Some kid came into the school the other day while I was sitting on reception hoping to mind my own business.
He wanted to do a course to prepare for a certain English exam – I’ll spare you the details.
(We also teach English, though a lot less these days, mostly it’s Italian now.)
What for? I asked.
For a masters degree. They want a certificate showing he has at least a B2 in English, apparently.
When by? was my next question.
February, he told me.
I asked him if he’d checked whether that particular exam was available between now and February.
And if it was, whether the results would be available within the deadline set by the masters course people?
So why this particular exam?
Ah! Because that’s the level they’re asking for. He’s checked – it’s the only exam at that level.
That’s true, I told him. But there are other exams (again, I’ll spare you the details) which are not fixed at a particular level but give their results on a scale from zero to nine or zero to one hundred and twenty.
Those are available monthly, I informed him. And you’ll get the results within fifteen days.
In fact, they’re specifically designed for situations like this.
Perhaps you can check if the university would accept those exams, and if so, what ‘punteggio’ they would regard as equal to B2?
I’ll do that, he agreed.
And also contact the exam providers and verify that they have places for the date or dates that interest you?
OK! the kid says.
Then, I added, come back here, tell me what ‘punteggio’ the masters guys want, and I’ll check your current level and tell you WHETHER you need a preparation course at all.
And if your English isn’t good enough? I’ll tell you that too, so you can rethink your plans.
Off he goes, hopefully having a clearer idea of what he needs to do next.
Beh, why am I telling you this?
“WHAT FOR?” is a very useful question.
“I want to learn Italian.”
“I want to be fluent.”
“I want to understand everything I hear.”
“I want to make fewer errors.”
“I want to improve my pronunciation.”
And so on and so forth.
Some objectives are already evident:
“I want to be able to read novels in Italian” probably doesn’t require a WHAT FOR?
Unless it’s out of pure curiosity.
Nor does “I want to be able to communicate with the builders that are working on the house I recently bought in Italy.”
But often, asking WHY about the WHAT is the key to figuring out the HOW (and the WHEN).
Let me give it a try on myself.
“I want to continue improving my level in Swedish.”
To show I can. And because it’s an interesting process and I’m a language teacher. And because I enjoy it. And because it pleases my (half-Swedish) wife and her family. And because, after a few years of listening to Swedish radio, I’m in the habit of it.
So lots of reasons!
“I want to be able to read in Turkish.”
Because I can’t, though I know the language reasonably well. And not being able to read (it’s a lot harder than listening…) means that a lot of doors are closed. And because it’s something that I haven’t been able to do for nearly thirty years and it frustrates the hell out of me.
So good reasons. But evidently not good enough as this is a desire that I’ve held for decades yet never done anything much about achieving.
Your turn, now.
You want to learn Italian, or to improve the Italian you already know in some way.