natch, it won’t get you where you want to go.
But hang on a mo’ – where exactly do you want to go when you sign up for ten weeks of, say, ballroom dancing or basic D.I.Y. skills?
It’s not such a daft question, though sometimes the answer’s obvious, for instance when, ten years back, I did an online course to prepare for the ‘patente nautico’ exam.
Here in Italy you need to pass a ‘driving licence’ to sail a boat. You don’t need to actually know how to sail a boat, but you have to memorise the answers to thousands of multiple-choice questions and learn how to navigate with compasses, charts and pencil, despite the fact that these days everyone uses GPS.
Then, once you have your ‘patente’, you can forget it all again, which is standard practice in most of academia here – study for the exam, pass it, then clear your mental caches and start afresh.
While the ‘patente’ itself is clearly a pointless bit of bureaucacy, the purpose of the course was, at least, clearly defined and understood by all – to prepare students to pass the exam.
Which was far from easy, but we did – Mission accomplished, one satisfied customer, and the course organisers earn a reasonable living exploiting this nonsense.
But with a foreign language? Clearly it’s not so much about exams or certificates for most people, more about competences (understanding, expressing yourself, etc.)
Most people intuitively know, and marketers exploit the fact, that a course that could take you from zero knowledge of a language to the point where you knew enough to get by in interactions with native speakers, that could be completed in a relatively modest amount of time, and that required no special skills or previous experience, would indeed be a rare and precious thing.
It wouldn’t even have to be cheap! People who have money would not quibble about shelling out thousands to go from zero to hero in a language in just a few weeks or months, especially if the effort involved and risk of failure were minimalised.
But no, of course, it’s all a scam.
You wouldn’t buy a course that promised it would make you a passable piano player, able to sight-read musical scores and entertain your friends with concertos or jazz classics, in just three weeks?
I hope not, anyway.
It takes years to learn to play the piano (with both hands, mind), which is obvious to any of us who have optimistically bought one for an enthusiastic child, only to see it gather dust for the next two decades.
There are, these days, groovy apps that might get you started on the instrument, and keep you interested long enough to learn something, to feel a sense of progress, perhaps even to play something that would impress your nearest and dearest.
But you’d have learnt ‘something’, certainly not ‘everything’, and probably not even approaching what most of us would assume to be ‘enough’.
I read the other day about a British diplomat, aged in his mid-thirties, who sadly died from a Covid 19 infection while representing his country in Hungary (Europe), poor man. The article mentioned that, before having been posted to Budapest, the guy had spent a year learning Hungarian, which I can believe.
For one, Hungarian is a really unusual language, and also, as anyone who has had experience with diplomats (from any country) can testify, these people are professionals – they don’t mess about. Learning the language of the next place you’ll be working is part of the job, and due time and money is devoted to it.
We’ve had diplomats at our Italian school (currently closed, unfortunately), and they are without fail intelligent, serious and hard-working people, who’ll devote many hours each day for months on end to acquiring the linguistic abilities that will be expected of them.
What magic methods do they use?
Nothing more than is readily available to you or I, high-school student, pensioner or enthusiastic amateur language-learner that we may be.
There’s no ‘diplomats only’ special course with gold-plated extras, or secret techniques only revealed to black-belts and above.
There is, though, a special sauce.
Think about it for a moment – what do these smooth fellows have that you and I don’t, apart from the fact that the government is paying for their classes?
Yup, that’s it, you’ve got it.
They’re MOTIVATED – extrinsically, I mean, in the sense that success in learning the next language is expected, and fundamental to their careers. Failure would be frowned on, and damaging.
Also, they have the OPPORTUNITY – devoting months on end to learning a language is a necessary and accepted part of their professional lives, and doesn’t have to play second fiddle to, say, earning a living.
And not least, they likely also have EXPERIENCE (of learning other languages) and INTEREST (call it ‘intrinsic’ motivation if you will) – for who would apply to the diplomatic corps if she/he were not interested in foreign places, people, and by extension, languages?
But back to you and I, non-diplomats, probably only modestly-privileged, and with motivation that will likely ebb and flow over time.
Most of what I know about language-learning is here: How to learn Italian (or any language)
And the resources that you need are mostly free. Start here.
As soon as you can, do this too.
And, if you have cash to spend, this would be an excellent way to spend it.
Additional resources recommended by club members can be found on the ‘Other Resources‘ page.
A venerdì, allora.
Customer Service Triumph Of The Week
This from Nancy, now an ex-club member, by way of thanks for the refund that she asked for and received:
Sad that you are in the wrong job, Daniel. You haven’t the slightest idea what “customer service is” and if you had had a clue, it would have been a sale. Praying your employer fires you before the company goes under. I am sharing the 13 friends who I sent to your company. No way will they purchase another item from your company.
I think I deserve a beer.