So the Roman empire is O.V.E.R.
But what happened next?
Find out in: Episodio 29. L’epilogo dell’Impero d’Occidente. I regni romano-germanici
That’s the penultimate in our thirty-part series of articles with audio, ‘La storia di Roma‘.
The last one will be on Friday, when we’ll leap ahead to the end of the Medieval period and the fall of Constantinople (so the official end of the Eastern Roman Empire…)
And that’ll be the end of the summer, right there!
On Monday I mentioned that next I was thinking of writing some articles about the process of language-learning, and asked for suggestions. Mary helpfully responded with this:
…you asked for suggestions of articles on language learning so here are a couple of mine. I found Professor Arguelles online almost two years ago and he advocates two distinct activities: scriptorium (transcribing native texts in the target language) and shadowing (mimicking aloud in real time along with native audio recordings). Have you ever used these methods? … For whom, if anyone, could you see these methods working?
I’ll leave club members to do their own research on the good Professor (he’s not hard to find), and to form their own conclusions about his suggested methods. But the email exchange with Mary that followed was quite interesting, and quoting myself saves a lot of time, so:
How exactly someone learns a language depends a lot on the context (i.e. in a school, via self-study, when living in the country), on the resources available, on the person’s motivation/interests/previous language-learning experience, but above all, on what the learner hopes to achieve (conversational fluency, reading/writing at work, passing an exam, etc.) Most ‘proper’ courses take into account that range of possibilities, so a group course is by definition a series of compromises, on the assumption that the students will have different needs, goals, preferences, etc. In the marketing of private language courses and materials, ‘magic methods’ crop up quite commonly, as they sell well (it’s usually something from the 1950s or earlier, and long-discredited). But when the teacher and the students actually meet, in the classroom, the ‘method’ is often just an obstacle and may soon be ignored.
What you should do with your learning is pretty simple: think about what you want to achieve, try different ways of achieving your goals, evaluate the results frequently, ideally using a recognised standard like the CEFR, do more of what is demonstrably working, and quit with anything that appears to be a waste of time. Reevaluate your goals every now and then, too. And keep track of your progress towards them. Once you’ve made good progress with one foreign language, that experience helps when you try another. But it’s always a long, slow process. There are no significant shortcuts that I am aware of.
Insomma, language-learning is a process which extends over time, a lot of time, and will certainly vary in terms of objectives and approaches. The way we learn (or fail to learn) as beginnners is unlikely to bear much resemblance to what we might be spending our time on later, assuming we don’t quit in disappointment.
Having a road map helps a lot, and the best generic tool out there (it’s also totally free) is the CEFR self-assessment checklist, which I’ve linked to a million times because it is THE bedrock of ‘proper’ language teaching and ‘proper language’ materials publishing. If you’re not intimately familiar with it, then do yourself a favour and study that first. Print it and stick it to the wall above your desk, if you have one. Let it be your guide – to what you study and why, to how long you plan to spend on it, and to what results you hope to achieve.
And when you meet an impressive polyglot brandishing advice, or even a less-impressive one trying to sell you an ebook, you will then be equipped to ask intelligent questions. Such as:
- Excuse me, but I’d like to know your CEFR levels in (language that the person claims to ‘know’), especially for listening comprehension and speaking.
- How long did it take you to achieve those levels? Would you describe how you managed it? For each skill area?
- Do you have internationally-recognised qualifications certifying your CEFR level (in each skill area)?
- I’d love to hear about your current/future learning objectives for the language(s) you’re learning. Where do you hope to get to, and by when? Oh, and why.
Squint at the CEFR self-assessment checklist, and you’ll see that there are six levels, from A1 to C2. A good rule of thumb used in organising language courses is that you’d need maybe a year of part-time study to improve by a level, so six years from zero to advanced (this is a very general rule of thumb, obviously…) With full-time study, as in a language school in Italy, you might expect to make the same progress in as many months.
Hence, if you had a few years at your disposal, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn one language really well, or even several, assuming you had nothing better to do and didn’t get constantly distracted by nonsense on the Internet.
Since you ask, I have a high school French qualification from over thirty-five years ago, which would equate to approximately A2 or B1 at best. Though I can read and understand French better these days, as it’s similar to Italian.
I worked in Turkey for three years in the early nineties, and though I never formally studied the language, I married a Turkish girl who didn’t speak English (we divorced a few years later…) In recent years, I’ve done maybe a hundred hours of online Turkish conversation pratice with a club teacher. So, while I have no qualifications in that language, and find reading almost impossible, I could get by in conversational Turkish fairly well. My level is perhaps B1 or B2, signifcantly less in reading and writing.
After twenty-two years in Italy, my Italian is pretty advanced, though again, I never studied it formally and have no qualifications. I’d estimate C2 in some skills, C1 in others.
I’ve been learning Swedish for around four years, and I DO have a qualification for that, at A2 level. I’d estimate my current level is B1 or B2, according to the skill area (I tried a sample B1 exam a year or so ago and, by my own reckoning, passed.)
Oh, and I recently started with Spanish, which as with French should be relatively easy for someone who knows Italian. With a little preparation, I’d bet on passing an A1 exam, which isn’t much to boast about. But I’m not in any rush. Spanish is a useful language, so I’ll keep at it as long as it interests me.
See? No magic powers, though I’m a language teacher with thirty years’ experience, a former teacher-trainer, and an author of books for learners (real, paper books, published by someone else!) I can assure you that the linguistic skills we all end up with, or don’t, are mostly a function of the opportunities that present themselves as we trudge through life, along with a willingness to engage with them. No more, no less.
What do I do personally to engage with the above-listed languages? Mostly I listen to the radio, try to read articles in newspapers, and do online conversation practice. Just that.
I have no flashcards, no grammar books, and no expensive courses. The only VITAL ingredients are time, which I’ve had plenty of lately, and motivation, which comes and goes, but is easier to find if you keep at it. Progress reinforces motivation, too.
A venerdì, allora.
There are many people on youtube giving what seems to be honest language teaching totally free. Quite frankly I wouldn’t trust many when they ask for money. Why pay when you can learn yourself ? They are preying on peoples impatience to learn. Many I believe are not polyglots at all. I’d love to ask them face to face for proof but honestly I have too much to do !
Lynne F says
Well Daniel what a colourful language learning journey you have had but it seems to have worked. My language learning journey has been much less interesting!
We all need to find a way that fits our learning style and helps us achieve our goal. Reading , listening and conversation have really moved my learning on, expanding my vocabulary and helping me make sense of grammar.. I still have a long way to go but my aim was to be able to talk to the locals when on holiday, Well i can confidently say I have exceeded my initial goal. You certainly need to be motivated and committed to spending regular time to learn. I think also it is important not to beat yourself up if on occasions you are not able to meet your commitment, sometimes life gets in the way.To be honest though my learning never feels like a chore, i have learned so much more than the language and made new friends on the way.
Thank you to all the wonderful resources and encouragement you provide.