I’m approaching the end of a thirty-year career attempting to teach English to people who, mostly, had no real idea how to learn, other than repeating what had already not worked very well (studying tenses, and so on…)
Since 1998, those people have mostly been Italians, who, frankly, are some of the worst students in the world, speaking English as if it were Italian (no perfect tenses, no continuous forms), obsessing over the wrong things, and showing little interest in actually listening to or reading the language as it’s actually used.
The exceptions were the Harry Potter generation – those rare kids who were so into the boy wizard that they couldn’t wait for the translation to come out, and so, quite by accident, turned into nearly bilingual adults (a later addiction to Netflix TV series helped with their listening skills.)
Two more weeks to go! And then I’m ‘retiring’, albeit without any form of pension.
From June 10th, no more lesson planning, no more photocopying, no more evening classes, so no more going to bed without having had time to digest a late dinner!
Over and over again during those thirty years, I have observed that many learners, of English, but also of other languages (Italian in your case), are doing the work but not reaping the rewards.
In recent years I’ve been experimenting somewhat, learning Swedish and picking up other languages that I used to know, or studied at school.
The idea was to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. If I was going to write about learning languages, I’d need to be actually learning some, not just teaching one.
So, putting into practice what I preach, instead of ‘studying’. Instead of beginning with grammar, I…
A few weeks ago someone snidely emailed to comment that, while he understood that I earned my living marketing ebooks, my articles had become too commercial, and often contained little of value. He’d stopped opening them.
Actually, I earn my living, or did until the pandemic killed it off almost entirely, teaching English to real people, in a real classroom (and on Zoom while that was forbidden), both adults of all ages and levels, and children from the age of three.
I’m a well-qualified, hugely-experienced, language teacher, and have, over the years, been a teacher-trainer (the best bit of that was meeting my wife), Director of Studies, examiner, and for the last seventeen years, owner of a language school in Italy. I’ve taught CEOs of billion dollar companies, and toddlers with urine-soaked clothes – on the same day!
It’s a sideline, but a fun one. I get to commission stories from young writers, and watch them grow as a result. We’ve done hundreds of titles over the years, and some of them are as good as anything you could buy from a ‘real publisher’, or better!
I publish and market (see below) the materials that I wish I could have had access to, twenty or more years back, when I was sowing my own seeds on stony ground.
Until now, I’ve never taken a cent out of the business (but as I said, I’m ‘retiring’ with no pension, so plan to.)
The point of it all, invece, was to try to bridge the huge gap between all the free materials on the club website, and the goals that most students rightly have – of understanding, and of being able to communicate.
Do the free grammar exercises. But then what?
At a certain point I also started taking one-to-one lessons myself, in the languages I was learning, and, seeing how effective that could be, began offering lessons with native-speaker teachers.
That did well – lots of teachers we knew were grateful to have a chance to earn, or to supplement what little they made from their regular jobs.
And the feedback, from students who have improved their speaking and their self-confidence, has been amazing, a reward in itself.
And still, I didn’t earn a cent.
The stony ground?
Many students, perhaps most students, are learning in a vacuum. They learn new words, they get their heads around unfamiliar grammar structures, but what they’ve learnt is hard to retain, so progress feels beyond reach.
BESIDES studying, learning also requires students to put the new language into practice.
People need to hear the grammar and vocabulary used.
They need to read it.
And they need to have opportunities to use it themselves, over and over again, until it becomes habitual and natural.
At a certain point, I realised that however well something was taught, if it wasn’t going to be used – regularly, intensively, meaningfully – then it was unlikely to stick.
The reading, the listening, the interactions with native speakers are the fertile ground in which you plant your seeds.
Little more effort is required.
The rain falls, the sun warms the moist ground, time passes.
Green shoots appear, then a small plant, then a mature plant, with fruit of its own.
These articles can take a long time to write, and writing them (and all the other things I do) has mostly displaced ‘paid work’, which was just as well, given the market for teaching English these days.
I never had in mind to be a writer, still less to write ‘commercial’ emails (the horror!)
But, in the decade or so I’ve run the club, I’ve seen that learners need to be shown other ways.
People need things explained. They have to be convinced to try.
And that where there are no, or few, materials to hand, someone needs to make sure they become available.
This isn’t my job, it’s my vocation.
Go study tenses if you must.
But don’t say that no one ever told you there were other ways to learn!
Ebook offer – last few days!
Here’s a final reminder about this week’s half-price Ebook of the Week, ‘2 giugno 1946‘, said date coming up next week, actually. Which is, of course, why I’ve chosen it. (SEE WHAT A BORE WRITING THIS IS??)
Bologna, 2nd of June 1946. Italy is slowly recovering from the devastating effects of World War II. A referendum has been organised to decide whether the reborn state will be a republic or continue as a monarchy. And for the first time in history, Italian women can go to the polls! Newly-wed Marcella is so excited at the prospect she barely slept last night. But her husband, Antonio, is unconvinced…
- .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 any level
- 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.
Thursday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news includes a reminder about their bimonthly appeal for cash! (OH MAN, HE’S ASKING FOR MONEY AGAIN!)
If your Italian has improved as a result of regular reading/listening to their thrice-weekly bulletins (which cost £1000 a month to produce), why not help out with a donation?
This page has a choice of currency options and, if you scroll down, full instructions on how to navigate the payment process.
If, on the other hand, your Italian hasn’t (yet) improved, then make sure you’re reading and listening to each bulletin (read advice on how to do that).