Every day I see either Anna, Ewa, or Oscar.
Or if not them, then one of those other guys whose names don’t spring so easily to mind.
For example, the pretty one, with the funny hair and the genuine smile…
Then there’s my wife, of course, and her mum.
And her cousins, and her aunty.
And her old friends, from when she used to spend summers in Sweden as a child.
The one who does legal consultancy in an online betting firm, the one who owns an IT company and has a lovely house over-looking the sea, the one who looked like he just got off fixing his boat.
And their wives, too. I always try and chat to the wives (more speaking practice!), though sadly I don’t now remember their names.
The plump one who loves travelling and plays the piano, the sad one with the cheerful flower-pattern on her shoes. We saw their holiday snaps on Facebook just the other day…
Let’s not forget my teachers.
There’s the guy who lives in Switzerland, is married with a small daugher, and is looking for a proper job.
The Swedish/Croat football fan and martial arts enthusiast, divorced but with a football-mad teenage son.
That weird girl, who was clearly glad to see the back of me.
And the nice woman who lives by the sea in Spain, with an American husband, and kids the same age as ours.
Off the top of my head, that’s the extent of the ‘community’ of people with whom I interact in Swedish.
I say ‘interact’ but Anna, Ewa and Oscar are presenters on the simplified Swedish news program that I tune in to every day.
Anna and I have quite a one-sided relationship, I admit.
Though when she says ‘Hej och välkommen’ or, at the end of Friday’s transmission, ‘Have a really nice weekend!’, of course I reply.
“You too, Anna! Ha en trevlig helg. Vi ses måndag!”
TV and radio are good preparation for ‘real life’ listening, obviously.
Yesterday morning, for example, I was listening to the ‘proper’, non-simplified, radio and there was the morning ‘phone in’ program in progress:
“Hej, Peter from Stockholm, what do you want to talk about today?”
“Hej, I just want to say that I think it’s terrible that…”
But this isn’t JUST preparation. Remember what Lennon sang?
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
You’re not learning a language so you can subsequently talk to people in Italian.
You’re talking to people in Italian, and language-learning is happening as a consequence.
OK, so you CAN, in theory, learn a foreign language without being part of some sort of community.
Imagine yourself a monk, or a nun, alone in your study cell, with a good supply of books but with no audio or audio-visual input, and certainly no one to practice with.
You could learn grammar and vocabulary, and probably learn to read or translate texts. But your speaking skills would be limited, and your listening ability zero.
Think of how people learn a ‘dead’ language, like Latin or ancient Greek.
Apart from rare instances (for example when Latin was used as a lingua-franca in the Catholic Church, in the days before English became a more practical option), it’s very different from a ‘modern language’-learning experience.
Finding a ‘community’ of people to actually USE the language with is the key.
Such a community could be your Italian evening class, for example.
Or the people you used to study with, who you’ve kept in touch with, and with whom you exchange emails in Italian, or plan trips to Italy with.
It could be a virtual community, perhaps an online group, or a fictitious one, such as a TV series, a soap opera, or a Sicilian detective in a paper-back novel.
Watching, listening in, is all part of the experience of language.
Sometimes you’re the protagonist in the story, other times you’re the audience.
Observing how other people live out their lives, even if it’s made up, is a powerful facilitator of language-learning, and of other types of learning.
Think how people learn to behave poorly online, for example – by observing and adopting the norms of the group’s behaviour. They’re all rude to me, so I can be rude to this other guy.
Done right, becoming part of a community becomes the objective, while the language-learning is a secondary, automatic process.
It’s just brain software, running almost unnoticed in the background, like an update to your operating system going on while you’re busy having fun.
Find a community, then.
Initiate and foster one, if necessary.
If there’s no class near you, start an Italian book club, or study group.
And if there’s no one physically near enough to do that with, find people online, join a social media group, take part in communities that already exist (like our club!)
A word about teachers, especially online teachers, given that next week we’re having a ‘free trial lesson’ offer.
These guys have to earn a living.
If they’re dumb (some of them are), then they might imagine that they’re doing that by EXPLAINING GRAMMAR to people half way around the world who aspire to learn their language.
Assuming they’re not stupid, though, they know that their primary job is to BE YOUR FRIEND – in the foreign language you’re learning, of course.
They’ll ask you how your week has been, listen to you while you moan, and perhaps (ideally) share details of their own lives.
They’ll encourage and support you, like friends do.
Your lesson could be a sort of simulation of real life.
Done well, though, it has the potential to be much more than that.
With the right teacher, and the right attitude from you, your online lessons ARE real life.
Remember the monk (or the nun – but please, not both at the same time)?
What if he/she had some ancient Romans or Greeks to pratice with, as they studied?
Bet that would liven things up!
I’m an employer, so there’s a limit to how much I can bitch about my colleagues in public.
And my wife gets fed up with hearing about it, no matter what language I moan in.
But the online teachers?
They’re interested, or at least pretend to be, and let me bang on in Swedish, or Turkish, about whatever’s bothering me.
And you know what I like?
Apart from having a professional listener handy?
I like it when they forget that they’re supposed to be teaching me something, and start ‘banging on’ right back.
I hear about their lives, their kids’ problems at school, their weird political views, how the job market works where they are, and much more.
This morning, my wife’s gone off early, to meet her friends for a coffee and a chat before starting work.
And I’ve begun writing this as soon as I can, so as to be done before my nine a.m. Turkish lesson.
In reality it’s not so much a ‘lesson’ but a chance to activate a dusty part of my brain while, basically, socialising.
See language-study as flagellation, with sharp bits of grammar fixed to the ends of rusty chains, if you insist.
I rather be having a good time with my friends.
Have you listened to yesterday’s Easy Italian News bulletin, yet?
Amazingly, there’ll be more news tomorrow (Saturday).
In fact there’s an inexhaustible supply of it, which makes it perfect for practising your Italian!