“When the wife’s away, the mice will play”, or something like that.
And she is indeed away, accompanying our daughter and a mountain of baggage to her first term at university abroad.
A very exciting moment, the start of a new era in which I will have just the two stroppy teenagers at home rather than three.
(Just kidding, they’re very nice really!)
But today I’m sat at the reception desk of our Italian school in Stefi’s place, rather than typing away undisturbed at home or in an empty classroom.
Already this morning I have:
- unjammed the photocopier
- chatted to three of four of our teachers – one has an infant just starting kindergarten this week, another is one of our ebook writers, with whom I’m carrying on a friendly dispute about punctuation, the third blocked the photopier…
- dealt with a young Japanese man who insisted on showing me an email that he had received in Japanese
- and, of course, greeted and chatted to various students as they arrived and got ready for their Italian classes
It’s not boring, at least, and the phone’s not ringing yet, which is a blessing.
But anyway, I don’t think I’ll have time to write much today.
So here’s a quick thought about the power of habits.
I read somewhere that it can take three months to create a lasting habit.
Think not smoking, eating more healthily, or if you have kids – getting them to settle to their homework BEFORE they switch on the Playstation or TV rather than after.
These things are hard to do.
But once the habit IS firmly established, it becomes a routine. It’ll just be something you do, or don’t do, each day – a normal part of your life.
With a little engineering, we can modify the way we do things, in the hope that we’ll get better outcomes.
This may not be easy but it’s certainly possible, and the effects can be powerful.
For example, at the beginning of 2018 I started taking online lessons (now finished…) and one of my teachers suggested I listen each weekday to an ‘easy news’ site (in Swedish, not Italian, so I won’t link to it here.)
Which I did.
I later discovered a second, similar resource. One offers text and audio, the other is video with subtitles.
By now, listening to both of them each weekday has become automatic.
And the difference to my listening skills, and knowledge of the country whose language I’m learning, is impressive!
The joy of it is, I don’t even have to persuade myself to do it!
Because it’s become a habit, it just happens, usually when I need a break from work, or I’m tired towards the end of the day.
It’s been many months now that I’ve been profiting from the initial effort it took to create this routine.
So now I’m busy trying to create new, different behaviours that will become the drivers of future improvement.
For instance, and given that I’ve stopped taking online classes (my teachers all went on holiday and I’d anyway finished my credits), I’m trying to get into the habit of speaking Swedish to my wife, who is a native-speaker.
Now that might SEEM easy, and I appreciate how lucky I am to have such a handy resource, but when you’ve been interacting with someone in one language for over twenty years, it can be hard, even impossible, for either party to switch to a different language.
What does work is associating the ‘new’ language with specific cues, such as times of the day, or situations.
For example, when we’re driving to the coast at the weekend, and may not otherwise have much to say to each other, that seems to have become a good moment for some speaking practice. There’s nothing better to do, and she can still knit, and I can still drive, while we practice.
Similarly, we’re trying to follow medical advice and walk for the minimum of thirty minutes each day.
And what can sometimes be rather a drag is livened up by chatting away in a different language from the one we usually use. Not always, but sometimes, and hopefully – increasingly!
Do something like this (listen to the news, practice speaking) once or twice and the net result is likely to be diddly squat.
But make a HABIT of it, so get to the point that it’s not a conscious decision but something that happens AUTOMATICALLY, and the small, incremental benefits will start to pile up.
I have a number of bad habits, too, of course.
One of which is turning to the Guardian app on my smartphone (it’s a British newspaper) at moments when I’m tired or need a break.
It’s the first thing I read in the morning, and the last thing I read at night, and that’s not good.
First, because it’s largely a waste of time – there aren’t so many vital things going on in the world that I need to be attached to an intravenous news drip for sixteen hours each day.
And second, because of the opportunity cost. That is to say, the things I could be doing in that same period of time.
Hence, I’m currently trying to wean myself off the UK press and instead read Swedish or French news sites.
Recently I’ve been taking the bus to work, and getting on the bus has been my cue to read apps in my new languages.
The habit is not firmly established yet – I’m still not at that point when it just happens and seems like the most natural thing in the world – but it’s looking increasingly like I’m getting there.
I’ve figured out, for example, which apps I prefer – which ones make for easy, quick entertainment and which ones will require me to dig out the reading glasses from my backpack and concentrate for a longer time.
Check back with me in a few months. By that point, I hope to have replaced my dependency on whinging articles from Britain with a much more profitable and positive engagement with news from Europe, IN European languages.
Instead of wasting time doing what I’ve always done, I’ll be mainlining Swedish and French for several hours each day.
Then watch me go!
‘Book of the Week’ – final reminder!
Many thanks to the seventy or so club members from around the world who have supported us this week with their purchases of the half-price, Book of the Week ‘Galileo, Pisa e la luna‘.
Above all, I hope you ENJOY reading and listening to it.
Motivation, staying interested, is the most important thing with language learning.
And when you’re done, perhaps you’d leave a review?
Here are instructions:
Bene. That just leaves the other eleven thousand of you.
Signori, a final ‘avviso’!
‘Galileo, Pisa e la luna‘ is just £3.99 today, tomorrow and Sunday.
An incredible bargain, we know.
But nothing so great can last for ever…
After Sunday, the price will revert to the usual £7.99.
And given that we have around a hundred titles in our online shop, the chances of you seeing ‘Galileo, Pisa e la luna‘ again as the ‘Book of the Week’, that is to say at 50% off, any time in the next couple of years are close to zero.
So, if you looked at the sample chapter (.pdf), and liked it?
And if you were planning to find some time to buy the full version, but haven’t had a minute?
Well, why not do it right now?