This morning I, my wife, and Roomie, took the bus into Bologna, where on descending we went our separate ways – her to open our Italian school, and R and I on foot, out from the historic downtown to her ‘asilo nido’ (nursery, kindergarten), which is located towards the base of the hills.
Having discharged her into the arms of a smiling young woman, I walked back the way I’d come, taking advantage of the shade offered by Bologna’s famous porticoed sidewalks.
Besides the usual foot traffic – parents pushing babies in strollers, people eating their breakfast at pavement cafes, a maniac three-year old on a bright blue scooter (with matching safey helmet) and embarassed father in hot pursuit – I wove my already hot and bothered self through crowds of happy hikers.
There were literally hundreds of them this morning, in ones and twos, but also in large groups, wearing identical tshirts printed with ‘Via degli dei’, so souvenirs of the day, or days, to come.
The Via degli dei is a 130km (81 mile) trek from Bologna’s central piazza, across the Apennine mountain range which runs down through most of Italy, to reach Florence, which is located on the other side.
You could do it by train in about thirty minutes, or drive through the many tunnels (though parking is scarce in both cities). Or you could pull on your hiking boots and walk, in which case five days should do it.
Seeing so many happy hikers coming the other way as I headed to work didn’t cheer me up, but at least it gave me an idea for today’s article, thanks guys!
So here it is – lots of people starting out on a long journey, all cheerful and full of expectations, but many of them having no ideas of the difficulties and disappointments to come.
You see where I’m going with this?
Yup, a language-learners as hikers metaphor!
So we have hordes of happy beginners, some of whom drop out quickly, few or none of them making it as far as ‘fluency’, ‘understanding everything’, or whatever naive goals they began with, back before the blisters and sunstroke took their toll.
But wait, there’s more.
Browsing the ‘Prima di partire‘ page of the trek’s official website, I was amused at the ‘Cosa mettiamo nello zaino?’ (What shall we put in the backpack?’) section.
It includes tweezers for pulling out leeches (well obviously), and ‘techincal’ socks, which will both wick away sweat but also dry quickly after washing, unlike cotton. Buy the best socks you can afford, it says, which isn’t bad advice.
In another section, entitled ‘Il giusto approccio ad un trekking’ (‘The Right Approach to a Trek’) – notice that Italians don’t typically use title case – there was plenty on how to prepare. I’ll quote a few snippets:
“Non sottovalutate questo percorso!”
“Il dislivello totale è intorno ai 5.000 metri.”
“Prima di partire allenatevi, allenatevi, allenatevi.”
“Organizzate il vostro viaggio prima di partire.”
“È indispensabile avere con sé la carta escursionistica e/o la guida.”
Well, don’t underestimate how much is involved in language learning, either. And yes, it can be an uphill struggle.
But training before you start is unlikely to help much, nor is organising your journey before you begin.
And sadly, there isn’t usually much of a map available. Language-learning is a long trek, but there the similarities end.
While you might start off plodding down the same medieval city street with a crowd of other people wearing shorts and carrying nordic walking poles, there really isn’t much of a map once you get past the initial stages.
What you learn, how you learn it, and how successful you’ll be, is bound to vary a lot from person to person. Language is a tool for communicating, and people communicate different things, in different ways, at different times.
How many language-learning apps do you know of that are designed for mid- or high-level learners?
Exactly, there are few, or none.
That’s because those hardy souls that make it past the first levels, rather than quitting at noon on the first day, will not all have the same needs, preferences and goals, and so don’t make much of a target market for floods of venture capital cash.
Worse, learners who are successful at lower levels will likely acquire the knowledge and skills to proceed WITHOUT AN APP, should they wish to.
With language learning, there are syllabuses and plans, but they’re not for you. By definition, they’re a compromise, aimed at typical learners. And you’re not a typical learner, I’m sure.
The trick of plotting your own, better route is to try different things, to develop a portfolio of things you do that work for you, and to regularly evaluate your progress. Then, based on progress, or lack of it, you make adjustments to what you do. As your needs change and your goals evolve, so you modify your approach.
Think of a trek with no fixed route, and with a destination that’s almost certain to change, perhaps multiple times, as you progress.
Read this: How to learn Italian (or any language)
Or this: Viadeglidei.it
Or combine language learning AND treking with this: La Via Francigena (costs £7.99…)
Wow, it’s only ten-thirty and already quite hot and humid outside.
Technical socks weather…
P.S. New ‘easy reader’ ebook published this week!
Don’t forget this week’s new easy Italian reader ebook, Plinio e l’eruzione del Vesuvio.
It’s level B2/C1 so upper-intermediate/advanced, but it’s probably accessible for some lower-level learners, too.
Look at the Free Sample Chapter (.pdf) to get an idea of the level and format, and to find the link to the FREE online audio, for the WHOLE story (no purchase required!)
“Roman-era admiral and ‘natural historian’, Plinio, is having a lazy afternoon with his scrolls, when his sister rushes in, alarmed by smoke rising from nearby Vesuvio!”
Caio Plinio Secondo, più conosciuto come “Plinio il Vecchio”, ha scritto la più grande enciclopedia del mondo antico. Quest’opera, intitolata “Osservazione della natura” (Naturalis historia) è un immenso trattato di antropologia, storia dell’arte, zoologia, botanica, medicina, geografia e mineralogia.
Durante i suoi numerosi viaggi come comandante militare e governatore delle province di Roma, Plinio non ha mai smesso di osservare i fenomeni naturali, le piante, gli animali e le persone, né di raccogliere informazioni.
Nell’anno 79 d.C., Plinio è a capo della flotta militare romana, tenuta nel porto di Miseno, perciò vive in una villa vicino a Napoli. Proprio in quell’anno, dal Vesuvio, enorme vulcano attivo della Campania, comincia a uscire del fumo…
- .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 level or above
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (allow up to 24 hours), 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 (.mobi/Kindle-compatible, .epub) cannot be downloaded but will be emailed to people who request them.
Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news was published on, well, Tuesday. If you didn’t read/listen to it then, there’s always today…
In any case, it’s FREE!