Following on from Wednesday’s article about practising speaking Italian ( Better ideas than speaking Italian to waiting staff… ), it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to mention the obvious thing.
My younger daughter, a medical student in Florence, has recently been accepted to do an Erasmus placement in Spain for some or all of the next academic year. While this offers its own challenges, the language doesn’t appear to be one of them, as she took and passed the university’s B1 (intermediate) level Spanish test, in support of her application. “Without studying at all!” she told us proudly.
Italians are lucky like that – Spanish (and French) are so similar, they only technically qualify as foreign languages, at least seen from the point of view of a native English speaker. No language is as similar to English as Spanish and French are to Italian, so we have it harder! Let that be at least some consolation.
That said, be grateful you’re not Chinese, Japanese, or Thai, whose languages are also very dissimilar to most others. I used to teach Japanese kids, and the poor wee things had a terrible time with English. Horrible, it was.
Anyway, Hannah sees no need to study Spanish, and will doubtless become fluent from attending classes, following Spanish doctors around hospital wards, and hanging out in karaoke bars at weekends.
But when we go to visit her (my wife’s never been to Spain, so is keen to), I’ll definitely need to prepare.
At Christmas 2019, Stefi’s parents gifted us a flight to Spain, so I started with Spanish Duolingo, innocent days that they were. But you know what happened next, so the trip was cancelled.
I’ve done some Spanish since, mainly listening to the radio and reading the newspaper (I practice what I preach), but haven’t made much progress with speaking. There was no reason to any longer, and what with minding Roomie and her predecessor, I had less time and energy.
One of the things I used to do regularly, before taking on bottle-feeding abandoned wildlife early in Pandemic Year 2, was online conversation. So actually speaking with a Spanish-speaker for thirty minutes a week, one-to-one.
It’s more fun than it sounds. I started knowing no Spanish at all, did thirty or so lessons over perhaps twelve months, only to quit at the point when everything else got too much. But by then the weekly chats had become just that – real chats. Which was satisfying, and good company when all the world outside was closed.
So, before my trip or trips next academic year, I shall definitely find the cash and the time to do a few one-to-ones. Talking to waiting staff, see above, is all very well, but if you’ve never actually spoken a language before, or haven’t for a long, long time, then it’s very hard to get started.
A lot of you will know the feeling of being ‘blocked’ – not being able to say a single word, despite ‘technically’ knowing a language, perhaps as a result of months or even years of study.
It’s totally natural, don’t worry. Happens to everyone. It’s not just you and I.
Foreign languages are a bit like riding a bike, it’s true. But much more like flying a massive airliner, in a cockpit with thosands of similar looking dials, flashing lights, urgent alarms, a squawking radio set, and your copilot looking disbelievingly at you, sitting there with your uniform on but not coping at all.
I bet most people could learn to fly a Boeing 747, with a few years training, at least. There are checklists, procedures, routines, and so on. Once you’re familiar with them, and have done them hundreds of times, it’s likely just a matter of taking it step by step. Like riding a bicycle, but much, much less intuitive.
Speaking something other than what you usually speak requires TRAINING. Without it, you’ll be sitting there not knowing how to fasten your seatbelt and where to put your hands.
And getting some training (it doesn’t have to be formal) ideally needs to happen BEFORE you head off to the place where you hope to use your foreign language.
If you have money, and most people do, try some one-to-ones with a native speaker. NativeSpeakerTeachers.com has a -20% offer coming up at the end of March/beginning of April, and I might convince myself to start with the Spanish again, as I expect to have fewer domestic duties by then.
For those without cash, some good news: any conversation, any interaction that you have in Italian, or whatever foreign language you’re learning, is only partly about speaking (the actual hands-on-joystick-feet-on-rudder-pedals part).
A lot of it is about understanding what’s going on around you, so listening, so knowing what response or responses may be appropriate.
It’s the classic ‘know how to ask for directions but never understand the reply’ situation, and the solution, for those with liquidity issues, is to focus on listening, listening, listening. Which is mostly free.
Some good dating advice – ask the other person a question, then shut up and listen. Nod and smile a lot. Listen, listen, listen, occasionally prodding the conversation along with other questions, as necessary.
Just as your date will think you’re wonderful (because they spent the whole time talking about themselves while you just smiled and nodded), so too will it be with your foreign language conversations.
I bet loads of Swedes have an inflated idea of how good my spoken Swedish is, for instance, because I’m very good at listening to them, and understanding most, some, or part of what they say. And at guessing.
‘Conversation’ is hugely easier if you’ve shelled out for some flying lessons beforehand. But it’s also much easier if you’ve spent hours, days, months or years watching and observing others (as my future doctor daughter will be doing in her Spanish hospital next year).
Ideally do both, of course. Practice listening intensively AND talk to a native speaker, one-to-one. That way you’ll be as well-prepared as you can be when you actually have to interact with people in Italian, or whichever language you’re learning.
If not, do at least one of them. But don’t just study grammar, then turn up in Italy hoping to chat.
Trust me, it won’t end well.
Did you read/listen to Thursday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
I had a moan to the editor (I’m married to her) that the first few stories were all bad news – bear attacks, kidnappings, and so on.
She moaned back that finding ‘good news’ stories was hard, which I’m sure is true. Never mind then – bad news makes good reading/listening practice all the same!
Subscribe here to get each thrice-weekly bulletin (text + online audio) sent directly to your email inbox, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
And here’s a final reminder about this week’s new B2 (upper-intermediate) level ‘easy reader’ ebook, scroll down for details, currently -25%!
And about the four associated half-price titles, -50%, links here below.
All five discounts end on Sunday night, March 12th 2023.
- La diaspora italiana – Italiani negli Stati Uniti (Free sample chapter .pdf | Read reviews)
- La diaspora italiana – Italiani in Australia (Free sample chapter .pdf)
- La diaspora italiana – Italiani in Scozia (Free sample chapter .pdf | Read reviews)
- La diaspora italiana – Italiani in Spagna (Free sample chapter .pdf | Read reviews)
“Devono brillare queste scarpe, ragazzo! Oggi non ho fretta. Come ti chiami?” Il ragazzino risponde con un forte accento italiano: “Joe, signore. Mi chiamo Joe Petrosino. Le sue scarpe saranno come nuove in pochi minuti.”
Il poliziotto annuisce distrattamente: “Fai del tuo meglio, Joe.” Intanto osserva il negozio di alimentari fatto saltare in aria il giorno prima. La bomba ha distrutto la porta e la vetrina, l’insegna che dice: “Da Felice, prodotti italiani” è rimasta al suo posto, ma è storta.
Il poliziotto irlandese sospira scuotendo la testa, mentre altri due colleghi più giovani gli si avvicinano. Uno di questi gli chiede: “Chiudiamo il caso, signore? È il solito regolamento di conti fra italiani, è inutile perdere tempo” e l’altro aggiunge: “È impossibile capire quello che dicono e quello che gli passa per la testa. Sono una razza di criminali, e il proprietario del negozio vai a sapere se non era un mezzo mafioso anche lui… tutti uguali, tutti uguali.”
Are Italians immigrants in 19th century New York all the same, ‘a race of criminials’? Find out with our original, ‘easy reader’ ebook, and improve your Italian reading and listening skills at the same time!
- .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)
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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?