It’s been raining here in Bologna.
Which is very welcome, as everything had got very dry.
And last night’s stormy weather has brought cooler air, which is also welcome.
Though it messes up my plans for the weekend.
Oh well, I’ll stay home and spend the time writing something useful!
So, you’re learning Italian?
Or at least, you intend to.
Or maybe you started but stopped?
Let’s review those three situations and check out some options for what you could do next…
You’re studying Italian already
A pat on the back for you!
You’re taking an Italian course, or doing regular self study.
Are you satisfied?
Are you making progress?
If so, just carry on with whatever you’re doing that’s working.
Though it never hurts to experiment with new activities or materials, to enrich and enliven your learning.
For suggestions, see the ideas at the end of this article.
What if you’re not satisfied?
Perhaps you don’t feel you’re making progress, or maybe it all feels too slow, or too much like hard work?
Try something different, then.
As I mentioned, there are suggestions below.
You plan to start studying Italian at some point
This is the easy one.
Two things to do.
Number one is to make a plan – which means decide WHEN you’ll study (or attend a course, or both) and WHAT (a book, online materials, a combination?)
That should take a few minutes.
Add what you decide to your diary or appointments calendar.
Then, when the day and time arrive, sit down and begin!
Done and dusted.
You started studying Italian, but stopped
This is the siuation with me, learning or trying to learn Swedish.
Assuming you actually care about having lapsed into ‘was learning but aren’t right now’ mode, try this.
1. Work out why you stopped.
2. Decide when (the day/time) it would be possible to begin again
3. Decide what to begin with – it doesn’t have to be the same thing you were doing before.
For instance, I stopped studying Swedish in the Spring, when things were heavy at work (we had to move our Italian school to new premises…)
I then failed to restart, due to a series of vacations (poor me!)
I’m ambivalent about beginning again, to be honest.
I was happy about the progress I’d made, and Swedish is an interesting language.
But it was very time-consuming…
So I’ll leave steps two and three for the moment.
But hypothetically, I could decide that I’d have an hour free on Sunday afternoon, and that I’d take up the same course book that I was using before and carry on where I’d left off.
In my case, the materials were just fine.
Why fix what isn’t broken?
Ideas for what to do next
By skills, I mean reading and listening (the so called ‘passive’ skills) and speaking and writing (‘active’ skills).
Reading and listening are free or cheap to do, help consolidate the grammar you have studied or are studying, and make remembering vocabulary much easier.
To begin, find your level on our website and work through the listenings which have transcripts.
Or start visiting Italian language websites.
Or buy one of our easy readers.
Writing is often (always?) neglected, but is also very useful.
Identify WHAT you want to write (or try different things).
A formal or informal letter or email? An article? A story?
What about a commercial text, such as a sales page or product description?
Or a film review? Or a Wikipedia entry? Or a blog comment?
Find a text you can use as a model.
For example, I typed ‘formal letter in Italian’ into my usual search engine and (ignoring various competitor sites…) found this page:
Read and understand the example, make a list of useful words and phrases, and then have a go at writing your own text.
It’s not hard to do, and it does add variety to your study program.
Be sure to make some time to review what you studied.
Writing one example of something is unlikely to stick, so doing several, spaced over time, will help you master a given format.
Speaking is usually seen as the hardest skill to develop in the absence of a class or online lesson.
But why NOT take a class or online lesson?
I did a trial online lesson in Swedish, but didn’t rate the teacher at all.
It was so disappointing, I didn’t pay out for lessons, though I had intended to.
Had I gritted my teeth for a couple of months, and taken the lessons regardless of my opinion of the teacher, it’s likely I’d be way better at Swedish than I am right now.
If cost is an issue, and so lessons of some sort are not an option, you could look for exchanges online.
There are lots of sites out there that arrange this sort of thing.
Or you could simply speak to yourself, which sounds weird but is actually much more effective than you’d imagine.
The trick is to do some preparation work first.
For example, suppose I want to be able to introduce myself in Swedish and talk about my family, job, home and so on.
I’d need to revise the basic grammar and vocabulary first, as I’ve forgotten everything.
I’d write down anything relevant as I came across it.
Then, armed with a list of sentences, I could practise reading them out loud.
I’d aim to be able to remember my sentences effortlessly, and say them.
From this foundation, I might move on to questions I could ask other people.
So as it wouldn’t be just me speaking.
“Are you married?”
“What does your wife do?”
“Have you got kids?”
“How old are they?”
“Are Swedish schools good?”
And so on.
I’d practice the questions and the answers.
Maybe I could imagine a conversation partner to practice with.
And use a silly voice…
OK, this all sounds a bit weird, but if you take it up to the next level, it’s easier to imagine.
Suppose you wanted to talk in more detail about your job, or your hobby or the city you live in.
With a little preparation, that would be a lot easier.
You do the work, learn the words and the structures, then practice saying them, until it comes almost naturally.
You’d be amazed how effective this can be.
STUDY GRAMMAR AND VOCABULARY
If you must…
Personally I enjoy studying new things.
A list of words, a tense.
It brings an immediate sense of satisfaction.
I forget it all.
Regular reviewing helps, if you can be bothered.
But I’m lazy about doing it.
However, in Italian you have to be able to conjugate verbs, or you won’t be able to say or understand anything!
It’s a bore but it’s got to be done.
The trick, then, is to focus on the essentials.
The basic regular verb groups, for example.
In the most obvious tenses (not ALL of them…)
Ditto with the most common irregular verbs.
Heard of the Pareto principle?
“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”
Applied to learning Italian, this means you need to learn only 20% of the most common verbs to be 80% effective when you speak, listen, read or write.
How to identify the most essential 20%?
That brings us back to reading and listening…
The more of that you do, the more information you have about FREQUENCY.
Words, expressions and grammar that comes up all the time, you need to know!
And because you are reading/hearing them often, they should be easy enough to remember.
And they should stick.
Everything else you can ignore.
Past conditional forms, for example.
Just how often do you say “If I had studied languages at university I would have been unemployable”, for instance?
These structures are rare, and in any case you can usually figure them out from the context.
So why worry?
What to do next
- Decide when you’ll next study. Be specific. A day & time, please.
- Make a list of useful things to do – learn to conjugate ‘fare‘, do one of our listenings, prepare a introductory speech about a topic that interests you, etc. Include SKILLS work!
- Choose one of the things on your list
- Do it
- Before you finish, decide what to review, and when (so your effort won’t be wasted)
- Repeat from 1.)
And if something isn’t working for you?
Well, try a different activity!
There’s no ‘right’ way to learn a language.
The important thing is to be doing something, and to keep doing something.