Two things today:
1.) What to do to avoid the ‘January Sale’
This Friday (28th December) we’lll be beginning our ‘January Sale’ on online lessons, ebooks and so on.
The club has a team of freelance Italian teachers who need work. Plus, revenues from ebook sales pay our hosting bills, and for new materials and projects, such as the recent EasyItalianNews.com.
We have plenty of loyal online students, and ebook fans, who look forward to these seasonal offers (there’ll be another at Easter) as a chance to stock up on lesson credits and materials while saving £££.
But inevitably there will also be plenty of you who AREN’T interested, readers who are only interested in the free stuff on the club website and/or my wonderful articles.
That’s absolutely fine.
For those people, the majority by far, here’s what to do if you’d prefer not to hear about the January Sale:
- stop reading emails from the club from Friday 28th December to January 6th of January, inclusive. Just mark them as ‘read’, or something. Or delete them as they arrive. Then, on Monday 7th of January, start reading again – you’ll have missed the whole thing!
- OR, and this is much more drastic, simply ‘unsubscribe’ from receiving articles via email. There’s a link at the bottom of each and every email that is sent out. Click it and choose the ‘unsubscribe’ option, simple as that – no more emails.
2.) Worried about Italian tenses?
I was talking to my wife yesterday about how I’d been trying to teach my (Italian) students English verb tenses.
Not the whole set, just the ones they never, ever get right.
Because it’s different in Italian.
I have a new approach, perhaps best explained by an analogy.
You know how they say (it’s not true, apparently) that Eskimos have many words for snow?
Whereas the rest of us have just the one term?
Which is also not true, because: sleet, slush, powder, blizzard, etc.
But anyway, the point being that languages naturally vary and that people will express things with greater or lesser specificity according to the way that people in their ‘community of language users’ do things.
This will be true for the ‘what’ as well as the ‘how’.
One assumes that Eskimos have more to say about snow, and more often, than the rest of us. Hence the assumption that they may have more words to describe it.
But ‘how’ they say things – that is to say, which words, grammar, pronunciation features and so on they employ, will also be, to a greater or lesser extent, typical of that particular group and its circumstances.
Languages come from somewhere, after all, and therefore will retain characteristics of earlier forms of speech from generations before.
Summary so far:
- your native tongue and the language you are learning will likely work differently
- and they may, to some extent at least, actually be used to communicate different things
- or at least the same things in different ways.
English speakers, for example, say “I AM thirsty” whereas Italian speakers say “I HAVE thirst”.
That’s not hard to understand or learn. But it surely is illustrative of how languages differ.
Suppose, improbably, that you were half-Eskimo and half Amazonian-tribesperson?
Then you would have databases for your two mother tongues stored in different mental folders, which your brain would then access according to who you’re talking to.
This ‘programming’ can be so strong that you might find, as many bilingual people do, that you are ONLY able to use one language with certain aquaintances and family members.
You simply can’t access the ‘wrong’ language, even if you want to.
My kids (born in Italy, live in Italy, speak Italian to each other) always speak English to me.
Occasionally they’ll struggle for the right word. So I might say: go on, tell me in Italian, let me help you!
And they just can’t.
They HAVE TO speak English to me.
The alternative is to just give up.
Rebooting the computer doesn’t seem to be an option.
So back to you, half-Eskimo, half-Amazonian tribesperson.
When you’re fishing through an ice hole, you’ll be chatting away to your Eskimo buddies in one language.
While later, canoing down a piranha-infested river with your rainforest cousins, you’ll be using another.
Unless you were an interpreter or translator with very unusual clients, converting your thoughts from one of your two mother tongues to the other would never, or rarely, be necessary.
But if it was, you’d perhaps find that, while the two languages had similarities or equivalents in some areas, there were other things that just didn’t match up.
Which brings me back to the point – that there are way fewer verb tenses in Italian than in English.
And that, in turn, means that when an Italian says ‘snow’ – metaphoricially speaking – it’s up to you, the listener, to figure out which type.
The tense doesn’t tell you. You have to understand what’s meant from the context.
Here are some sentences using the ubiquitous Italian present tense:
- Vado a una festa domani sera.
- Ciao, ciao! Me ne vado!
- Vado spesso li a mangiare.
Don’t fret if you don’t understand the examples exactly. Just note how the same form is used in each one. I’ve bolded them, so you can see.
Now look at the English translations:
- I’m going to a party tomorrow evening.
- Bye! I‘m going.
- I often go there to eat.
The Italian examples show the exact same construction being used for three different contexts – future, present (in progress), and present (general).
Whereas the English versions show a greater variety of forms.
The same thing happens with the ‘past’:
- Ho appena finito.
- Ho finito qualche giorno fa.
The English versions would be:
- I’ve just finished.
- I finished a few days ago.
One tense in Italian, two in English.
Compare both sets of examples, present and past.
See how each ‘meaning’, expressed with a multi-purpose Italian tense, gets translated using one of a greater range of English tense forms, each of which has (to us) a specific and obvious meaning?
Italians have HUGE problems choosing between the many tense options available in English. They waste much time learning stupid rules and long lists of exceptions.
It’s all very frustrating for them, poverini.
While we, going back the other way, from English to Italian, have a REALLY EASY TIME OF IT.
When speaking Italian, use the one present tense for everything and you’ll do just fine.
Ditto with the past.
The only hard part is to remember that you don’t have to, indeed shouldn’t, probably can’t, find an exact match in Italian to the form you would use in English.
When speaking Italian, just chill about the tenses.
It’s all snow.
Don’t forget to unsubscribe if you’re fed up of hearing from the club. No one wants to bother you. Scroll down and look for the link…