As I was just washing last night’s dishes, listening to channel one on Swedish national radio, and pondering what to write about this morning, the term ‘sweet spot’ occurred.
Also, an email that I received yesterday from some irritating blogger or podcaster or Instagrammer seeking a link from the club’s ‘Other Resources‘ page to his own site.
I clicked through to see what it was about.
He speaks twelve languages apparently, with a little graphic next to each one to show how well.
Wow, impressive, I’ll definitely buy something!
No, like that’s nonsense.
Even taking the claim at face value – OK, so he’s had a lot of time and opportunity to learn foreign languages – most of us would know that you can spend a lifetime learning even one foreign language well.
I don’t know many non-Italians that can write well in Italian for example, or even read well, when it comes to complex texts such as contracts or ‘Il sole 24 ore‘.
There are people around who can ‘get by’ in multiple languages – me, for example.
But that doesn’t necessarily make them better teachers, or better learners, or better anything.
And any serious process of evaluation would show up the limitations of what they could do in any one language.
Show me someone who can boast an internationally-recognised B2, C1 or C2 exam result in more than three or four languages (which a pro translator, a child with bilingual parents growing up in a third or fourth country, or college languages student should be able to manage with a little effort) and I’ll be impressed.
You have a C1 in five languages? Like, wow!
(But do you have a life?)
Impressed, but still not more likely to buy something.
Which brings me back to the ‘sweet spot’, defined by Google as:
an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities.
“the market may have reached its sweet spot, with prices high enough to encourage sellers but still low enough to promise a good return”
With language-learning, there comes a point at which you know enough to get by, enough for YOUR needs.
Investing further time or energy therefore becomes either a matter of reaching external targets (exams to pass), of passion (you LOVE the language, or the learning process itself), or a contest between little boys to see who can urinate highest up the wall.
Insomma, there’s a point at which a logical person would say ‘I know enough, I can stop actively learning words, grammar and all that jazz’.
At that point you get on with life, or with whatever you’re learning the language FOR – retiring to Italy, finding a job, etc.
The concept of the ‘sweet spot’ has other applications, too.
I was listening to the radio as I washed the dishes, and reflecting about what I was hearing, and understanding, or not understanding.
And on what I’d read earlier on my Swedish news app.
What a lot of words I don’t know, I was thinking! Swedish has loads of multi-syllable verbs starting with ‘f’ and ‘b’ that all look the same to me.
If I just STUDIED a bit more, it would all be easier, I thought.
I’d read with less effort. I’d understand more when I’m listening to the radio.
Much of the time, what I hear is just sound, which washes over me (so leaving me time to ruminate…)
But thinking back in a more analytical way over the last, what, 45 minutes of listening (I’m still listening as I write this), despite not understanding loads and loads of it, I could probably tell you what the main news stories have been about.
And at times, not as often as I’d like, I followed what was being said, without even noticing that I was doing so.
No ‘ahha!’ moment. It was just going in. I still might not have been paying attention, but whereas before it was washing over me without soaking in, now it’s being absorbed, at last partially.
The ‘sweet spot’, as applied to listening, or reading, or conversation – that point at which your brain gets ENOUGH to start paying attention, and by paying attention gets more, and a sort of virtuous circle begins.
Despite the excess of multi-syllable words starting with ‘f’ and ‘b’.
It might only happen occasionally (which brings us back to the guy with 12 languages), but the fact that it happens at all makes it all the sweeter!
1.) Include listening/reading in your daily routine – I listen to Swedish or Turkish radio while doing chores – and you’re getting practice at zero cost.
N.b. It takes time for the benefits to become apparent. But if you don’t try, you won’t know, will you? Here’s a link to get you started: https://www.raiplayradio.it/
2.) ‘Graded’, simplified, ‘easy’ materials offer stepping stones across the metaphorical river, from one bank (where you understand next to nothing of the language) to the other (where you can cope with authentic material).
I don’t use them for either Swedish or Turkish because they’re not available, but you can with Italian.
Gotta go. I’ve a Turkish lesson in twenty minutes.
Talking of ‘easy’ materials, here’s a final reminder about this week’s half-price ‘Ebook of the Week’ offer.
Get ‘Leonardo in riva all’Adda‘for just £3.99 until Sunday night
We have ‘Leonardo’ in three different ebook formats: .pdf, .epub (for ebook readers except Kindle) and .mobi (Kindle-compatible).
Specify your preferred format by adding a note to the order form. Or email me separately.
Thursday’s EasyItalianNews.com bulletin is here.