In Friday’s episode twenty-four of our FREE 30-part Summer Series of articles with audio on the medieval period in the Italian peninsula (scroll down past The Romans to get to it) we heard and read about the new, self-governing ‘comunes’, which were, perhaps, an early form of democracy.
So what happened next? Did this new, more-representative form of government continue to flower, and so, inevitably, conquer all before it?
Well, of course not!
Italy didn’t become a ‘proper’ democracy until after WWII (we’ll get to that in chapter 5 of 2024’s free summer series…)
So what DID happen in the fourteenth century??
Good question, though anyone who’s studied history, even at a superficial level, could probably have a good guess.
What happened to that earlier experiment in self-government, the Roman Republic, for example? (See last year’s FREE summer series on The Romans, on the same page I linked to above.)
It ended as a dictatorship, and then, nearly half a millennium later, as the confusing series of foreign kings that we began this year’s series with, back in July and early August.
Stories don’t always have happy endings, you know! That’s something to bear in mind, especially in the increasingly uncertain twenty-first century.
But back to language-learning.
This is just my personal opinion, but as an enthusiastic child reader I was always mad-keen to find out “What happened next?” To the detriment of my school-work, my teachers complained. In the classroom, I had to be kept away from texts of any type, or I’d read them rather than sit there, attentively being droned at.
I’ve found the same with learning foreign languages as an adult. If there’s a narrative, with characters, that is to say some sort of ‘story’, it can be a powerful motivator to keep reading, to keep listening, and so to keep learning!
Witness the success of one of our era’s defining cultural products – TV series! Such as, for example, The Sopranos, which ran for six seasons, from 1999 to 2006 (I watched every episode on DVD years later), or Breaking Bad which ran for five seasons from 2008 to 2013 (we binge watched that on Netflix in about a month of tense evenings and disturbed dreams…)
See how well modern video streaming networks have done in signing up paying customers. Netflix made money and created vast amounts of value for its customers by exploiting the same, cheap-to-produce but gripping format of the extended narrative.
With entertainment, the story is the thing. Where would opera have been without the plot, the characters, the tragedies? And the novel? Who would ever have bother buying them if there hadn’t been the prospect of a happy ending? And the soap operas of the seventies, eighties and nineties? Crap, but totally-addictive crap.
And the lesson is? Harness the power of narrative to keep yourself reading and listening to the language you’re learning and you’ll find yourself ‘consuming’ it for it’s own sake, for the joy of the thing, rather than having to force yourself to ‘practice’, which is much harder.
I learnt Italian by reading trashy detective novels (‘gialli’), back in the days when there was nothing good on TV and we were too skint to be able to buy imported English-language books.
Learning Italian wasn’t the main objective. I just wanted something to read, and there weren’t a lot of other options (the Internet was just barely a thing back in 1998…)
Anyway, that’s why we sell ebook easy readers, and why we publish a FREE Summer series, though history is not one story but many (n.b. in Italian ‘history’ and ‘story’ are the same word – ‘storia’.)
When I was a kid, in the uninteresting South-West of Britain, in the tedious nineteen-seventies, my mother taught my younger sister and I to read, then showed us where the city library was (miles away) and how to walk there safely. She got us each a library card, then chased us out of the house every Saturday morning for the next ten years, to trudge into the city with the four books we’d read that week and exchange them for four more.
One brief burst of parenting, paid back with a decade’s-worth of fantastic returns in terms of peace and quiet!
The club website has masses of free grammar content, for those who want it. But it’s a rare student who is motivated by conjugations and conjunctions, even if it’s the commonplace view that such things are what’s needed to learn a foreign language (I barely agree.)
Years back (I’ve been doing this since around 2013), I came to the conclusion that we could be better helping people learn Italian by also providing free, interesting, practice material.
And not long after that, we began experimenting with the power of story-telling. For every reading/listening-practice text is basically the same thing, whereas every story is different!
Study boring grammar and endless lists of vocabulary if you must.
But get yourself reading in and listening to the language, and you’ll really turbocharge your progress!
Il Medioevo, Episodio 25, I Comuni diventano Signorie, La famiglia Della Scala a Verona (XIII-XIV secolo) | History page (all previous episodes)
I love the fact that you learned Italian by reading “gialli.” I am currently reading one and having a ball. It’s nice to read a current genre and discover that you can actually keep up and become totally absorbed!
I remember not being able to understand much at all of the descriptions of scenery and so on (colors of the leaves, types of trees, etc.) but the dialogue was usually manageable, more or less. And ‘who did what to who’ narratives are a good way to figure out pronouns, tenses and lots of other stuff.
Popular fiction was always the best, becuase written for ‘the masses’ and usually fairly predictable. Twenty years back my favourite author to read in Italian was John Grisham, whose books were often very similar, and often very cheap!
Lynne F says
Not reading ‘gialli’ at the moment but picked up a book of Italian short stories by Luigi Pirandello, a little light lit in my head… last years book club. I had a spare three hours today (waiting for my mum, attending a hospital appointment. Not easy reading but surprising how much I understood. Reading really does help build vocabulary, help make sense of all that grammar, and is much more fun.