Often I get emails from OnlineItalianClub.com members telling me how they are going about learning Italian, or asking for suggestions or advice (feel free to write, my email is at the bottom of every page on the club website.)
And, if you’ve been paying attention over the last few months, you’ll be aware that I’m ‘practicing what I preach’ by attempting to teach myself Swedish.
So the issue of exactly HOW to best learn a language comes up quite a lot.
This week, I got to thinking about the problem in terms of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’.
If you’re not military, or a chess player, you might have no idea of the difference.
Or just find the terms off-putting, in which case, you’d not be alone…
But bear with me.
The ever-helpful Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:
The terms tactic and strategy are often confused: tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity, and decision-making that lead to tactical execution.
The bolding is mine. The word ‘objective’ is often the part that confuses.
In a chess game, the OVERALL objective is to win the game, but the quote above refers to tactical objectives: get your attacking pieces into the right position, use a threat to the king to capture the queen, and so on.
Back on the theme of language-learning, confusion over tactics and strategy is rife.
in part, this is because many people fail to clearly define what they could realistically achieve in the medium-long term, that is to say, what ‘winning the war’ would look like for them, were it to happen.
Terms like ‘better’, ‘accurate’ and ‘fluent’ are common, but unhelpfully vague.
As any advanced learner will tell you, the more you know of a language, the more you are tempted to compare your abilities in the language you’re learning with what you are able to do in your native tongue.
That’s a bad thing to focus on.
To have any strategic value, long-term objectives need to be realistic and intelligent.
‘Perfectly’ and ‘fluently’ make poor objectives – they keep receeding as you approach them.
The better you get in Italian, the better you’ll want to be!
‘More confidently’ or ‘with fewer misunderstandings’ are more practical, and more achievable.
Better still, as a guide to strategic-thinking, are goals which are less subjective.
‘Get an Italian qualification on my resume’ or ‘Be able to deal with customer service enquires from Italian clients’, for example.
My advice is often: define what ‘winning the game’ means for you first.
And ONLY THEN think about how you’ll go about it.
Let’s take ‘Get an Italian qualification on my resume’ as an example of a practical, achievable strategic objective.
You may have no idea exactly HOW to do this, and a lot of that doubt relates to tactics anyway, but most people would understand what the more obvious strategic options are:
- Enrol at a community college, or similar, that will get you from A to B
- Self-study in your free time
- Go live in Italy and trust that you’ll pick it up naturally
So what’s your ‘learn Italian’ strategy?
- “Research the best university Italian department and enrol there.”
- “Get a good online Italian teacher and let her worry about it.”
- “Study at my kitchen table for as many years as it takes.”
- “Find an Italian who doesn’t speak English and marry him.”
Those are strategies. Pick one (or more than one!)
What about tactics, then?
To achieve your overall objective or objectives, you’ll need to choose tactics that are consistent with your longer term plan.
If, for example, the overall goal is to win a war against another country, one strategy might be to undermine the other nation’s ability to wage war by preemptively annihilating their military forces. The tactics involved might describe specific actions taken in specific locations, like surprise attacks on military facilities, missile attacks on offensive weapon stockpiles, and the specific techniques involved in accomplishing such objectives.
Say my overall goals in learning Swedish are twofold:
- Get to the end of the A1/Elementary material
- Be confident enough in the basics to interact with Swedish speakers at an elementary level
The tactics I need will be those that are appropriate to my situation and which will move me towards my goals.
But how to choose exactly what to do next, and after that?
A few yes/no questions are usually enough to shape up the game plan:
- “Do I need to learn ALL the grammar?” No, a sprinkling should do it. Say the first half of the book.
- “Do I need to study a mix of elementary-level grammar and vocabulary?” Yes.
- “Do I need to be able to recognise and replicate Swedish ‘sounds’?” That would be essential.
- “Do I need to practice speaking the language?” Of course.
Going back to the military example above, we have:
- Overall goal: win a war against another country
- Strategy: undermine the other nation’s ability to wage war by preemptively annihilating their military forces
- Tactics: surprise attacks on military facilities, missile attacks on offensive weapon stockpiles, etc.
And using the same approach for my Swedish:
- Overall goal: elementary level communicative competence
- Strategy: 3-6 months of self-study followed by activities to ‘maintain and extend’ in the medium-long term
- Tactics: follow my course book and audio, supplement with practice with native speakers, develop a habit of reading in Swedish
OK, this has all been rather long, so I’ll get back to the point.
Know what you want to achieve, and broadly ‘how’.
Choose appropriate tactics that will move you towards your goal (while avoiding anything that won’t!)
And if you’re not 5-star general material?
If you’d rather be just a foot-solider, following orders?
Remember next week’s Free Trial Online Lesson offer?
A regular half-hour with one of our online Italian teachers could have either a strategic or tactical value, depending on your situation.
Your teacher could advise you what and how to study.
Or just make sure you get plenty of practice!
Which reminds me, a nice review came in over-night (thanks Kathy), which I’ll quote here in full:
I have been teaching myself Italian for about a year and a half now, but I don’t get much speaking practice. When I finally decided to take the plunge and try a Skype lesson, I was nervous about speaking 1) with a native speaker and 2) using Skype. Both were needless worries, as it has turned out.. Since November 2016 I have been having a half-hour conversation each week with Tiziana and am really enjoying them. Half an hour is the right amount of time for me: enough time for interesting conversation but short enough that I’m always looking forward to more the following week. Tiziana is warm and fun to talk to. She is patient with my linguistic fumblings, somehow always keeps the conversation going (and is good at rephrasing questions or information when I don’t understand), answers my questions thoroughly, and encourages emails whenever I have further questions. Finding times to meet is sometimes a challenge, but we have always managed. Judging from the other reviews I’ve read here, the screening process for teachers with Online Italian Club must be extraordinary, because, like so many other reviewers, I feel like I’m having conversations with a friend, rather than a teacher, and I am becoming more confident in speaking each week. (Also, for those nervous about the Skype aspect – don’t be. It was really easy to set up on my iPad, the sound quality is excellent, and it’s possible to do either an audio-only or a video/audio call…)
She seems to have a clear idea of what she wants (and why), doesn’t she?
More about online Italian lessons in my next article.
But over the weekend, keep asking yourself: “What’s the plan, Stan?”
Then, come Monday, you’ll have a good idea regarding whether you should be taking up the offer of a FREE TRIAL online Italian lesson…
A final reminder about the ‘Ebook of the Week’, Le tante facce del futuro, which is currently 50% off at just £3.99!
The ‘Ebook of the Week’ offer ends Sunday night.
But time zones are a muddle, so get yours today!