No exercises today, just the hard sell!
What I’ll be ‘selling’ is an effective, fun study plan for learning Italian.
And then I’m actually going to try it myself, and report back regularly on my progress.
But, first things first.
This article is a follow up to Wednesday’s post ‘Why I want to get you reading in Italian‘, which you might want to take a look at.
Also, thanks to the various people who wrote to me with feedback on recent exercises – I haven’t fixed them yet, but plan to do so over the weekend.
So, one question for you,
When you did a language course, or followed a self-study program – maybe at school, maybe as an adult – roughly what percentage of the time did you spend reading and listening?
I’d have to guess at your answer (though feel free to write and tell me – the email is at the bottom of every page on all of our sites.)
But as a language teacher myself, I’d say that a lot of the time in class was spent speaking, giving feedback, and on input – that is to say, new grammar, new words, and so on.
Sure, there’s always some ‘skills’ work – a reading comprehension text, some listening.
But it’s not usually the basis of the learning program. It’s included, but easily ignored.
My students aren’t buying the chance to sit around reading and listening.
They could do that at home (although mostly they don’t.)
They’re buying a class, something with a structure, a teacher, and fixed start and finish times.
It’s product really, one which they hope will get them from A to B.
That may work well for beginners but, arguably, the further you get with a language, the more you need to be taking decisions yourself about what and how you learn.
The higher ‘up’ you go, the less useful a fixed syllabus is going to be to you.
Just following the course may get you through the exam, but even for an intensive course, it’s a sub-optimal use of your time.
For most people, most of the time, getting out there and exploring the language you are learning will have a significant impact on how much you learn, and how fast.
‘Courses’ of any description tend to be very linear and cover identifiable elements – tenses, other grammar areas, vocabulary for this, vocabulary for that, some reading, some listening, some writing – you get the idea.
There were experiments in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies with less structured forms of teaching, but they didn’t catch on.
I’d hypothesise there were three reasons for this.
1.) Institutions such as schools and universities like to provide a standard, predictable learning path (fair enough) but, as a result, tend to focus on the more tangible elements of a language, which can then be objectively measured, tested and ticked off.
Much less time is devoted to more the ‘gestalt’ approaches which may actually result in students developing the communicative skills they really want and need (Google defines gestalt as: “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts”.)
2.) Teaching grammar and so on is cheaper and can be done by staff with minimal or no training.
3.) “It’s what the customer wants.” We did it THIS way at school, so I want to do the same now, please. It’s what I feel comfortable with. Explain it to me, then I’ll understand and we can move on to the next thing on the syllabus.
Think about this.
Kids in Italy may do 3 hours of English a week from the age of six to, say, nineteen.
With thirty weeks in the academic year, that would be ninety hours of ‘teaching’ a year.
Multiplied by thirteen years, gives a total of nearly twelve-hundred hours.
Usually we’d expect an adult learner to go from A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficiency) in around half that time.
Six hundred hours of class time would be a good estimate for a European language, such as Italian.
But Italian kids don’t typically get to C2 (proficiency).
In fact, the average high-school graduate only gets about mid-way in those twelve-hundred hours, to just level B1 (intermediate).
A typical college graduate isn’t any better.
What’s going wrong?
Language classes at school can be just another subject, no more or less meaningful to a student that math or history of art.
It’s just stuff to memorise.
Which would be OK, except that what you have to memorise is a set of artifical ‘grammar’ rules that actually bear little relation to the ways language is used.
Pronunciation, for example, is barely touched on, though Italians have dreadful trouble with it (see reason 2.)
Anyway, I’m banging on, aren’t I?
And my ‘work at home Friday’ is ticking away.
So let me get to the point.
There IS another way.
No need to abandon anything that’s working well for you.
But maybe it’s time to add a new element to your study plan.
Wednesday, my wife went to the Parents’ Evening at our daughter’s school.
She spoke to various teachers, including the (Italian) English teacher, who was proud to report that since their last meeting, my daughter had visibly improved her English!
She’s now able to speak ‘much more like’ what the teacher would expect someone with an English father to be able to do.
Clearly a triumph, for my daugher and for the school.
My wife smiled politely and didn’t mention that at the end of the last school year we’d subscribed to Netflix.
Over the three-month school holiday our kids watched the remainder of ‘Friends’, all seven series of ‘Lost’, and are now beavering away, ‘improving their English’, with ‘Modern Family’.
‘Meaningful input’, ‘context’ are ‘motivation’ are key words here.
