I receive plenty of emails, and sometimes people comment on our various websites, with positive feedback, with suggestions, or with criticisms.
Given that people have reached out to me, I usually respond to emails, and sometimes to comments. It’s the polite thing to do.
Quite often, though, what people write falls on a scale between ‘irritating’ and ‘infuriating’. For instance, when someone has entirely missed the point of an article or activity, or has understood exactly the opposite of what was intended. Both are common, both very frustrating!!
It’s rare that I have a beef with what experienced language learners write to me, and that now includes many of our excellent club members. But it’s common that those new to language learning manage to wind me up. Guess I should just calm down. Or stop reading emails and comments.
Anyway, recently someone informed me, by way of telling me that English subtitles and translations were absolutely necessary to learn Italian (they’re absolutely not), that there are many ways to learn a language.
No there aren’t.
I’ve been teaching English to adults and children since 1991, which is a long time, and I can assure you that – given the same input and time – almost everyone neurotypical learns at a predictable rate and responds to materials and activities in a predictable way.
N.b. Neurodivergent people – I’ve been teaching a little lad until very recently who I suspect falls into that category – may do things differently, which is a good example of the exception proving the rule!
Generally, though, there are no language learning geniuses, and no dunces either, assuming external factors are taken into account.
For instance a kid with bilingual parents having an easier or harder time than their classmates, or an adult educated to post-graduate level who feels more confident in a language classroom than another adult in the same group who quit school at sixteen.
“I’m not very good at languages” means “I have no experience, or bad experiences, of doing this”.
“She’s very good at foreign languages” encompasses “She’s had lots of opportunities to interact with foreigners”, “She’s had positive experiences learning to communicate in foreign languages”, “She’s supported and motivated to believe that she can learn languages”, and so on.
But back to “There are many ways to learn a language”.
You’ll grant, I assume, that our digestive systems function in broadly the same way? That our bodies use the same ways of extracting nutrients from our food, and expelling waste? In short, that the way you eat and defecate may differ from, say, a squid, or an earthworm, but is the same as the way I do it?
That’s because you and I are products of evolution.
We have the same skeletons, we walk and grasp things with our hands in the same way, we have the same auditory and vision systems, and process inputs from those systems in, it is commonly and reasonably assumed, the same way.
What you see, I see. What you hear, I hear.
So why would we learn differently, all other factors being the same?
We have the same software for speech, we get angry and frustrated in the same way, we love our young, we have different likes and dislikes, but common fears and joys.
I repeat, we are products of evolution (if you believe otherwise, please don’t bother to write and tell me), so billions of years of optimised biological systems, expressed in species that are more, or less, adapted to their environments.
We are well optimised at learning our mother tongue, for obvious reasons, because it offers an excellent return on investment.
Our children learn to speak in broadly the same amount of time as their peers, and with no more difficulty, just as we did when we were infants, and as did the countless generations that came before us.
Kids in bilingual families learn or don’t learn a second language, according to the decisions their parents make (some of which are very dumb, with predictable consequences…)
This is not a mystery. We have a language learning module in our brain, and to function it requires input.
We do not all learn in different ways. We all learn in the same way.
However, we don’t all get the same opportunities, or input.
Compare a popular language learning app, such as Duolingo, and a traditional language classroom.
They are different, right? Learners do different things, in different ways, according to their choices.
Those choices may be better or worse, and will certainly need to be reviewed and modified as time passes.
Learning may happen more quickly, more slowly, or not at all, depending on the inputs.
But the actual learning process is a function of an evolved ability, therefore, for those of us who are neurotypical, by definition, we are all learning in the same way.
My little lad, by the way, was the best in his group at picking up what I said, remembering words he’d heard, and so on. But utterly dreadful at finding the right page in the book, and listening to instructions that everyone else heard and followed. Even getting something to write with out of his bag was a challenge…
But back to our neurotypical language learning module – the trick, if there is one, to getting the best out of it is to make sure it has plenty of input to chew over (talk to your kids, play with them, tell them stories), and to regularly review and optimise your learning activities (less TV more homework, or vice versa) based on your experience over time of what seems to be working.
I explain that in more detail here: How to learn Italian (or any language).
Did you listen to Tuesday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news? I DID, and Saturday’s. So now I’ve caught up, ready for tomorrow’s (che stress!)
It’s level B2/C1, so upper-intermediate/advanced, and this first week it’s disounted 25%, which means £5.99 rather than the usual ‘easy reader’ price of £7.99.
Here’s the blurb from our shop:
Nel 1860 l’Italia non è ancora un unico paese: è divisa in piccoli stati che vengono costantemente attaccati e invasi dalle grandi potenze europee. In questo periodo il sud Italia, dalla Sicilia a Napoli, è occupato dai Borboni. Ed è proprio da qui che il marinaio genovese rivoluzionario e repubblicano Garibaldi e mille volontari (“garibaldini”) spinti dallo spirito patriottico e dall’amore per la libertà, iniziano l’opera di liberazione e unificazione del paese.
“Voi sapete che questa riunione è segreta, giusto? Non potete dire niente a nessuno, ci siamo capiti?!” chiede ansiosamente Raffaele Rubattino, il grande costruttore e proprietario di navi ai tre uomini presenti. Poi si alza dalla sedia e si stropiccia la faccia con la mano.
“Oh mio Dio, cosa sto facendo!” dice Rubattino ridendo nervosamente. Garibaldi, seduto su una sedia di legno, lo guarda con un sorriso sereno, si gratta la barba bionda, si passa una mano fra i capelli lunghi e pettinati all’indietro e poi nasconde le braccia nel suo poncho. Alle sue spalle stanno in piedi Pasquale e Pietro, due garibaldini che lo hanno accompagnato all’incontro. Entrambi sono venditori del mercato, abituati a fare affari, ma questa volta non si tratta di vendere frutta e formaggi!
Garibaldi, che fino a quel momento è rimasto in silenzio, prende la parola con il suo tono autoritario e calmo: “Vi ripeto il piano, signor Rubattino. I vostri lavoratori lasceranno le due navi, che chiameremo il Piemonte e il Lombardo, giù nel porto. Poi i miei uomini le prenderanno. Sembrerà un furto, e con le navi rubate partiremo da Quar…”
- .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 intermediate level or above
- Download your Free Sample Chapter (.pdf)
But what if you don’t read/listen confidently at B2/C1 level?
Not to worry! There are plenty of other ebook options, from beginner upwards, in our online Catalog, all with downloadable free sample chapters and FREE online audio!
How do I access my ebook?
When your order is ‘completed’ (normally immediately after your payment), 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.