“I’m a beginner. Where should I start?”
I get this a lot, but there isn’t a single answer. Possible responses could be:
- Make a study plan. In particular, decide WHEN you’ll do learning activities (whatever they turn out to be) and for how long. Schedule a few short sessions at times, on days of the week, when you think you’ll be able to devote some time. Don’t be too ambitious at first – keep it light and fun!
- Locate some materials – which could be a book, a course, an app – and spend a little time working out how to use them, and deciding which one, or which combination of things, may be most suited to your learning style. If you don’t know, experiment!
- Get familiar with the overall content of your books, courses, apps. What’s included, and in what order? What’s not there i.e. sufficient listening practice? Go back to your study plan and make sure different types of activity (grammar study, learning new words, reading, listening, speaking perhaps) are included, and in a balanced way.
- Set a date in your calendar to evaluate your progress, and decide HOW to evaluate your progress. Try to do that using accepted criteria, such as the CEFR self assessment checklist, rather than using in-app measures such as ‘streaks’ or ‘points’, which can be misleading.
- Avoid wasting too much time reading ‘about learning’. Instead, use your study sessions on actual learning activities, such as memorising the present tense conjugations of a few of the most common irregular verbs, reading/listening to beginner-level materials, and so on.
- Be patient! It takes approximately a year of part-time, self-study to improve from one of the CEFR level bands to the next (a month of ‘full-time’ study, so say 20-30 hours a week).
- Don’t put off beginning ‘real time’ communicative activities (conversation with a native speaker, or with other learners) even if they may seem impossible at first. To build the skills you need to express yourself in Italian and understand what others are saying when they interact with you, you have to actually do it. You wouldn’t try to learn to ride a bicycle by ‘studying’, without ever getting on one and giving it a try (would you??)
N.b. If you’re a ‘beginner’ now, that’s to say a REAL beginner, so not able to do any or many of the things described in the A1 column of the CEFR self assessment checklist, but start learning as described above, then you won’t be a ‘beginner’ for long!
There’ll come a time when you’ll need to start saying “My Italian is in the A2 band. What should I do to improve it?” but by then, the answer should already be obvious to you.
If not, then maybe ‘teaching yourself’ isn’t for you. In which case, find a teacher and let her make the decisions for you. For a while. Then try the self-study thing again, when you feel more confident.
What do I know about it?
- I’ve been teaching English to foreign students for over thirty years, and so have watched thousands of students improve, or fail to. I daresay I’ve done a lot of bad lessons, but I’ve learned what works!
- I lived in Turkey for three years in my early twenties, married a Turkish woman who spoke no English, so learnt to get by pretty well in her language.
- Over the years I also tried, but failed, to learn the languages of some of the students I taught (a year of Japanese kids, the year after, Polish adults). I made all the typical learner mistakes, and got dispirited, as many people do.
- My second marriage was to an Italian, and we chose to live in Italy, which should have helped. But we always spoke English at home, and with our kids. And there was no time or money for courses. And there weren’t the online resources that exist now (I have plenty of excuses!) In the end, I did learn Italian, more or less. But it took many years of hardly trying at all…
- A few years back I decided to teach myself Swedish (my wife is Italian/Swedish bilingual), and figured that THIS TIME I’d learn from past failures and do the things I advise my students (Italians learning English, remember) to do. And, happily, progress was a lot faster, and a lot more fun!
- Buoyed by that, I thought I’d pick up the French I studied at school until the age of sixteen. So now I listen to French radio most days and read it when I have time. Then I began to do the same with Spanish…
My highest level foreign language qualification is ‘O level’ French, from 1983 (approximately A2-level). Followed by a triumphant A2 Swedish, I think that was in 2018. I have no qualifications at all in Italian, Turkish or Spanish.
Other than the French at school, I’ve never done a ‘proper course’ (I’m always teaching in the evenings.)
But I can ‘chat’ with varying degrees of ‘fluency’ in five foreign languages, three of which are the languages of countries I’ve never lived in (but would like to!)
Learning a language is hard if you’ve never done it, even if you live in the country. But it’s not impossible.
And once you get the hang of how to approach it, the process can be deeply satisfying!
Half-price ‘Ebook of the Week’, Final Reminder!
Don’t forget this week’s half-price ‘Ebook of the Week’, Caravaggio nei vicoli di Roma.
Caravaggio’s in jail again, drunk as a lord and facing charges for throwing a plate of artichokes at a waiter…
ROMA, 1604 – Carceri dello Stato Pontificio
“Ancora lui? Ma come…?!”, il comandante delle guardie non crede alle sue orecchie.
La giovane guardia cerca di giustificarsi: “Comandante, noi abbiamo cercato di…”
“Non abbastanza! Com’è possibile che sia sempre qui?”
Il comandante si passa una mano sugli occhi, sospira: “Questo mese sarà già la quinta volta…”
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (allow up to 24 hours), a download link will be automatically emailed to you. It’s valid for 7 days and 3 download attempts so please save a copy of the .pdf ebook in a safe place. Other versions of the ebook (.mobi/Kindle-compatible, .epub) cannot be downloaded but will be emailed to people who request them.
Thursday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news is here.
If you don’t have any better ideas about what to do today to improve your Italian, read and listen to it a couple of times.
There’s some advice on how to go about that, here.