Gotta be brief this morning, as I’m taking my son Tom (voice of EasyItalianNews.com, see today’s P.P.S.) to do the first part of his driving test – the theory exam.
I’m not sure how that works exactly. Whether the stuff that he has to study is all about how to drive as dangerously and ruthlessly as possible, with no regard to anyone’s safety, or if it’s the usual Italian educational approach of memorising everything for months before the test, then wiping all of it from your brain right afterwards, in preparation for the next exam.
Either way, he has to pass the theory before he can get his ‘foglio rosa’ (pink paper), which is the provisional license he needs before climbing into a vehicle and terrorising his parents and fellow citizens. He won’t, of course, know one end of an automobile from another. But he will have stretched his already over-developed memorisation muscles, which are always important here.
Which brings me to Patricia, who emailed this:
Could you write a column re studying more than one language at a time, as you do, please. I speak French and I’m always trying to improve that skill. Since the languages are similar, it makes understanding the structure of Italian easier but, since many words are almost the same, I mix the two languages together and I’d like to keep them separate. Thanks for any help you can give me.
Premesso che (omnipresent Italian legal phrase) I don’t actually study languages, ever, at all, I’m happy to give my two pennies’ worth.
OK then, I get that Pat has a different approach, knows French well, would like to know Italian well, and is presumably applying the same methods she used with French, perhaps at school many years ago, to studying Italian now – hoping for similar results.
And it’s true that the two languages are similar, which is both an advantage but also sometimes a hindrance. For instance, when you have to memorise yet another mass of irregular verb conjugations, and somehow keep them separate from what you already know. Che palle.
You might be reassured to know that both Italians learning Spanish and Spanish speakers learning Italian have this very same problem. Learning each other’s languages is easy, it takes ten minutes flat, but they never stop moaning about how hard it is to keep everything straight. Poverini.
Many club members reading this will be thinking that they wish they had that problem! For an native English-speaker, no foreign language is similar enough to make learning it easy. Europeans are often celebrated as being ‘good’ at languages, but it helps a lot if the new language has similarities or shared roots with your mother tongue, which most of them do. Swedish is similar to Norwegian, and Danish, though completely unlike Finnish, apparently.
Anyone who has tried to learn a really ‘different’ language (Turkish in my case, Japanese for my wife) can attest that it’s much harder when you have to start from scratch, the progress is slow, and the eventual ‘level’ reached likely to be lower. Ma è così.
Back to Pat’s problem, I’d first suggest she define, or redefine, her goal or goals. She should reexamine WHY she’s learning Italian, for a start. Is it for the sheer satisfaction of levering the French to master another, similar language, for instance? In which case, if ‘mastery’ is the goal, then dealing with those irritating similiarities is going to be part of the job, like it or not.
But if her emphasis is on learning Italian so she can use it in some way – to chat, to watch TV, to read novels or newspapers – then that would suggest she should put aside worries about confusing the languages, and begin, as soon as possible, to build the relevant SKILLS.
Skills such as conversation, listening, reading, writing etc. don’t depend on a mastery of the mass of detail that makes up a language, in the same way as Tom learning how to actually drive is largely unconnected with this morning’s theory exam
I don’t usually restate my metaphors, on the grounds that if they aren’t clear to an attentive reader what’s the point of using them.
But this is such a good one, I’ll say it again, in parole semplici, as Italians say.
You can learn every single detail of the highway code in, for example, the USA, and then again in Italy, where you plan to retire (and in Italian, as there isn’t an English version of the test). It’ll take you a while, you’ll learn a lot, and enjoy puzzling over the various differences.
But little of it will be relevant to the actual business of driving in the USA or Italy, which is going to be broadly the same, though with a few readily-apparent differences.
In Italy we don’t (in theory) overtake ‘on the inside’ on our autostrade, which mostly have three lanes, not four like one of those scary American interstates.
See? I didn’t need to read the highway code to know that. Just to get in a hire car, and watch how people in Texas did things. Differently, but it wasn’t hard to see how.
And traffic cops in Italy are both few and far between and, generally-speaking, uninterested in whether you have consumed alcohol, exceeded the speed limit, or otherwise comported yourself in a manner that might elsewhere be considered inconsiderate and dangerous.
Studying it and doing it are different, Pat.
Emphasise the ‘doing’ and your brain will quickly fall into line, keeping the French part in one mental box and the Italian part in another.
Poi, the more listening and reading you do in, say, Italian, the more the details of the language will (unconsciously) be consolidated in your head.
For instance, I live in Italy, so read and hear Italian all the time. I speak it too, sometimes. At least since I had to with Roomie, who had no English.
