Coming on Monday we have the next ‘easy’ Italian reader ebook in our ‘Literature’ series, Luigi Pirandello’s rather odd ‘Uno, nessuno e centomila‘, about a young man who gets himself into rather a lather about the way others perceive him.
If you’ve finished Pinocchio (I haven’t, yet), or never started it, or started it but quit because you didn’t like it, then you can make a start on the ‘real’ book this weekend, assuming you’ve nothing more interesting to do. The full version is out of copyright, so can easily be found with a Google search for the title and .pdf. I found this one, for instance, which I’ll be reading myself when I’m done with the infuriating puppet.
Why this particular classic from Italian literature? Because it’s relatively short, and hopefully quite easy to read (I just scanned a few pages, though.) We have ‘I promessi sposi‘ coming, but that’s a hairy mammoth of a book, so best we build up our reading muscles first, before confronting it with spears and shouts.
More details about the new ‘easy reader’ on Monday, then. Do we want a Mini-Book Club for this one, too? If so, please email or comment to let me know.
So then, on to today’s topic, which came out of various interactions I had with club members after Wednesday’s article. In particular, several people wanted to know HOW to read in Italian without translating every word. If you scroll down far enough, you’ll see Anthony’s comment and my reply.
Personally, I would have thought that the ‘how’ of not translating when reading or listening was obvious – if you’re reading FOR READING, for example, that is to say, in order to follow the story or to be able to brag to your neighbours that you read Pinocchio in the original Italian, then why would you want to translate every word? Much of it would be untranslatable anyway, but even if it was, what you’ve set out to do is to ‘read’ not to translate. No one’s paying you to translate it, so why do it? It slows you down, distracts you from the plot, and so on.
Whereas if, for example, you were old-fashioned enough to think that translating all thirty-six chapters of Pinocchio would be a good way to learn Italian (or perhaps you’re locked in a Chinese gaol with no other resources except an old paperback copy?) then fine, go ahead. But at that point, what you’re doing is translating, not reading. The reading part is an element, sure, but it’s not your primary focus.
True reading is a fluid, natural process and one that many (not all) of us mastered by around the beginning of adulthood and have used each day since then. I can assure you that that skill can be converted to reading in your foreign language. Depending on WHICH foreign language, that might be easier or harder to do, but with time and practice, it’s feasible. Promise.
Again though, reading in, say Italian, so as to develop the skill of reading, is an activity with a specific purpose, and so needs to be pursued with that purpose kept firmly in mind. If you’re training yourself to read in a natural way, for future profit and entertainment, then why would you want to indulge in counter-productive practices such as pondering obscure grammar points or looking up unknown words in a dictionary.
But back to today’s topic: studying or learning?
You know what studying is – lessons, homework, revision, testing, memorisation, reading, research – there are many possible components. You may, for example, read a book suggested by your teacher, take notes of the salient points on index cards (perhaps using an array of colored pens ) with a view to absorbing the main points and having suitable materials handy for revision before the final exam.
If you happened to be an Italian teenager or university student, then you would likely have this off to a fine art (because that’s basically all the education system does here – set study goals and verify that they are met.) And once you have completed the process, passed the exam or got the grade, you then have the satisfaction of trash-canning your multi-colored index cards in a symbolic moment of both celebration and protest: that at least is DONE, it has been STUDIED, so can now be FORGOTTEN and need never be thought of again.
Whereas learning? I recall my first job post-university, during the first months of which I was expected to learn how to write letters in an appropriate style (I was a junior civil servant for a couple of years).
I was also required to master the technology of the day – an aged dictation machine with a hand-held mic on the end of a curly wire, like an old-style telephone. Once dictated, I would extract the tapes bearing my precious words and walk them down to the typists’ room where ‘my’ typist would listen to them, type them up, and bring them back for my signature (and a long gossip) a few days later.
Finally, my neatly-typed missives would be dropped off at the post room, a windowless hole I recall, where the most junior employee in the entire building would fold them, put them in envelopes, seal the envelopes using a moist sponge, and run a batch of them through a franking machine, before filling an official grey canvas sack that would later be collected by the Post Office.
It took me a couple of weeks, or perhaps a few months, to get my part in this convoluted process right, in part because no one showed me HOW to use the dictation machine, HOW to speak my thoughts so they would be recorded on the magnetic tape (without making notes beforehand, which was disapproved of.)
In part, too, because I had to unlearn the style of writing that I’d been trained in while reading Modern History and Political Science and writing essays about what I’d read. Letters from the government had a very different sound to them, but once I’d been corrected by my immediate boss a few times, and had read enough examples written by colleagues to make me wish I’d chosen a different career, I got the hang of it.
You can ‘learn’ without ‘studying’, see?
