This, via email, overnight:
Short answer: it isn’t.
Longer answer, much longer, actually: books, courses, apps and so on that are marketed to speakers of a specific language – for instance, Duolingo’s Italian course for English-speakers – typically make use of translation, either as an activity itself, so translate this phrase in Italian into English (or vice versa, which is harder), or as a teaching tool (x = y), or feedback mechanism – Correct!
Books, course, apps and so on which are intended to be used internationally, don’t usually have translation as an element. At all. Have some fun playing with these resources for students learning English (try different levels to see how it varies) and you’ll see what I mean. New English File has made its publisher, Oxford University Press, millions. Probably hundreds of millions. Without translating anything.
Ditto, go take an Italian course actually IN Italy, and you’ll very likely end up in a classroom with students who aren’t native-English speakers (Germans, Japanese, Spanish-speakers), listening to the teacher speaking only Italian. If you think about that, you’ll realise, it’s the only practical way.
Could a teacher be expected to speak (so be able to translate) the mother tongue of any possible student? OK, you have an American and an Argentinian, and know English and Spanish, but this one’s Russian, and doesn’t speak a word of English, or Italian for that matter.
What to do? Cast around for a competent, experienced teacher who speaks great Russian? For this one person in a group of maybe eight or ten? Of course not.
Therefore, anything aimed at a multi-lingual audience (students, bookbuyers) is unlikely to have translation as a basic element.
That’s the practical/commercial explanation, and of course it doesn’t apply to courses or materials which actually ARE aimed at students who all have the same mother tongue. For instance, a course taught at an American college, which assumes that all participants are English native speakers or speak English to the (high) level required to gain a place in the college.
For these ‘monolingual’ groups, translation is an option. Teachers of Latin and Ancient Greek presumably find it’s the only option, given that there won’t be a lot of new content or opportunities to chat with native speakers in those languages.
Teachers of monolingual groups may, however, choose not to translate, not to use the students’ mother tongue to explain things (this was more or less my whole career), the idea being that by deliberately not doing so, the students will be hearing the language and getting chances to use it in class, for every interaction.
That approach can be frustrating at first, if you’re used to being taught a language IN your own language, for example at school. But, while it might be more difficult to ‘understand’ things if they’re not explained to you in your own language, the pay-off for the hours you get to spend ‘immersed’ (even if somewhat lost, some of the time) should make up for that, in terms of improved comprehension skills and confidence when it comes to speaking and interacting in the future.
In summary, what sort of resources you use, what sort of teaching you get, will vary according to the situation. An evening class in your home town and a course at our school in Bologna are unlikely to be identical experiences, though both can be equally valid.
But back to the email – where are the translations at OnlineItalianClub.com? / There aren’t any.
Translating Italian content into English wouldn’t be hard for me to do. Decades back, before I even knew Italian well, people used to pay me to do it. But it’s boring, and not the best use of my time.
More importantly, using translations of texts to ‘understand’ is not the best use of your time, either.
Assuming you’re preparing to use Italian in ‘real-life’ situations – so conversation, and reading and hearing things that you actually need or want to understand, rather than as a learning exercise – then you need to train yourself to perform as well as possible within the obvious limits.
- You’ll likely never be able to express yourself in Italian was well, as fluently, as easily, as you can in English. But that doesn’t mean that interactions in Italian will be poor or unsatisfying. Speaking a foreign language is fun PRECISELY BECAUSE IT’S DIFFICULT AND CHALLENGING.
- Reading in Italian is always going to be slower than reading in your own language, and your understanding will never be as complete. I’ve been reading Italian for twenty-four years, and that’s still true for me. Reading English is fast, effortless, and automatic. Reading in Italian/French/Spanish/Swedish/Turkish isn’t. But I’m used to that. In fact, I deliberately did things (reading authentic novels – just one would take months to finish) to get myself used to reading in Italian, and so wean myself off relying on English texts, which were scarce and expensive at the time.
- Listening takes years to master, sometimes decades, sometimes your whole life, and not even then. But again, if you never actually start doing it, perhaps because you’re worried about ‘not understanding’, that’s not getting you any further ahead, either. In a lively conversation with native speakers, say over a meal, you’ll often feel isolated and frustrated. The only way to minimise that is to practice, practice, practice, from Day 1. And still it’ll be hard. But that way, when you get to the dinner party, you’ll be used to the not-understanding, so well-prepared to do the best you possibly can.
My emailed answer was much shorter:
“Translating everything you read or hear in the language your’re learning is a terrible idea. And that particular material is intended to give you practice reading and listening. Practicing doesn’t always mean understanding, or not everything, anyway. And is incompatible with translating.”
The production quality is dire, compared to what we manage these days, but there’s masses of it, so lots of material to practice with, which is the main thing.
There are no translations, but where there’s audio, there are usually transcripts, which will support your learning.
If you need something graded for beginners or near-beginners, check out our Listening page, and in particular, the first line, where it says “See just material for your level”.
If it was me learning Italian, and not yet confident in my listening skills, I’d spend my study time doing ALL those listenings, level by level, from easiest to hardest.
But people don’t. Then they tell me that they don’t understand spoken Italian. And when I ask what sort of pratice they do, they explain that they’re busy translating…
Have you read/listened to Saturday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
There are three FREE bulletins each and every week, so a hundred and fifty six each year.
Why not spend 2023 reading and listening to them all?
Bet you’d notice a huge improvement in your Italian comprehension skills, vocabulary, cultural knowledge, and even in your grammar!
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