Someone wrote to me overnight to compliment me on my podcast about learning Italian ‘fast’, which was clearly an error as I don’t do podcasts, and besides, apart from the word ‘easy’, which we use to describe material which has been intentionally created for learners (‘easy readers’, ‘easy Italian news’), I prefer to avoid the use of adjectives that might lead to unreasonable expectations.
So I replied:
“as a matter of principle I never promise that learning will be ‘fast’. ‘Faster’ maybe, but in general, language-learning is a process that takes years, often decades. People who don’t realise that at the outset make bad decisions and risk demotivation…”
Another correspondent was explaining why he needed everything translated into English, and so preferred our ‘parallel text‘ ebooks to the, in my opinion, methodologically much more valid ‘easy reader‘ ebooks.
I don’t suppose he’ll mind me quoting him:
“so back to, and finishing up on the Ebooks and best method: my problem might be that i’m trying a level or two above my head; and that when i read and listen with no parallel text, i can hardly grasp anything (yes, i read the italian first to see what i can glean) – certainly not enough to follow any kind of narrative…see what i mean? – i mean, how many times do you try that, and for how long, before by some kind of osmosis, bulbs start lighting up? the tough-love route, for sure – and i’m up for that; i don’t want to be pampered; far from it…i just don’t want to get too discouraged too many times…(haven’t clearly expressed my thoughts here, sorry)”
My advice (slightly modified here, as I’d read his very long email too quickly and assumed his problem was listening, when in fact he was writing about problems with reading comprehension, which fewer people seem to find difficut) was:
1. Think of listening/reading as a totally separate things to learn. Not as a consequence of ‘knowing’ the language in other ways. You can ‘know’ a language fairly well, and still find it very hard to decipher texts or audio.
2. Start with the very easiest listening or reading tasks (audio OR text with questions or tasks, NOT BOTH) that you can get your hands on. Our baby level exercises or easy readers, for example. Do those until you feel confident.
3. Move up a half-level and repeat. Do the listening (or reading), do the tasks, evaluate the results. When you’re getting good ones, consistently, move up another half-level or level and repeat.
4. If you want to be anal about it, do a study plan before you begin. Plan to start with A1 listening (or reading) materials. Or, if you’re further along with your Italian, begin at the level below your current one. Do those for a week or two. Then A1/2 for a week or two, then A2 for a week or two. etc.
I can almost guarantee that you would improve your listening (or reading) skills by at least a level or two (so the equivalent to 1-2 years of less-focused, part-time study) in just a few months. Following this approach, with material from zero to advanced, over say 3-4 months, would totally solve your issue.
But see point 1. You have to actually WANT to improve your listening (or reading), which means doing specifically that, and eliminating things which are stopping you improving, such as depending on a translation the whole time.
In short, if you want ‘faster’ results, begin by being clear with yourself about exactly what you’re trying to achieve (raise your listening skills by two levels, for example) and FOCUS on that.
‘Learning Italian’ is not one thing. It’s many, and that trips people up.
A final example: suppose you want to ‘understand everything you hear’ (or read, it’s the same argument.) That’s actually a very unfocused objective, and so unhelpful.
If you know who’s who in Italian politics, what the current issues are, and who stands to gain or lose as things play out, you might be able to understand radio or TV reports on the current government crisis.
Yes, it might take you months or years to get to that point, but if you’re interested enough and you keep at it, you could. I know, because decades back, I did it. From zero to hero, just reading and listening.
And yet, I still have trouble understand my own kids talking to their (Italian) mother at the dinner table!
OK, so they slur their speech and talk with their mouths full. But still, I’m like to my wife, what did she say? What was that he said? Sorry but what are you all on about??
‘Knowing’ a language is not one thing, but a ‘portfolio’ of knowledge (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, idiom, ‘cultural knowledge’) and skills (making small talk, for example, or drafting legal texts, or listening to academics droning on at conferences, or understanding young adults).
Any ‘course’, app, program of self-study, or opportunity for ‘full-immersion’, will not cover all the knowledge or every skill or micro-skill.
However good you get, there’s always something you can’t do as well. That might not be a problem, though. ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’, remember?
I assume my kids aren’t saying anything interesting any how, and know that if they wanted me to know what they were saying they’d tell me in English.
But it might be. If you want, for instance, to be able to listen to Italian operas and understand what you hear as well as you could if the arias and so on where in your own language, then there’s no ‘faster’ way to achieve that than to FOCUS.
That specific thing is what I want to achieve!
That knowledge and those skills are what I will need in order to achieve it.
And these activities are what I need to get myself from here to there.
A final reminder about this week’s new ‘easy Italian reader’ ebook, which is on offer until Sunday night.
Thursday’s bulletin from EasyItalianNews.com is waiting for you to read/listen to, when you have a moment.
Reading/listening to each broadcast three times should take you about half an hour. Do that three times a week and it’ll total around ninety minutes.
Continue for a year (it’s free, so why not?) and you’ll have had approximately 75 hours of listening practice.
That’ll be a couple of levels worth of improvement in your reading/listening and cultural knowledge, right there!