I was chatting with my online Turkish teacher this morning, more or less in Turkish, which was pleasing, about the proliferation of ‘free’ Italian courses in our city.
Various organisations offer language teaching for immigrants and the like, though she pointed out that she’d met plenty of people who, like her, could have afforded to pay for a course like the ones we offer at our school, yet chose to attend a free course, staff by volunteers or teachers working for nothing to get some experience.
And why not? Free, after all, is free.
I do plenty of free things to improve my own language skills. Listening to the radio, for example, reading news apps, and talking to whoever will listen!
She was worried that this sort of competition would be a problem for us, though I’m not. I also pay for lessons, and very good value they are too!
My Swedish has gone from zero to intermediate in, what, two and a half years? Yesterday, I was chatting to the Swedish grandmother of one of my pre-school students. She later told my wife how impressed she was at the progress I’d made.
An individual lesson a week, for a year or more, will cost perhaps a couple of thousand euros? Less, probably. That’s not even what a typical Italian spends on clothes and shoes, or dental work.
And for your money and time you get an improvement of perhaps a level (there are six).
Keep it up for half a decade and you’ll be having sophisticated conversations and understanding normal conversation, plus much of what you hear on the radio or TV.
Total cost of a new language, perhaps five or six thousand of whatever currency your brain understands best, spread out over a good chunk of your life – the accounting term would be amortized.
Or you could spend the money all in one chunk with a four-to-six month long course, and so go from zero to hero in the eyes of colleagues and loved ones.
We have students at the school, people who marry Italians, for example, or missionaries sent from civilisation to convert the heathen Italian hordes, who arrive knowing nothing and leave – six months or a year later – ready to procreate or preach.
Learning a language gradually, online from the comfort of your own home, works just fine, too. But takes longer.
Doing it intensively, in a professionally-organised language school with teachers who have had decades of experience, usually in the country where the language is spoken, is much faster. Though it does take cash up front.
In my opinion, going to the country where the language you want to learn is spoken, then messing about with free courses taught by beginners or amateurs, is a poor solution. Especially if you have an alternative.
“Time is money”, I told her. When you’re taking one of these free classes, you’re using time that you could be teaching me, and so earning money.
And yet the equation works the other way, too. Plenty of people have money, more than they will ever need, and yet do nothing with it through lack of time (or lack of motivation, or out of fear).
Spend the money or spend the time?
Perhaps you have neither?
That’s not uncommon.
When I came to Italy I did next to nothing to learn Italian – no free courses, no paid course – because I had to find a job, support my growing family, and so on.
Years passed before I was able to look back and think: if only I had prioritised my own learning at the start, if only I had INVESTED, how different the situation would have been!
That said, I still don’t spend more than a couple of hours a week taking language lessons, and I still don’t invest significant quantities of cash in myself.
However, I HAVE discovered, and now swear by, the power of postive study habits, pardon me for banging on about this.
For over a year now, I’ve been listening to easy news broadcasts in Swedish and reading Swedish news apps INSTEAD of listening to British radio or reading the newspapers that, hitherto had seemed to be an essential part of my life.
I was chatting to a student at the school yesterday, Maria, and she said something along the lines of, yes but you have to relax sometime, you can’t always be studying!
THAT’S the point!
With no investment of time or cash – though a degree of mental energy and determination is required – it’s perfectly feasible to RESET parts of your life – your reading habits, say, or the language you default to when you watch a TV series, or what you listen to while having breakfast or commuting to work, so that every day you are hearing/reading the language you wish to learn!
The first couple of months is hard.
After that, though, you’ll find that watching a TV series IN the language you are studying, getting your news IN the language you are learning, becomes RELAXING ANYWAY.
You watch TV to relax?
Spend some time and mental energy CONVERTING that habit – and yes, it’s hard at first, and yes, you won’t understand much at first.
But later, you’ll sit back and watch the return from your investment pile up, as your understanding and knowledge of grammar and vocabulary improve incrementally and with no effort whatsoever.
It’s a miracle!
And best of all?
Assuming you substitute listening/reading in Italian (or whatever language you’re learning) for listening/reading in English (or whatever your native language is), then you are spending NO EXTRA TIME AT ALL.
Create postive learning habits and the time is money / money is time conundrum becomes irrelevant.
You’re doing what you always do, yet getting more from it.
And yes, obviously, if you start with some decent teaching then the whole process is easier and faster.
But there’s no reason you can’t do it for yourself if you choose too.
N.b. Also from the conversation with Maria, and an Italian guy who was listening in. He said that, yes, once he’d got into the habit of reading in French, it was dead easy to pick up that language, due to the similarities in grammar and vocabulary.
Then, once he went there to study for a few months at a university, it was just a question of ‘activating’ his French. Within a short time he was able to speak and understand with little difficulty.
Insomma, the first language is the hardest.
If Italian is your first foreign language, then of course you will lack experience, you will be uncertain, you will waste time studying grammar that no one ever uses, you will neglect building reading and listening skills, you will focus too much on accuracy when you have a chance to speak, and so on.
But if you’ve learnt other languages before, you can leverage that previous experience and do it better the second time.
And there’s no reason that Italian can’t be a springboard from which to launch yourself into studying other, similar languages. Or even completely different ones!
That corny old saying about giving someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, versus teaching them to fish so they can feed themselves every day?
It’s applicable to language-learning, too.
Don’t have money? Leverage free materials and good advice (there’s loads on the Internet) to at least get started.
Don’t have time? Substitute things you do in your mother-tongue with similar things in the language you want to learn, that is to say, create positive learning habits.
Have time and money? Then you have no excuse really, do you?
Talking of creating postive learning habits, don’t forget to read/listen to Thursday’s EasyItalianNews.com bulletin, which you’ll find here.
Listen to / read three bulletins a week for a year, at a total cost of absolutely nothing at all, then come back and tell me your Italian isn’t way, way better than it was.
Here’s a reminder specifically for upper-intermediate/advanced students…
Don’t forget this week’s new B2/C1-level ‘easy Italian reader’, ‘Prometeo e la guerra dei titani‘.
Buy it before Sunday night and it’ll cost you just £5.99, so 25% less than the usual price!
Download the Free Sample Chapter (.pdf) to take a look. It contains a link to the online audio (for the WHOLE story), which you can listen to for free.
- .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 upper-intermediate level or above
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
Your e-book will be e-mailed to you within 24 hours of purchase.