Someone commented recently – I forget who, or where – that it was frustrating not being able to understand all the Italian he read, and so very helpful to have a word-for-word translation into English.
I don’t have a lot of hair, but there’s even less now. And my forehead is bruised from the time spent banging it on the wall. My wife suggested I take up a less stressful occupation, like driving a cab in a busy city.
1.) You won’t understand everything of a foreign language, ever. Accept that quickly, or quit. For you probably don’t understand everything of what you read/listen to in your own language (this is easy to demonstrate, so don’t argue.) Given, therefore, that understanding the language you’re learning is always going to be partial – on a sliding scale from ‘virtually nothing’ to ‘most of it’ – don’t you think you need to get past feeling frustrated?
2.) No? Then let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you read/listened to something in Italian and felt afterwards (probably wrongly, but still…) that you had understood ‘everything’. Hurrah, success! Nope, actually, were this to be the case, then you’d have been wasting your time. For what’s the point of practising what you can already do?? After all, if what you’re reading or listening to is NOT difficult to understand (and so frustrating, if you let it be), then really, what’s the point??
3.) People who read English subtitles while watching Italian TV series, or who rely on an English translation to verify what they’ve understood of an Italian text , the sort of people who insist that EasyItalianNews.com would be EVEN MORE USEFUL if there was an English translation of each article, are, basically, barking up the wrong tree. The entire point of listening and reading practice, and particularly with authentic materials, is to train yourself to deal with the complexities that reading or listening to a language you know less well than your own involves. Complexity here means not understanding some of what you read / listen to. Do the work now, getting used to dealing with that, and then, in the future, when you need to read/listen to something that’s important to you, you’ll be ready. See?
4.) When you’ve been practising reading/listening for a while (weeks, months), you realise that you can get the ‘gist’, the main point or points, without necessarily understanding each detail. And at that point, my friends, you are on your way! You’ve broken away from the pack, you’ve slammed the pedal to the metal, and you’ve nothing but empty road ahead of you! The moment you realise that filling your skull with as much of the language as you can, as often as you can, is the way to go – notwithstanding that you don’t understand ‘everything’, or that other people might see this as ‘frustrating’, or that you might feel that this is ‘lazy’ compared to memorising grammar, THAT’S when you tie on your language-learning black belt and are ready to take on whatever comes.
5.) Assuming you are now “filling your skull with as much of the language as you can, as often as you can” then you will soon notice that of all the unknown elements (usually a lot of what you read/listen to), some of them – let’s say a tenth – are obvious, or easy to guess. That is to say, they WERE unknown, but now they aren’t, as you’ve encountered them out in the wild and survived just fine. Agreed, that still leaves the other nine-tenths of the stuff you didn’t know, but as you keep practising, and keep on assimilating the obvious and the easy to guess, that proportion gets smaller and smaller. This works for grammar, too, not just vocabulary. And for pronunciation, for how can you not listen to hundreds of hours of the language you’re learning without having a better idea what it should sound like? You’d have to be deaf…
Insomma, reading/listening practice is about training yourself to read/listen better in future situations (which in turn helps you with more traditional language studies) but is also a great way to get exposed to more and more of the language you’re learning, at least a fraction of which should be learnable without a dictionary or any particular effort.
Without reading/listening pratice, what are you doing? Memorising conjugations and vocbulary lists? Chasing phony rewards on your app? Good luck with that.
Not-understanding is the point.
Not-understanding is the way forward.
Avoid it and your learning will stall.
Embrace it and soar!
N.b. No need to start practising reading/listening immediately with ‘authentic’ materials, which can indeed be very hard, and so frustrating. That’s what ‘graded’ materials, specifically designed for learners at particular levels, are for. They’re intended to be an easy way in. But the advice is the same – don’t try to understand everything – read/listen, maybe several times, but then move on. Ideally upwards. Oh, and combining ‘graded’ and ‘authentic’ materials is a great approach at lower levels. One final thing – at some point, intermediate/advanced-level learners need to take off the training wheels and only use authentic materials. Don’t forget that part! Still doesn’t mean you’ll understand ‘everything’, though…