There were lots of emails about one of last week’s articles about learning languages, and I’ve already shared some of them with you previously. But there were a few others that are definitely worth a read, so it seemed a shame to waste them…
Liz/Lisa, for instance wrote this, under the subject line “Why did I study Italian, when everybody wanted to use English?”:
Sometimes I get depressed.
I did Duolingo, Italianpod101, used on-line club resources, (club) Skype lessons once a week for 9 months, random Italian conversation lessons at my local library (2 hours once a week, for a month, twice a year with a retired Rome police officer), bought and listened to Imparare Easy Readers, and then 80 hours of study at Madrelingua in Bologna.
I spent 6 weeks in Italy and everybody wanted to speak English!
So why did I spend so much time and money to learn some Italian?
I guess it was like the mountain…because it was there. And besides, I’m keeping my 75-year-old brain active!
I’m making dinner using recipes written in Italian, knitting from Italian instructions, and listening to classical music with interviews in Italian streaming from Italy.
Every once in a while I listen to another chapter in an audio book while I’m walking. (I have two books on my phone – I promessi sposi and Seta. Right now I’m just getting the gist of the stories. But the Italian language sounds so nice as it flows in my ears.
Will I go back to Italy? I don’t know. But in the meantime, I’ll keep learning and using what I learn.
While Corey had this to say:
I do appreciate your messages. Sometimes you dispense these little nuggets of wisdom that I find both profound and “encouraging.” BTW, I would say that’s the opposite of “demoralized.”
I’ve written to you in the past with the same Lamentations. “Oh, I’ve studied so hard. But I can’t understand much. My brain can’t keep up.” It’s hard to avoid being discouraged, even though I’m not easily discouraged. But, I find that I now understand SOMETHING, rather than NOTHING, as when I began. Often I get the gist, even though I don’t comprehend it all. Sometimes I’m lost. Improvement not perfection.
Sometimes, I find myself understanding more when I’m not concentrating on understanding it. But this is how you encouraged me today.
Stop fixating on your level of comprehension and just concentrate on putting in the time. Sound advice with a strong ring of truth. And find things you have interest in. I’m an avid bike rider and traveler/explorer. I found a series on RAI called, “Bellezza in bicicletta” where they explore Italy on bikes. Perfect! It holds my interest even if I can’t understand a word. Funny observation: I’m a scientist and I seem to understand science content so much better than anything else. I suppose we all speak a common language.
So, your nugget of wisdom hit its mark. I need to stop obsessing over what I can’t understand and concentrate on putting in the time and paying my dues. If it were easy, we’d all be polyglots. I understand something which is more than when I started. Think big but plan small. What can I do today to make progress on my goals? It’s about the journey, not the destination. Thanks for the encouragement, Dan.
Last, but not least (in fact it’s the longest), Lorenzo described his language-learning journey in some detail:
I think the problem, in general, is that many people have the wrong idea of learning a new language. Secondo me, a popular way of advertising learning programs is “learning a language is fun using X,Y, and Z”. When is the process of learning fun? It should be “Once you learn your language, you will realise how much fun you had, by using X,Y, and Z”.
Ma allora, this might be why I am not in Marketing, and cannot sell my products successfully when I have tried.
I made a very close friend in Milano, he is a philosopher and an Italian linguist professor (history of the development of the Italian language). He explained something about listening to a new language, which helped my motivation to continue learning even harder. But before I explain what this was, I need to explain a little of my background.
On paper I am an Italian citizen, By name I am an Italian. But, I am far from it. I was born and raised in South Africa, my father is from Italia. Even though he spoke Italian to my mother, he mostly spoke English to me (his way of learning the English language). E quindi, I hardly grasped the language. I knew a few words, and a few sentences that were drummed into my head (such as “come ti chiami?” etc) but without actually learning the gramatical rules.
