Riding my motorbike across the city at seven a.m. this morning, heading to the city’s main hospital to get my blood tested, I was reflecting on how old-fashioned I am about the way I navigate.
If I have to go somewhere I haven’t been before, I’ll look at a map, ideally an actual map made of paper, but if needs be, online. Perhaps Google Maps.
I might make notes of the street names on a sheet of paper, which I’ll then stuff in my jacket pocket, to pull out and consult when I get lost.
On the map I look out for landmarks, in particular railway or motorway bridges, which are very handy for knowing how far I’ve got.
I’ll know, for example, that once I’ve passed under the second railway bridge, I need to take the first right into Via Comesichiama, then left at the next roundabout, and the hospital will be a kilometer further on, on the right.
My wife is three years younger than me, a whole different generation, so doesn’t worry about getting lost because she has the Google Maps app on her smartphone. She just gets in our car, types in her destination, and follows the instructions.
OK, so the Google Maps lady wrongly pronounces ‘Via’ (her vowel sounding like ‘wire’ or ‘higher’, instead of the ‘cheer’/’weir’), but no matter – she gets my wife where she wants to go, no forethought or scraps of paper required.
Better still, the app can tell Stefi how long it’s going to take her to reach her destination, how much traffic there is, and can even modify the route based on its real time data – a main road being closed due to a lorry getting stuck under a low bridge, for instance.
My weak explanation for not adopting this technology myself is that I’m too busy to learn how to use it, though I’m aware that the app came pre-installed on my smartphone, and that it would probably only take me a minute or two to figure out.
A better reason is that I’m secretly proud of my skill in plotting my way, fairly approximately, from one part of an unknown city to another.
If I can see the Appennini (a moutain range that runs down the Italian ‘leg’ and right past Bologna, where I live) then I know that going right, parallel to it, means north-east, while turning left would mean I was heading south-west.
Signs to the ‘tangenziale’ (the bypass cum motorway/interstate that runs around the city in a semicircle on the other side to the mountains) give me an idea of my location. If the signs point towards the mountains, I’m on the outskirts. If they point towards the plain, I’m nearer the center.
Cross a river and I must be heading north-east, towards Modena, mountains on the left.
Mountains on the right? Next stop, Imola, where they have the Grand Prix.
Terrain’s all flat and no mountains in sight? I’ll end up in Ferrara if I’m not careful, where, as every Bolognese knows, they eat eels, frogs and snails, for want of real food.
You get the idea. But I’m a dinosaur, I know!
I tried to explain the benefit of learning to navigate in an unknown city to my kids.
My top tip for Italy – if you’re in a medieval city, of which there are many, follow any of the ‘spoke’ roads out from the historic center and you’ll likely find a road that runs around the city walls, or where the walls once stood. Then look out for green and white signs to the interstate. Easy!
But I can see why the kids are polite but sceptical, and why my students/readers would snap up the Google Maps of language learning…
Just type in where you want to get to and it’ll tell you how long to your destination, and exactly what you have to do, step by step, until you get there.
Apart from the fact that teachers are out of a job (and frankly, I’ve little sympathy), what’s not to like?
An app on your phone that makes all the learning decisions for you.
Jättebra (Super cool!), as the Swedes would say.
I’d definitely buy stocks in any company bringing a product like that to market, then quit education and live off the dividends!
Google Maps might not work so well for planning a journey that takes many years… especially if en route the driver was constantly changing her mind about the destination.
The lack of ‘roads’ might be an issue, too.
Rather than a straightforward ‘on to the nearest interstate, drive north for an hour, then ten minutes to downtown and direct to the parking garage’, learning Italian or another language is more like Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in Eighty Days‘.
Phileas Fogg’s friends assumed such a journey was impossible (this was before jet planes), and so were willing to wager £20,000 that he wouldn’t manage it.
Perhaps you have friends or family members who assume you’ll never learn Italian, or secretly think so yourself?
As I recall from my childhood, it was only with the help of an elephant and a wind-powered sledge that (spoiler!) Phileas won his bet.
But even if there were an interstate for language learning, so no steamships required, how would that help if travellers all had different ideas of their destinations?
Not to mention that a good proportion of students seem wedded to language learning methodolgies that were developed hundreds of years ago for teaching Latin and Ancient Greek to the sons of the priviliged (translation, grammar books, rote learning, etc.)
The state of the art is still donkeys and carts, rather than Teslas.
Plus, while potential ‘Google Maps for language learning’ users will surely download the app in their hundreds of millions, and set about planning their journeys, despite the difficulties, how many of them are going to set off enthusiastically one sunny morning, then quit before lunch and head back home?
Or get a quarter of the way there, then turn back because there’s still so far to go? Perhaps that’s the reason Elon Musk choose space flight rather than language teaching.
It’s easier! No one’s going to make billions from developing language learning technology, when the outcome is so dependent on the users’ time, motivation and decision-making.
Guess you’ll just have to learn to look out for railway bridges and mountain ranges.
Thursday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news is here.
IF you read/listen to it three times a week for long enough, it’ll likely get you closer to your destination, though that obviously depends on where you want to end up.
But anyway, it’s cheaper than renting an elephant.
OnlineItalianClub.com | EasyItalianNews.com | EasyReaders.org (ebooks) | NativeSpeakerTeachers.com (1-1 lessons)
I just want to say how encouraging your emails are. In spite of still not feeling confident speaking Italian I now can read it quite well ( at my level ) and understand/ get the gist of what my online teacher is saying to me. I just wish my speaking was at the same level! When asked a question I think of the answer in English then can’t seem to simplify it enough to translate into Italian. All the Italian words I really know disappear from my brain 🙄. I know I should try and think in Italian but that’s easier said than done especially when trying to keep a conversation going.
Anyway I have no intention of giving up as I enjoy it so much.
Thanks again for your emails, easyitalian news and everything else on your site.
bob mylchreest says
Hope you were also concentrating on the road, conditions and other users, whilst mind wandering on the road to nowhere !
We must be from the same generation, at least map-wise, for I do the same as you (except I don’t have a motorbike), and my a few years younger partner relies on Google Maps.
Penny O'Callaghan says
just a comment on using the maps app on your phone for navigating. I changed mine to speak to me in Italian. To start with I only dared use it on semi familiar routes but now it has become second nature and I actually prefer it as the radio may be on in English so the Italian stands out.
And the best thing? When my husband is with me in the car he has now given up arguing with the Sat Nav suggestions as he used to do before