Most days I also listen to the radio in both Swedish and French. Sometimes I read those languages, too, thanks to my local library granting me free access to international newspapers.
When I have time and energy I might also listen to and read Spanish, or listen to Turkish, or both.
I never speak French, Turkish, or Spanish these days, though I probably could if I needed to. At least a little. Once a week I chat for half an hour in Swedish. Every day I speak Italian and English.
‘Studying’ doesn’t come into it. Neither does ‘mastery’.
These are just things I do, or try to. The patterns change according to my circumstances, time, and motivation, but each particular ‘skill’ (reading in French, reading in Spanish, reading in Swedish, etc.) lives in its own little box in my skull.
Another driving metaphor: when Tom eventually gets his licence, the real one not the foglio rosa, I expect him to be unsafe.
Hence, we just traded our old Chrysler Voyager (2 liter diesel engine, seven seats, impossible to park, illegal in the downtown due to its emissions) for an old Fiat Punto (1.4 liter GPL, small family car), and insured it ‘third party’ only, that which is legally necessary and not a euro more.
The expectation is that he might trash it one night on the way home from a disco. Five grand wasted, but as long as he doesn’t also trash himself or anyone else, I’ll be fine with that.
Hopefully he’ll learn and so one day will be competent, by Italian standards. He’ll probably never be perfect, who is?
Much further on in life, his eyes will start to go and perhaps at some distant future point his license will be revoked due to him becoming excessively doddery. Italy’s roads are no place for the old (see this clip from my morning commute.)
Foreign languages work the same way.
You have to ‘do’ them, not just ‘study’ them. You’ll never be perfect. If you don’t keep using them, they’ll become harder to access, though there’s an element of ‘never forgetting how to ride a bicycle’.
IF I were taking an undergraduate degree right now (attending college, as Americans say), majoring perhaps in two new and unrelated languages – Japanese and Russian, for example – then I would aim to build sustainable ‘study’ regimes, making sure to include plenty of skills work, and not need to worry about confusing the two. Kanji and cyrillic are quite different ways of reading/writing, after all.
IF I were taking an undergraduate degree right now (attending college, as Americans say), majoring perhaps in two related, so similar, languages – Portuguese and Romanian, for example – then I would aim to build sustainable ‘study’ regimes, making sure to include plenty of skills work, and not worry about confusing the two – knowing that I was never going to be perfect at either one, and that things would sort themselves out over time, given enough ‘input’.
Hope that helps, Pat!
P.S. Il barbiere di Siviglia – 25%, final reminder!
Here’s a final reminder about this week’s new ‘easy reader’ ebook, another title in our series of Italian ‘easy reader’ ebooks based on operas.
This time it’s Rossini’s entertaining comedy Il barbiere di Siviglia and, as always with new publications, it’s 25% discounted for the first seven days (offer ends Sunday 28th May 2023).
We began the ‘opera’ easy reader ebooks series back in the fall of 2022, with a simplified text + audio version of Nabucco, one of composer Verdi’s most famous operas. Next we did Puccini’s romantic classic, Turandot, then another Puccini weepy, La Bohème, returning to Verdi for the final two publications of 2022, Rigoletto and La traviata. In 2023 we’ve published the spectacular Aida, poor Madama Butterfly, and most recently Tosca
Gioacchino Rossini’s famous opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia, was first performed in Rome in 1816.
Beautiful Rosina lives in Seville (Siviglia) with her guardian Don Bartolo. The much older man wants to get his hands on her dowry by marrying her, so keeps her a virtual prisoner. The young, attractive Count of Almaviva also has his eye on Rosina, but isn’t easily able to communicate his interest. Fortunately, clever barber Figaro has some ideas…
Begin with this ‘easy reader’ ebook before watching the actual opera, or simply use this original Italian reading/listening practice material to add a little variety to your study program.
- .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 (based on Rossini’s Act/Scene structure) to read and listen to
- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
- Suitable for students at pre-intermediate level or above
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
Do check out the Free Sample Chapter (.pdf) before you buy a copy. That way, you’ll know whether the level is suitable for you, and that the format works on the device you intend to use it on.
This being the first week, Il barbiere di Siviglia is 25% discounted, so just £5.99 rather than the usual ‘easy reader’ ebook price of £7.99.
N.b. This is the final publication in our opera series. View them all here.
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (normally immediately after your payment), 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, where available, cannot be downloaded but will be emailed to people who request them. There’s a space to do that on the order form – where it says Additional information, Order notes (optional). If you forget, or if you have problems downloading the .pdf, don’t worry! Email us at the address on the website and we’ll help. Also, why not check out our FAQ?
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