An email from a club member last week ended with a request: “Please reassure me!”
Well, I’ll try.
But first, a quick reminder about this week’s super-advanced (C2-level) ‘easy Italian reader’ ebook.
Bcause, as always, the club has bills to pay.
La carriera – dietro le quinte del Palio di Siena is a fictional account of behind-the-scenes goings on at the Siena Palio, Italy’s most famous urban horse race.
If you’re a confident reader and tolerant of there being lots of words and expressions you won’t know, you should find La carriera – dietro le quinte del Palio di Siena to be well-worth £5.99.
But check out the free sample chapter (.pdf) anyway, to get an idea of the level, length and format of the ebook.
La carriera – dietro le quinte del Palio di Siena | Free sample chapter (.pdf) | Catalog
Now, where was I?
Martin emailed me to say:
I do read (most) of your emails and often find them reassuring and supportive – thank you. I am trying to follow your guidance to listen to media as often as possible. I listen to Italian radio, podcasts, films etc; but I am finding it a bit demoralising. It is tough. Some words do leap out so my brain is hearing something, but I comprehend very little. I find I have to concentrate intently and can’t multitask – I hear a word and whilst trying to remember what it means another 20/30 words have whizzed by unheard L. I presume understanding will only come when I increase my Italian vocabulary? Please reassure me!
Reading it again now, I’m struck by the word ‘demoralising’, which of course goes right to the heart of the matter.
I wonder what the opposite is? Not ‘moralising’, obviously. ‘Motivating’ perhaps.
OK, let’s assume that Martin felt exactly the opposite, that he found the whole process of not-understanding most of what he was listening to stimulating, that it cheered him up significantly, not getting anything of what he heard really made his day!!
Were that the case, obviously, then learning foreign languages would be easy, even addictive. We could devote hours a day to it, without undue effort, without worrying that we were doing the wrong thing, that we were wasting our time, that we would never get there… We’d be just having so much fun!
But of course, then everyone would be doing it, too. Learning Italian, or another foreign language, would be as easy and natural as, say, eating lunch or binge-watching the latest Netflix series in your own language.
But many people do feel like Martin does, at least for a while. They’re not having fun, they’re DE-moralised or -motivated, rather than the opposite.
Me too sometimes, with my own language-learning. It goes with the territory, I’d say. There are inevitably going to be ups and downs on the journey. Beginning a new language is always a high point. After that it tends to get harder before it gets easier.
I think of it as being like working as a sales representative: you have to keep trying to sell your product or service, knowing that you’ll get a ‘no’ as often as a ‘yes’. It’s part of the job, they say.
Bisogna essere (you need to be) resilient to sell successfully. You can’t let yourself be put off, or you’re in the wrong job!
But I digress. Actually I replied:
Jan 15, 2020, 1:15 PM (7 days ago)
1.) you try different types of content. On the radio, for example, there are different programs on different channels. Lots of sport at weekends, music in the evenings, news at the top of the hour. Some of it will be more familiar, some will me more appropriate for listening to when you’re doing other things and can’t concentrate.
2.) and this is the more important one… Redefine your definition of success from ‘understanding’ to ‘listening for a certain period of time’, i.e. half an hour. Understanding is a spectrum, and with a foreign language you’re beginning, and may remain, at one extreme end of it. However, moving along the spectrum will only happen if you put in the hours, and if you focus on ‘understanding’, and so become demotivated, that won’t happen. So just focus on listening, for a minimum period of time, and on making a habit of it. With time the content will become familiar, with more time it’ll be easier to understand, and eventually you’ll be able to get enough of it to make it more like listening in English.
Hope that helps!
The key takeaways, I think, are:
- Understanding is a spectrum running from ‘nothing’ to ‘everything’
- You have to put in the hours to gradually move along it
- Which means you’ll start by spending plenty of time ‘not understanding’
- So redefine success as ‘listening for a certain period of time’
- Focus on creating the habit of listening, not on understanding what you hear
- With time, that’ll come
It’s absolutely normal not to understand everything (anything?) you read or hear in a language in which your competences are nearer one end of the spectrum than the other.
The ‘trick’, if there is one, is to find something in that situation which is -moralising, -motivating, rather than the opposite.
One thing that helps with that?
Listen to something in a language you’ve never studied at all!
For example, I was enjoying an enviromental documentary on Swedish radio, which contained interviews with people connected with a massive German coal-burning power station, in German, obviously.
I knew the interviewees were speaking German, but only got a word or two, and only then by guessing wildly.
So when the ‘programleader’ translated into Swedish, I was like, Ah, that’s what they were saying!
Which made me realise just how much I COULD understand of Swedish, after approximately two years of daily practice.
Enough to follow, more or less, not everything, sometimes not anything, sometimes effortlessly. But I understand SO much more Swedish than a.) German, and b.) I did when I began.
