Here are some extracts from an email I received from Janet in Sydney, Australia last week. I’ve bolded her question, so it stands out:
I always enjoy your emails about language learning. … Thank you for all the free stuff, and the Dante. It’s enriched my life and I probably would never have delved into it otherwise.
My reason for writing is that I’m thinking of adding French to my learning week. With one language it’s easy to schedule time.
How do you schedule news? Mornings in Swedish and evenings in Turkish? Tuesday’s for Swedish grammar and lessons, Friday’s for Turkish? Both languages are quite different.
In my case I’m wondering if Italian will come out when really it should be French!
I’d appreciate if you could address this quandary in one of your upcoming weekly emails.
Emails are always appreciated and I try to answer people’s questions if I can. But this is one I’ve long been pondering myself.
Unlike most of you guys, I don’t actually study Italian, though I live in Italy and use it daily.
I began studying Swedish two or three years ago, as a project for OnlineItalianClub.com, just so I’d have more recent experience of being a beginner and learning a language from scratch.
And not one that’s spoken where I live, which can make learning seem harder.
It was an experiment that worked out well. I’m still going with Swedish and would say I now have a B1 level, perhaps higher in listening and reading, which is satisfying.
About a year ago I decided to start again with Turkish, a language which I used to know well but had ‘lost’ after a quarter of a century of not speaking or hearing it at all.
Why Turkish? Because I began my teaching career in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and after a couple of years there, being young and foolish, married a Turkish woman who spoke little English.
By the time we divorced a few years later, I could get by fairly well in Turkish. It always seemed a shame not to have pursued it, even though I had the excuse that I was learning Italian (and married to one.)
So Janet’s question is one I’ve been thinking about for a while.
To complicate things even further, I now also try to read something in French each day, which I studied at school over thirty-five years ago. That adds to the confusion.
English at home, Italian at work, Swedish and Turkish conversation lessons, and a subscription to Le Monde which I’m determined to get value for money from.
Basically, it’s a mess.
An early idea I had was to do different languages on different days. At a certain point I was preparing for an international Swedish exam (A2 – I passed) and so doing several online conversation lessons each week, plus a chat in Turkish on Fridays.
Monday Swedish, Tuesday nothing, Wednesday Swedish, Thursday nothing, Friday Turkish, Saturday and Sunday…
It didn’t work out.
What did was that, over the last couple of years, I’ve managed establish and maintain HABITS for the different languages.
When I say ‘habits’ I mean things that are just naturally part of my day, rather than being things I have to force myself to do. Automatic things.
For instance, I do ALL the simplifed news broadcasts in Swedish (because of their mass of recent immigrants, there are three different sources) and try never to miss a day.
That’s Monday to Friday, but as I have the Turkish lesson on Fridays, that day’s Swedish news often doesn’t get listened to until the weekend, when everything closes in Sweden anyway. On Saturdays and Sundays, Swedes are too busy skiing or grilling korv.
Besides the simplified stuff, I listen to live Swedish radio in the mornings while preparing the kids’ lunches, washing the dishes and so on.
If I take the bus to work, which I do most days now, I’ll probably listen to live Turkish radio on my smartphone, using Bluetooth headphones so as not to bother the other passengers. Which balances things up a little.
That’s sometimes yes, sometimes no. But I will have a Turkish pop channel, or an Istanbul radio station on in the background when I’m doing chores in the evenings and especially at the weekend when there’s no easy Swedish.
French is mostly on the smartphone in bed, or on the bus, as it’s easier than reading Swedish.
French is really similar to Italian, as everyone knows, so if you have a reasonable knowledege of Italian, extending your reading/listening to another Latin-origin language (Spanish is a good choice, too) is not hard and gives good results for the minimum effort required.
I’m still working on sorting this all out, hoping that some obvious solution will present itself. But basing what I do not on any sort of real plan but on a series of habits seems to have worked out fairly well, so far at least.
The sine qua non of all this, of course, is that I had to stop listening to / watching English-language media, so as to free up time. No more BBC World Service radio, no more subscription to The Economist! These were habits I’d had for several decades, so initially hard to break, though I’m glad I did.
The last time I lapsed was when Mueller was testifying to the House committees, what, a couple of months back? A waste of time, that was. I listened all afternoon, and haven’t had English-language TV or radio on again since.
Learning two (or more) languages does seem like a challenge, but of course, lots of people have difficulty even getting started with one.
“Don’t have time!” is a lament I hear often, but in the end of the day, either you make time in your life, or you don’t. We all have the same quota of twenty-four hours, not a minute more.
Janet’s last point is a good one: “I’m wondering if Italian will come out when really it should be French!”
It’s very, very likely.
I get this all the time, speaking Swedish to my Turkish teacher, for example, or getting tongue-tied when I need to speak Italian at work.
Psychological cues are important here.
Go to place A, see person B, speak language C.
But go on to place D, see person E, speak language F.
Sooner or later, the brain figures it out.
The language links to the person or the context.
When the phone rings at work, I have no problem answering it in Italian or English. I never get that wrong. It’s just so ingrained.
It’s in the less-familar situations, or the ones that take me by surprise, that things go wrong occasionally. But you can learn to manage this by letting the other person take the lead in the conversation. Once you hear a language being spoken to you, it’s just natural to respond in kind.
Also, certain expressions and phrases can be useful to ‘cue’ your brain up to which language it’s supposed to be using – Buongiorno. Come stai? Tutto bene? – things which are automatic, which require a response from the other person and which get the whole conversation flowing down the appropriate linguistic ‘gulley’.
As I wrote above, it’s a mess, I admit it, both the study habits and the confusing languages when I need to use them.
But it’s a good problem to have!
I’ve got only positive feelings about learning Swedish and taking up Turkish again. I’m certainly glad I tried and persisted.
So, best of luck to Janet with her French (by the way, Janet, you know we sell French ebooks, don’t you??)
A venerdì, allora.
Don’t forget this week’s new ebook, Anselmo e l’omicidio di Giovanni Borgia, the first of a trilogy.
Someone asked if we’ll be selling all three ebooks for the price of one. No, sorry.
Anselmo e l’omicidio di Giovanni Borgia, is on offer this week only, at just £5.99.
Buy a copy while it’s on offer (until Sunday night) and you’ll save £2 compared to our usual easy reader ebook price of £7.99.
Or maybe this one’s way above your reading level in Italian?
In which case, start with something easier, and work your way up gradually.
There’s loads to choose from in our Catalog.
Everything there is organised by type and level, with links to the free sample chapters, so you can quickly and easily get the feel of an ebook before you buy it.
- .pdf e-book (+ audio available free online)
- .mobi (Kindle-compatible) and .epub (other ebook readers) available on request at no extra charge – just add a note to the order form or email us
- 8 chapters to read and listen to
- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
- Suitable for students at intermediate or advanced levels
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
Your ebook will be emailed to you within 24 hours of purchase.
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