Did I mention I’ve started taking online Swedish lessons?
I think not.
For those of you who may be new around here, it was about a year ago that I got the idea that it would help my writing about language learning if I were actually DOING some language learning (my days of studying Italian being long behind me.)
So we had a vote regarding which language I should attempt. Plenty of people wrote in with their choices.
But no, the consensus amongst club members was that I should study Swedish…
My mother-in-law’s native tongue!
She was very pleased, of course.
As was my wife.
And, in fact, I confess that it hasn’t worked out so badly.
Despite a long-ish gap over the summer, during which time I carried my Swedish text books all the way around Texas without ever opening them, I’m still going.
That said, studying from the text book, then later with Duolingo (on the recommendation of many of you…), while I’ve learnt a lot, I didn’t really do any speaking.
Repeating things to learn the pronunciation, yes.
Actually using language to communicate my thoughts, like none at all.
If someone asked, I could barely say more than “My name is…” and “I live in Bologna.”
Let me tell you, too, that, when you’re a beginner, the LAST person you want to practice with is a close family member, like my Swedish-speaking wife.
Or a less-close one, like her mum, come to that.
To cut a long story short, we have a ‘free trial lesson’ offer coming up (next week, and it’s genuinely free!)
So I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by taking some online Swedish lessons.
The idea was to try to ‘activate’ what I’ve been studying and actually start speaking,even a little!
While, at the same time, doing some market research and getting some ideas on what to write about next week when it’s time to get you guys having a go.
Last week I had my own free trial lesson, with a competitor I found advertising on Google.
It lasted thirty minutes, which was quite long enough as it was unexpectedly tiring.
There was a lot of English spoken, which was a shame. I hope our online teachers have the experience to do things better.
But my overall feeling was positive (and hey, it was free!)
Afterwards, I had no doubt that it would be worth signing up for a pack of credits and taking some more.
So come Monday I did the first paid-for lesson, which was useful.
My poor teacher, though…
I did mention that I’m a language teacher myself, but as my Swedish is so bad (at the moment) I’m not sure she registered it.
I also do the occcasional online lesson, and each week lots and lots of ‘live’ one-to-one lessons.
So I have a good idea of what I want, and how things should work.
I’m fifty years old (femtio är gammal) and have been teaching for longer than my teacher has been in this world.
I’m therefore making a big effort to be patient.
There’s no doubt it takes some time to form a working relationship with an individual student (classes are easier…)
But guess what?
Last night I dreamt in Swedish.
And out for a walk with my wife yesterday evening, I found the confidence to practice a little with her.
“You can actually speak!” she told me.
Beh, more on online lessons next week (I’ve booked another Swedish lesson for this Friday morning, right after doing the club article…)
So why am I telling you this, apart from the obvious?
Well, perhaps the point is that when you’re learning a language, there are all sorts of traps that you are certain to fall into.
For example, do you know what colour ‘blu’ is?
Well of course you do!
Working in Italy, as an (English) language teacher, means I have to do whatever it takes to earn a buck.
Over the last twenty years, this has been a zero-growth economy, with incomes still where they were, or worse, when I arrived in 1998.
This is not an easy place to get a job, and not an easy country to run a business in (which is why the club is based in the UK…)
But while native-speaker pre-school teachers are easy to find, they’re impossible to keep.
They tend to be young women who like kids. They work with us for a year or two, show lots of enthusiasm, and eventually get really good.
And then they have their own kids, and that’s the end of that.
So my wife and I end up doing it ourselves.
Lesson number one: one of the best ways to keep pre-schoolers happy and learning is colouring!
Which, conincidentally, is also a very handy starting point for teaching a foreign language to someone small enough to be fairly unsure what that might be.
Picture me sitting around a little green plastic table with a bucket of felt-tipped pens and a group of contented four-year olds, who are carefully colouring between the lines.
“What colour do you want?” I ask, holding the bucket up, out of grabbing reach.
“Blue?” I repeat, modelling the correct pronunciation, and offering a light blue pen.
Dark blue is the popular colour for kids (along with red, yellow and green…)
So the dark blue pens get used up rapidly and thrown away, leaving just the light blue ones…
Trying to convince a child that light blue and dark blue are equivalent, when it comes to colouring what is clearly a dark-blue kangaroo, would present a challenge for any marketer.
And sure enough…
“Non è blu. E’ azzurro!” the child tells me.
It’s obvious to her that I’m an idiot.
Besides not speaking properly, I don’t even know the colours!
Today’s free Italian lesson, you may not be surprised to hear, is on colours.
It’s suitable for beginners, or near beginners (like myself, in Swedish).
And unusually, there was no re-writing for me to do.
I just left it as it was, with the original intern-style English rubric.
Click here to give it a go:
If you’re not a beginner, it should take you about thirty-seconds.
If you are, invest a little longer to memorise the colours.
This week I’ve learnt the days of the week by heart, having discovered during Monday’s online lesson that I was incapable of talking about my weekend or my plans for the week.
I also realised that, despite having studied the past over and over again, in both my book and on Duolingo, and being able to understand it when I heard it, I couldn’t use it in speech at all!
So today and tomorrow, I’m memorising past tense verbs (regular and irregular) and practising saying what I did today, yesterday, this week and so on.
‘Gick’ (looks like ‘sick’ but means ‘went’…)
Come Friday, I’m planning to AMAZE my teacher!