Then, two years ago, I made the rather drastic move to Milano, Italia, with my wife and children. ‘Ah, I am a citizen, I can speak some Italian, this will be easy’ I told myself, and my family…… Well, quanto ho sbagliato! Cioè, I actually did not know how to speak Italian, or anything about the language. So I did what I usually do best (which is a bad thing, I guess), I cram-learned the Italian language. But where to start? There was the famous game-based learning App. Ok, this helped with getting my greetings right, but it was not working. Go to school! Unfortunately, I honestly did not have the time since I had the kids to look after, in between work, no-one to look after them. Allora, I had to think logically. Where is my Italian grammer level? A1-A2, surely not since my father taught me some things? Che sorpresa, by taking the placement test on Online Italian club, I was A1, beginner, actually I did so bad that it hit my confidence badly. The certain app was not good enough. I had to do some hard studying. I used your sites and lessons, studied and studied (you got to love the time when children are sleeping). I did the placement test again, Still A1! BUT, a good but! I scored much better, aha! an improvement! YES! That is when I learned the ‘fun’ part of learning the Italian language, it is the AHA moment when you realise you have improved, even a little.
Now, for my philosopher friend. I met him when I applied to help a new online-magazine. I was going to write the Science articles, in English. He proposed that I also translate articles from Italian to English. WHAT? Impossible, I said. Secondo lui, this was the best way to learn Italian for me. Anche, I did not understand any meetings we had with the magazine team. At this point my confidence was very low, so I spoke to my friend. I told him that I don’t think I can continue with the magazine because I just am not understanding what is going on, and my Italian is still at A1, maybe A2, so I can’ do the translations.
This is what he told me “Lorenzo, how long have you been in Italy?”.
“Six months” I replied.
“In six months, what have you learned? You can go shopping, right? Did your app teach you how to ask for items? I bet not. Can you get around on the public transport, understand where to go, which bus to take?”
“Did your apps teach you that? I bet not, as well. What the apps, and the lessons you have been doing is teaching your brain to understand the rules, the sounds, word orders etc. But they are not teaching you ‘How to Speak’. Your own brain does that by itself. It takes this information, and when needed, processes it in real-time. Your brain figures it out. At your beginning stages of learning a language, you will never understand each and every word in every sentence and every paragraph. Yet, you somehow understand what is being told to you. THAT IS COMMUNICATION. Isn’t that what learning a language is, being able to effectively communicate? That is the key! If you can hear someone speak Italian, don’t try to listen to every word; calmly listen, concentrate. You will understand a word hear and there. Realise a past tense here, and a future tense there. But your brain, somehow knits them together, and logically determines what the speaker is saying. Then you start to understand the CONTEXT of what they are saying.”
“Tell me Lorenzo, in the meeting we just had with the group, what did you understand”
Silence by me.
“Not in detail, but what did we talk about for the past 1.5 hours? What do you think was the context?
So told him that I think we spoke about the idea on what the general feel of the articles should be about for the magazine.
“YES! Bravissimo Lorenzo! That is all you need to know now, that is good enough for me. AND that is effective communication! You understood Italian.”
It has been 2 years of living in Italy, (now residing in the Marche region) and learning the language, literally in Italy each and every day. I am, in my spare time, translating articles from Italian to English, and doing rather well. I am understanding more at the meetings (over Skype), but still not every word. The context of the meetings are more detailed each time. I am now able to hold simple conversations with friends, family, and strangers, and I am even starting to understand the news bulletins. But not 100%, maybe 30-40%. But that is enough, I understand the context. But when I look back 2 years ago, it is amazing on how far I have come. Also, there is still so much more to learn, to perfect, to practice. I’ll get there, that is for sure, I must just keep telling myself to have some patience.
I am now also learning German (tedesco) for work purposes. This is now a little under a year. I can understand some context in meetings, but definitly cannot reply back yet. But, I am ok with that, it is called an improvment.
Oh, and something else which has kept up my confidence and motivations, is your e-mails. No, really. They help motivate. To hear and follow how your language learning is coming on, your dificulties with learning them, your experiences. I can relate to it in some way, and so, I am motivated to ‘keep on walking’.
Your website platforms are excellent! they are massive in the right tools to learn the Italian language, to train my brain more.
Molto grazie a te e a le tue squadre
Wasn’t that encouraging? I thought so, at least.
Many thanks to all three correspondents!
A venerdì, allora.
Don’t forget this week’s half-price A2-level, Book of the Week, L’amore ai tempi del supermercato.
Dozens of club members have already bought a copy,
It’s a fun read, and a snip at just £3.99 (but only until Sunday night…)
Tuesday’s bulletin of EasyItalianNews.com came out yesterday. Did you find time to read/listen to it?
If not, click here.
And/or subscribe and we’ll email future editions to you, for free, as soon as they are published.