Beh, that’s the commercial break done for the day.
So on to business!
Thanks to those of you who commented on Wednesday’s article ‘Studying Italian? What’s important, and what’s less so‘.
I enjoyed reading your opinions as they came in, and was itching to reply to each and every one of you.
But somehow, I resisted!!
The whole point of inviting comments is to find out what you guys think, which wouldn’t work so well if I kept butting in, right?
If you didn’t click through to Wednesday’s article and follow the comments as they came in, they’re worth a look.
It’s also not too late to put your two cents in (or your two pennies worth, if you’re a Brit…)
Scroll to the bottom of that page to see the comments, and add your own.
N.b. First-time commenters will notice a delay in pubblication. That’s to counter spam.
Once you’ve had a comment approved, though, it should be instant, which makes it possible to have a conversation, were you to want to ‘reply’ to what someone else has written.
So great! Most people used the comments form, as I asked, making it possible for us all to read what everyone thinks.
But Sue emailed me with a question, which is also fine.
I’m always happy to hear from people individually, too, and usually try to reply.
So Sue wrote this:
I wanted to ask you about how you are managing to improve your Swedish vocabulary.
Do you have any hints/tricks for learning and remembering new words? Since I am no longer a “spring chicken”, I’m really struggling with that.
I learn lots of new words but never seem to be able to retain them.
Well, I’m no spring chicken either, Sue.
Though I don’t remember ever having been one.
Personally, I don’t think learning gets any harder as we age.
The opposite, in fact – I teach plenty of kids, and they seem to be able to learn much less, much more slowly than I do!
Motivation and cognititive strategies are important, and I’m sure Sue doesn’t lack either one.
But anyway, I replied:
I’m lousy at remembering new words, and lazy too. So I make sure to spend as much time as possible reading and listening to the language.
I look up key words in a dictionary and note them down, but don’t bother to memorise them, I just keep reading more, similar articles and listening to similar topics.
So, for example, today I read the news headlines on the Swedish TV website. Headlines have keywords like ‘violent crime’, ‘shooting’, ‘terrorist attack’ ‘three dead, 10 injured’, you get the idea.
Then I listen to the short news summary, and understand little, but sometimes the same words come up.
Later I’ll read a simplified news site (they publish late morning), which I can understand more of, not just the headlines.
And in the afternoon, at around five p.m., Swedish TV news has a simplified ‘News in easy Swedish’, which I try to listen to each day.
So, a daily routine of reading and listening. I still don’t understand much, but I’ve learnt lots of words without much effort.
What I’m planning to do in the future is integrate discussion of these issues into my lessons with the Swedish teacher…
One thing I forgot to mention to Sue is that, when taking notes, I try to write down the whole sentence, or at least a phrase, rather than an indivdual word.
The idea is that the OTHER WORDS THAT I KNOW give the new word a ‘place to live’ in my brain.
If I could ever be bothered to read my notes, each headline or phrase would be like a jigsaw puzzle with just one piece missing.
I’d presumably remember the whole picture, and should therefore be able to mentally fill in the gap where the missing piece is (that is to say, the unknown word.)
Here’s an example.
Yesterday, after reading the news in simple Swedish, I copied and pasted this headline into my notes:
Man skar sig i halsen med motorsåg
Just for the sake of argument, imagine you are learning Swedish too, and like me, could figure out all of the words except for ‘halsen’:
Man cuts himself in … with chainsaw.
Of course I read on!
Turns out it was an icy day in Sweden, and the victim was trying to saw through a water pipe, or something like that.
You’re wincing, already, aren’t you?
The chainsaw slipped.
On the ice, presumably.
And I suppose it bounced back up towards him…
He bled ‘viorously, enthusiastically’, according to Google.
I couldn’t resist looking up the missing word ‘halsen’ to see where exactly the poor guy had sliced himself open.
And having done so, I’m not going to forget it.
Noting the whole phrase, headline or sentence is MUCH MORE MEMORABLE than just writing down ‘halsen = the throat’, which I would certainly have forgotten mere instants later.
It also has the effect of associating the various parts of the phrase, thus reinforcing the grammar and vocabulary you know:
Man = a person, a man
skar sig = cuts himself, the ‘sig’ is the reflexive pronoun, present tense, like headlines everywhere
i halsen = in the throat (shudder)
med motorsåg = with a chainsaw
This took me, what, a few seconds to read the headline, Google the missing word out of pure curiosity, and copy and paste the lot into my notes file, for ‘future review’.
And on to the next one.
Give it a try.
But where, oh where, could you find some simple Italian news stories, similar to the material I’ve been learning with?
Beh, here’s a good source of ‘easy to study’ material for you.
Informazione Facile (easy information) is a website for Italians with learning difficulties or who might otherwise find mainstream news inaccessible.
“L’obiettivo è rendere accessibile l’informazione a persone che per patologia (afasia, demenza, esiti d’incidenti) o per cause sociali non possono accedere ai normali mezzi d’informazione.”
Their news stories are written in short sentences, rather than dense paragraphs, and using simple words.
They’re presumably ideal for anyone suffering from aphasia, dementia or head injuries.
And perfect for you guys to practice my above-described vocabulary technique!
Read the latest articles online on their website: Informazione Facile.
Or, and I particularly recommend this, download their weekly .pdf, which has the week’s articles and pictures.
It’s like a simplified newspaper, and free!
Why not put a note in your diary to go download it each week? I’m not sure which day it comes out, but you could find out…
OK, what else?
In my reply to Sue I also mentioned that my daily study routine was heavy on listening.
Assuming you’d not be interested in Easy Swedish News, I scoured the Internet for suitable alternatives, but found few.
The closet I came to the material I’m using was the Italian version of the Euronews TV channel website.
You get short videos on a variety of topics, news but also general interest, and BELOW EACH VIDEO CLIP you’ll find a more or less complete transcript.
I chose an article more or less at random, and found it very similar to the non-simplified material that I’m using to build my listening and reading skills, to consolidate the grammar that I’ve studied, and to learn new words.
OK, I finish there.
Hope I’ve given you some ideas.
And if you want to share your own favorite sites or techniques, click here to comment on THIS article.
One final thing.
Reading, listening, speaking, writing – the communicative skills – they take TIME to develop.
You can read or listen to something once, twice, three times and it’ll still be hard.
But your brain is programmed to learn.
It’s a super-computer, just thirsting for input data to crunch on.
Keep feeding it, day after day, week after week, and within a modestly short time, I guarantee you’ll look back and MARVEL at how far you’ve come.
The trick is to avoid worrying about what you don’t undestand today.
Instead, focus on keeping your motivation high.
Work on building a routine that is so interesting in itself that it becomes self-sustaining.