It rained overnight in Bologna, so was cloudy and cooler this morning when I woke.
I hadn’t slept at all well, due to corona virus-related worrying, possibly aggravated by a rather-too-rich homemade pizza (con salame piccante e molto gorgonzola!) and a bottle of strong Spanish red (Lidl has an ‘all things Spanish’ offer on, so I thought I’d show solidarity in these difficult times.)
Insomma, I made a rather gloomy start to the week, and fired up my laptop with less than the usual enthusiasm.
But then, regular morning job, I logged on to the club website to check if any comments needed scanning for spam / approving, and there, on the Pinocchio Mini-Book Club page, I found some inspiration!
Minou, Laura and Chris had all been hard at work since I last looked, writing interesting comments, now approved and visible to all.
Laura has almost finished the ‘real’ Pinocchio, and plans to do so today. Minou proposes a question for discussion – were there earlier myths or folklore that inspired Pinocchio? I’ve no idea. Does anyone?
And Chris, bless her, has been following my advice (reading without using a dictionary) and reports making rapid and enjoyable progress with the story.
They’re all way ahead of me, as I’m about to start XV (out of XXXVI?). Well done, ladies!
Which made me think – OK, I’m locked down still, but there’s plenty I could be doing with my time that would be useful and FUN!
Besides giving myself a kick in the rump and getting on with Pinoccio a little faster, I have weeks, possibly months, of notes made for me by my online teachers that I should write up, check unknown words, and so on.
So that’s a couple of days this week usefully employed.
E poi, well… here are some of the other things I might well get around to if this positive mood continues:
- Get back into the habit of listening to the radio in ‘my’ languages (a routine which fell by the wayside when our house became permanently full of family members and I no longer had to take the bus to work each day
- Scan the newspaper headlines (which I do) and read at least one article in each language (which I mostly don’t)
- Explore TV channels available free online – I have the apps on my phone, but never established the habit of using them
- Review the absolute basics of Spanish grammar – the main irregular verbs and so on – which I studied on Duolingo but have now totally forgotten – in preparation for Friday’s online lesson
- Actually use a few of our own easy reader ebooks for the languages I’m studying? Well why not
- Pick up where I left off (18 months ago) with my Swedish course book, which cost a lot and is actually interesting and fun
There are also a few things I almost certainly WON’T be doing:
- Making lists of words (or sets of flashcards) to memorise
- Studying or revising grammar in isolation from any meaningful context i.e. working through exercises in a grammar book or on a website
- Translating, either from or into the languages I’m learning
IF I get my act together this week, then my focus will mostly be on the ‘macro’ rather than the ‘micro’ – so establishing interesting, motivating HABITS, which, once bedded in should be easy to stick to, and so keep paying back over the months and years to come.
Rather than worrying about the DETAILS, because, after all, there are an almost infinite number of those. A language is an incredibly complex structure to start with (billions or trillions of combinations of grammar and vocabulary, for example). Moreover, it’s a system that’s shared by tens or hundreds of millions of people, and given that those users/participants will range from young children to wrinkled centenarians, the language will display huge variations in the way it’s used and understood.
Flashcards and grammar books are useful tools at the beginning, I acknowledge. In part because it’s much more obvious what a beginner should study (numbers, food words, parts of the body, present and past tense etc.) and in part because you may not yet have the breadth of knowledge to do anything more interesting. This is especially true if the language you’re studying bears little resemblance to your native tongue, or to other languages that you know.
But ideally, and as soon as possible, you need to be immersing yourself in the community of users of the language that you hope to master (online is fine) and getting to know what they’re talking about, what they read in their newspapers, what MATTERS to them right now.
For best results, discard the idea that the foreign language is an abstract system of grammar and vocabulary, unchanging in time (like Latin or Ancient Greek, for example? But actually, there are different types of Latin, apparently, and clear evidence that they have evolved over the centuries and perhaps even continue to evolve.)
Yes, you could, in theory, study Italian grammar as a theoretical construct, practice sufficiently to master it, test yourself to verify that, learn a few tens of thousands of the most common words, and be ready therefore, to exit your darkened room, on to a street in, say Roma or Napoli, blinking in the sun and wondering why on earth you couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying.
If you REALLY want to learn a langauge, be it living or ‘dead’, my suggestion would be that you should ABSOLUTELY include training yourself in reading/listening to the local media, but also other cultural elements (cinema, music, sport, whatever rings your bell).
This is for two reasons: firstly, if NOT, if the way that people use the language to communicate things amongst themselves interests you little or not at all, then why are you bothering?
And secondly, well it’s simply much more meaningful, so more memorable, so easier! Learning words (and grammar) in context is what your brain is pre-programmed to do. But it’s not the main thing that you’re doing with your head at any given moment – you’re having a conversation, or reading a newspaper article, or listening to the radio – the language-learning is a by-product, something that is going on, perhaps unnoticed in the background.
Don’t like reading, listening or speaking the language you’re studying? Then you’re making things harde for yourself.
I’ll try to sum this up with one example: Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Now you could study Swedish from a book, or in a class, or with Duolingo, or even with an online teacher, for months or years, and you might never hear of the guy.
But walk into any pub in Sweden, or open a newspaper, or eat buns and drink coffee with Swedish friends, or switch on the TV, and you will become familiar quickly with Sweden’s favourite soccer star.
And you will know, then, about Hammarby (a Stockholm club), and why that has outraged Malmö fans, and why that matters, or perhaps doesn’t at all but would make a fine topic for small talk. Recently Zlatan trained with Hammarby, and there’s speculation he may (gasp) even turn out for them at some point!
Know any Swedish people? Go on, give this a try. Just say “Zlatan” and “Hammarby” with a questioning intonation and lo and behold, you’ll be having a conversation. Betcha!
Now what topics would work the same way for Italian, I wonder, over than the corona virus, obviously. It’s up to you to find out.
The secret of language-learning?
You need to care about something besides the grammar. Your brain needs REASONS to learn, and the primary one is to understand what’s going on around you, then to be able to influence that.
Create habits that provide your brain with opportunities to learn (a TV series, reading a book, having a favourite radio program, taking online lessons, making friends, travel, etc.) and you will be well on your way.
Why not start right now, by reading/listening to Saturday’s EasyItalianNews.com bulletin?
Then, make a note to do the same tomorrow and on Thursday and Saturday.
Don’t bother with a dictionary, and chill about the parts you don’t understand. There’s some advice here.
And subscribing, which is free, will make it much easier to create a listening/reading habit.
A mercoledì, allora.
There are thousands of pages of free study material (including loads of grammar and lists of words to memorise…) on the club website.
That site is funded from the sale of online lessons and ebooks for learning Italian (and other languages). Browse the catalog.