The same thing happened just now – I’m listening to the Swedish radio morning news program as I write and they played a clip of a Chinese government spokesman announcing the latest mutuations in the virus that might kill us all (so why worry?).
It sounded like Chinese, but beyond that, zero, which is exactly what I’d have expected to understand.
Compare my Chinese with my Swedish and, wow, I have superpowers!
THAT’s how I motivate myself.
I look back at how far I’ve come, not in detail at what I can’t do, or ahead at how much there still is to learn.
Have you listened to and read Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
Many people already have.
F.O.M.O., or for the puntuation-challenged, FOMO, sounds like a character from Lord of the Rings but in fact stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’. Google tells me that the expression refers to the “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere”.
Thousands of people are using EasyItalianNews.com to improve their reading and listening skills, to consolidate the grammar they’ve studied, to learn new words, or perhaps just because they enjoy it and it’s become part of their daily routine.
If you’re not, then FOMO!
EasyItalianNews.com is worth a look, or if you’ve already looked but not made it part of your study routine, it’s worth another look, and worth persisting with.
Time, remember? It’s the magic ingredient.
EasyItalianNews.com is FREE to use. It’s paid for out of profits from our online shop and by donations from users (see who.)
Subscribe and we’ll email you three bulletins a week.
There’s no obligation, unsubscribe whenever you wish. Though actually, DON’T!
Just read and listen to each edition, keep at it for a few months, and watch your confidence soar.
A mercoledì, allora.
I don’t know how much time Martin is giving any one thing he’s listening to, but for myself I find 2 things very useful (and “moralizing”). The first is to balancing listening broadly with listening deeply. It sounds like he’s listening to lots of different things and maybe bouncing around a lot. That’s fun once you’re comfortable with the language, but to get comfortable, it’s better to listen deeply – that is, to pick one thing, a podcast, a story, but something that isn’t too long at first (5-10 minutes?), and something that piques your curiosity – and listen to it over and over again. Pause to look a word up only when it REALLY niggles at you. Next time through, notice the word and how it fits in the sentence. Keep listening and looking things up but only sparingly. I guarantee that new words and phrases will keep coming to your attention as you focus more deeply, but they will be filling in details rather than be overwhelming chaos.. After a while, you’ll either be sick of the piece and move on, having learned some new words, or, if you’ve chosen well, you’ll find that you’re enjoying how the story’s details have emerged out of the fog. It’s so satisfying to find yourself smiling at the funny bits and tearing up at the sad parts (now that you understand them!)
The second thing I find motivating is, as Daniel says, to remind myself how far I’ve come – once I’ve done this with a few different pieces, I go back to an early one and marvel at how much I understand.
Melissa Chapin says
I agree completely that listening to the same piece over and over really helps. The first time you listen, concentrate on what you DO understand…maybe a place name, a borrowed word from your own language, a couple of numbers. Then ask you self what you CAN say about the passage, What is the general message of the passage? .is it cheery? Something to worry about? A dialogue between two people? How old are they and what is their relationship? What is the subject? Health? World news? An advertisement? An argument?
Then listen again, and see if you can add any more details. Can you distinguish any more words? Even with a very basic knowledge of the language you will probably be able to refine your answers to the questions above and distinguish a few more words, even if you don’t know what they mean. That is progress.
Each time you listen, your comprehension will improve. Then listen to it again after a few more weeks of study. You will be surprised at how much you know!
I have to confess to taking the lazy approach and watching films etc with English sub-titles. I find this way I don’t berate myself when I don’t understand, but congratulate myself when I do. It switches the emphasis from consciously learning to watching a film because you want to and listening to some Italian at the same time, and it’s surprising how much just sinks in without you realising, particularly with pronunciation. Although it may be a long winded way of learning it works for me! Smaller things (10 or 15 mins) I watch or listen to without subtitles. Also, I would say that it’s a lot easier to get the gist of something when you know the context – YouTube videos are good for this. If you use some of the teaching ones they tend to speak more slowly and clearly, and of course EasyItalianNews is really useful!
I like the idea of reminding myself how far I’ve come, I’ll certainly give that a go.
I’d also like to say (and I’m not on commission here!) that one of the most motivating things I have done in my Italian learning is the Skype lessons through Online Italian Club. Talking to a teacher breaks up the listening into manageable chunks, you can ask if you don’t understand something and the joy of realising that you can have a conversation with someone in the language that you have been learning (and struggling with!) makes all the hard work worth while.
LOVE Daniel’s advice to Martin! It helps to listen to things I already know about-like gardening ,voice training, crochet, and books I have already read in English. It is then FUN to listen to Italian and to discover how little or how much I actually understand. Of course, my favorite is Italian pop music! It is fun to work out my own translations. That is how I started learning Italian- when I was studying voice-I made my own translations of the songs and arias I was learning. Now I am hooked. I can still sing Italian- but speaking it and writing it are still beyond me….