And of course, you can ‘study’ without ‘learning’.
I’d say that a key to unlocking the processes of foreign-language-learning (there are many, with different keys, sorry…) is to understand when you are ‘studying’ (and why) and when you are ‘learning’, bearing in mind that these can, potentially, be mutually-exclusive.
If you ‘study’ a lot, but never read, or listen, or speak, perhaps that’s sub-optimal? You would ‘learn’ more if you ‘studied’ less but devoted time to activities that promoted ‘learning’ (say, watching a TV series in Italian without English subtitles, or scanning the news headlines each day and picking out an article or two to read.)
Or if you are like me, so incredibly lazy about ‘studying’, though happy to be ‘learning’ through doing – conversation lessons, reading, listening and so on – then it must be admitted that that approach too could be sub-optimal.
I confess, I might learn faster if I ALSO studied. Especially Spanish, in which I am a near beginner and typically do zero outside of my weekly 30-minute lesson.
Ideally then, a mix. Some ‘studying’ and some activities which promote ‘learning’. So far I should hope that that’s all fairly obvious.
The problem, of course, is what mix of activities would work best and how best to combine them (or whether even to try.)
Say, for the sake of argument, that you are happy working your way through your grammar book, ‘studying’ each topic in that comforting and traditional way. That’s just fine, though it might be a bitter pill to swallow when you realise that your progress with the language as a whole would likely be much enhanced were you to do less of what you’re comfy with – half as much perhaps – so as to spend more time reading, listening and speaking.
In effect, you’d have to add at least three new ‘learning-promoting activities’ to your repertoire, which involves risk (you might fail, you might be wasting valuable ‘studying time’) and uncertainty (results won’t be available to evaluate until some time later.)
It would be the same for me, were I to decide to cut the time I spend reading newspapers, listening to the radio and chatting with online teachers so as to confront the dreaded Spanish grammar monster. Where on earth would I begin, and how would I know I wasn’t wasting my time, slowing down rather than speeding up my progress? It’s a scary thought.
There are books, online courses and, of course, teachers – any one of which would partially-solve the problem. But no course or syllabus will be personalised exactly to your needs and preferences, and even the most skilled teacher at first knows little to nothing about you, and certainly not what your priorities are or how you prefer to learn/study (unless they ask – which they often don’t.)
In the end, then, the responsibility for getting the ‘mix’ (of studying/learning activities, materials, opportunities) remains yours.
In the short-term, there’s no guaranteed way to optimise that ‘mix’, but if you’re willing to try new things, and allow them time to have an impact before evaluating the results, you will, eventually, develop the experience needed to ‘teach yourself’.
Here’s a tip.
Look at what you normally do with your language-learning and identify the obvious gaps. Prioritise learning how to fill those gaps. So if, like me, you never ‘study’ but only ‘learn by doing’, then it would be a reasonable assumption that there might be gains to be had from adding a few hours a week of basic grammar exercises or memorising.
Most people are not like me, though. For them, the opposite holds true – if you don’t read or listen to authentic materials, why not make a start, even a page or article a day, or five minutes of radio while you’re cooking or commuting? Try a a conversation lesson (or ten) if you can afford it. What’s to lose? A few hours with a grammar book that you could easily catch up if your experiments didn’t bring results?
If it was me, I’d say ‘learning 80%’, ‘studying 20%’.
Do it the other way around if you wish, so ‘studying 80%’ and ‘learning 20%’.
But if you’re currently doing ‘studying 100%’ ‘learning 0%’, I’d argue that you’d very likely get better results, and have more fun, if you were to remix that, experiment some.
And yes, of course it’s hard.
Especially at the begining.
Sticking with what you know you can do is much easier.
But not necessarily best.
A lunedì, allora.
We made 6000! (Subscribers to EasyItalianNews.com.)
6015, actually, which is great.
But hey, you did the easy part and subscribed (it’s free), now you have to do the not-so hard-either part, and actually read/listen to the three, free bulletins of ‘easy’ news we email you each week.
The trick is to do it as soon as you get the email, rather than putting it off.
Open the email, click the audio link to start it playing, listen and read.
Don’t stop to check words or listen again. Listen and read all the way through to the end.
There, that’s maybe eight minutes of your life used up.
No one says you have to STUDY it – just read/listen to it.
Listening/reading once is the minimum, but two or three times would be more productive…
Got half an hour, three times a week? Now you know what you could do with it.
Do that – just read/listen – each time and I BET, I am absolutely 100% sure, that in a few months you will notice that you read/listen to Italian more confidently, whether it’s simplified materials like our ‘easy reader’ ebooks or actual, authentic Italian.
Try it for a couple of months and you’ll seee.
There’s loads of grammar to study on the club website.
I’ve done it all, though remembered virtually none of it…