If you want to learn Italian, you need to be reading and/or hearing the language.
Otherwise, sorry, everything else you do will be less effective.
You need to be able to work out the meaning of what your read/hear from the context.
And you need to be interested enough to keep doing it for as long as necessary, ideally for ever!
My kids will never get tired of watching TV, so I guess I don’t need to worry about their English grades…
But what about us?
Time, of course, is the enemy.
But ‘little and often’.
Drip, drip, drip, the water wears away at the stone.
‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.
And so on.
You know what I’m saying.
If you just do a little reading/listening each day…
Say just a chapter from one of our easy readers?
Imagine what effect that would have over a year or two?
To this end, I have a special offer for you.
The idea is to give you enough material, at a reasonable price, to help you build the habit of reading and listening.
I’ve put together ‘bundles’ of three easy reader ebooks for each level, six bundles in total.
In each, you get three printable .pdfs, plus the online audio.
For the price of two, were you to buy them individually.
Now, the plan is this.
You start at the level BELOW your existing level (unless you’re a beginner, of course).
Do the three easy readers, reading and listening to all eight chapters.
One chapter a day from Monday to Saturday, church on Sundays, and you’ll have the lot done in a month.
By then, given that the material you’ve been using is, in theory, easier that your level, you should be feeling pretty confident.
So it’s on to the next level, which should be the one you currently think you are at.
Repeat. Chapter a day, three stories in around a month.
By the end of month two, do you feel ready for something harder??
If so, it’s up to the next level!
And off you go, speeding ahead of your classmates, now able to face the challenges of longer chapters, more complex vocabulary and faster recordings.
But by this time, you’ll be an old hand.
Nothing will faze you, you’ll confidently guess at meanings, easily able to pick out what’s essential (the action) and ignore what isn’t (descriptons of the scenery).
Rinse and repeat.
I BET that within three months, you’ll be up for trying ‘real’ Italian texts and audio material.
A newspaper article here, a film there. Still not ‘easy’, but doable.
All it takes is a plan.
Oh, one more thing?
The reason I sell stories is that, just like with ‘Friends’, ‘Lost’ or ‘Modern Family’, it’s the combination of familiarity and narrative that keeps you interested.
Grammar is motivating at first, but then your realise that what you studied yesterday is half-forgotten today.
And that however much you study, it isn’t helping you understand others or express yourself.
Human nature favors viewing the world as a narrative, with identifiable characters facing understandable challenges.
And with stories (unlike real life) there’s the expectation of a resolution by the end.
Now our stuff won’t win any prizees for literature, but it’s surely more fun than a lot of what’s out there!
So, here below are the links to the ‘bundles’ for each level.
Click the level that interests you to see what’s in each one.
As always, there are sample chapters to download, read and listen to.
- Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A1
- Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A1/2
- Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A2
- Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A2/B1
- Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level B1
- Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level B1/2
Or, and here’s another ‘human nature’ thing…
Commit yourself to six months of reading/listening (and save even more!) with this six-level, eighteen-ebook bundle:
Right, I’m nearly done.
I haven’t forgotten that, way back at the beginning of this article, I promised I would be trying this approach myself and reporting back to you.
Most of you will know that we’ve recently been branching out by publishing easy readers and parallel texts for other foreign languages besides Italian.
So I thought it would be fun, as well as a ‘proof of concept’, to practice what I preach by having a go at learning a language myself.
Using only our own materials, the options are:
English (I already know that fairly well.)
French (Studied it at school thirty-three years ago, but it’s quite similar to Italian, so maybe not a fair test?)
German (I know almost NO German…)
Italian (Guess this wouldn’t be much of a challenge.)
Spanish (Never studied it, but it’s similar enough to Italian that it wouldn’t scare me.)
Swedish (My mother-in-law is Swedish. I know the Swedish word for ‘beer’.)
Turkish (Lived there for three years back at the start of the ‘nineties, but never studied it formally.)
Oh, and there’s also Portuguese, for which I have three volumes ready to publish. I guess someone should try them out…
Vote, by sending me an email – which language should I study?
I’m psyched, ready for anything, even Swedish.
Voting ends on Saturday evening.
I plan to start reading and listening on Sunday.
Watch this space on Monday to see which language you chose for me, and how I got on!
Here are those links again:
Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A1
Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A1/2
Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A2
Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level A2/B1
Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level B1
Three-For-Two Italian Easy Readers Bundle – Level B1/2
Buon fine settimana.