A short one today because… well, frankly, because I’m rather tired of people asking me how they can achieve the improbable, in very little time, and with no particular effort.
On the club website, over the years, I’ve written just about everything I know about language-learning, a whole career’s worth of teaching, and direct experience of learning multiple foreign languages.
It’s all there, for anyone who can be bothered to look. Hundreds of thousands of words.
And for anyone who wishes to follow my tips, there’s also a mass of free material to practice with – thousands of pages of it, and more coming in the summer.
But as I’ve written recently, there is no one approach or set of materials which will suit everyone. What YOU need to do to achieve YOUR goals is specific to you. You may not know what it is, that’s true, but neither can anyone else, not with 100% certainly.
Language-learning is a set of processes, extended over time, and involving many, many decisions about what and how to do things.
There’s no miracle method, though many people claim to have one. Caveat emptor.
Let me spell this out for you. If you want to reach your language-learning goals, whatever they may be, you have three options, and you have to choose one of them.
- Get professional help. That could be a paid-for course or app, or perhaps something free. Will that get you where you want to go, in the time you have available? It might, depending on how realistic your goal or goals are. On the plus side, YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY if it fails and you wasted your time.
- Make your own decisions. ‘Self-study’ is one term, ‘self-directed learning’ is perhaps a better one (I detest ‘studying’). You probably decided for yourself who to fall in love with, what career to folow, where to live. Learning a foreign language is way more complex than any of those things, but people all over the world manage it, therefore so can you.
- Both 1. and 2. above. Use the courses, the apps, the miracle methods, listen to the teachers, but don’t rely on them. Use your common sense, too. Define your goals yourself, measure your own progress, and change one or more elements of what you’re doing if the results are not to your satisfaction.
The Department of Miracles is closed today because of supply problems.
For further information: How to learn Italian (or any language)
Thanks to Patricia and Judith who commented on Friday’s article.
Judith mentioned in passing that she read Italian novels (good idea) and had found it helpful to study the passato remoto so as to reduce the amount of guessing (bad idea!)
I have NEVER studied the passato remoto, and don’t intend to. I couldn’t do one of those ‘conjugate the verb in the passato remoto’ exercises to save my life.
But you know what? When I read Italian novels (rarely, actually), that tense, used mostly in writing (conversationally only in certain parts of Italy and not where I live), doesn’t trip me up. EVER.
You know why? Because of what it obviously ISN’T.
The Daniel’s/Really Lazy Person’s instant ‘understand the passato remoto’ method:
- this isn’t the passato prossimo (but probably means the same)
- it isn’t the imperfetto, either
Both of those tenses are taught/learnt earlier than the passato remoto, so knowing what it isn’t should be easy, right?
- lastly, but most importantly, this clearly isn’t the ‘presente’, though it might look a lot like the presente….
How do we know it’s not the presente? Because we’re reading a bloodly novel, and it’s obviously past: he killed my father and stole our cow, the cad!
Check out our verb conjugation tables for ‘ucidere‘ (to kill) and ‘rubare‘ (to steal) and you’ll see what I mean. In the second section, on the left, our pages show the presente, the imperfetto, then the passato remoto.
The imperfetto has those easy-to-remember ‘v’s, the presente can be a pain in the butt but will get learnt sooner or later, and the passato remoto looks like the presente, a bit, though it’s longer, but from the context clearly isn’t the same thing at all.
The right hand column of the second section shows the perfect forms (with the auxiliary verbs ‘avere’ or ‘essere’ and the past participle), and it’s obviously not any of them, right? No auxiliary verb, for one thing.
‘Rubai’ is not ‘rubo’, not ‘rubavo’, not ‘ho rubato’, and so on.
Therefore it’s the passato remoto. See?
Wanna practice? Here’s a line from I promessi sposi, p.16 of this free version:
Aperto poi di nuovo il breviario, e recitato un altro squarcio, giunse a una voltata della stradetta, dov’era solito d’alzar sempre gli occhi dal libro, e di guardarsi dinanzi: e così fece anche quel giorno.
It wasn’t an easy book to read (and my reading is advanced-level) – to tell the truth, I never finished it. But I remember this part, which comes after several dreadfully boring pages describing the scenery around Lake Como or wherever it was.
A priest was walking home along a familar path, reading as he went. When he REACHED a certain bend in the road he always looks up from his book, perhaps to admire the scenery, and so he DID today.
Pick out the two passato remoto conjugations from the original. It isn’t hard to figure out (other parts of the text are a bigger problem…) Compare with my quick and dirty not-translation, with links to online resources so you can double check.
Also the really irregular ones like ‘fece’ tend to be easy to guess at, and easy to remember. Looks a bit like ‘feci’, don’t you think?
So there you go: the ‘no-study’ way to understand the passato remoto. You read it here first!
Or you could go find a grammar book, like Judith.
Margaret Lois Jansen says
Just to let you know, everytime I start to get discouraged, I read one of your emails, laugh out loud both at what you write and at myself for getting so tied up in a knot, then I relax, and start to enjoy this language adventure again. So, thanks. because at 72, if I’m not enjoying this particular “game” – why should I be doing it (OK, maybe as a pro-active choice against Alzheimer’s)?
Wishing a great day!
Daniel! Ciao! I love your essays. I rely on your tips to guide my language learning. I save all your missives in case you decide to be silent – which if this happens i hope won’t be for a very long time! Grazie mille, Daniel.
Gillian King says
Yes, enjoyment is primary for me. I’m even getting to enjoy Daniel’s emails!
I like language structure, so I’m happy to chat with my Skype teacher about that. Her linguistic knowledge is formidable!
This is the third comment I’ve posted recently, but the others haven’t appeared. So this may be my last try.