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Learn Italian online

Attempting to learn a language 1

On a blogging marathon at the moment, or so it would seem. There is something about putting one’s thought down on paper(!?) that I find quite relaxing. Beats watching the telly anyday in my little opinion.

This episode is about my experience learning another language. I now know two languages, English which I’m not too bad at and Italian. Before coming to Italy I had had this ambition, you could call it, or simply a wish to try to learn another language without studying it, well, not doing any formal courses. Well, I’m happy to be able to report that this wish has become a reality, I can now speak another language and communicate about a variety of subjects with people who know little or no English. This achievement make me feel quite warm inside, and rather pleased that I was able to succeed without too much help. The road to this point has not been easy and my Italian is by no means perfect. Here is how I did it.

The first part of the process, strangely enough, was spent listening and absorbing and boring poor Italians to death with set phrases, such as ‘Come stai?’ and Come va?, ‘How are you?’ and ‘How’s it going?’ respectively. Initially, I lived with English speaking people and we spoke our good old mother tongue when we were together. Result, limited progress with regard to my endeavours to learn the language. I arrived in Italy knowing a little Italian, sorry that should be ‘little’ Italian. I knew ‘vorrei’ – I would like and ‘Dove’ – where. Useful phrases – until you try to use them and realise to you horror that you don’t understand a word of the reply. Phrase books are really fantastic in this respect. They go to great lengths showing you how to pronounce really quite complex sentences. They make you feel sort of confident. You wonder up to somebody and in your bestest phrase book accent ask them something about where something is or how far it is etc. You see from the face of your poor victim that he or she knows you are not a local, however they seem to have understand your communication attempt and then they reply. And you do not understand a thing. Conversations like this fizzle out after a few frantic gestures or attempts at other languages and it starts to dawn on you that the phrase book does not give much information on how people will reply. This is when you start to understand that phrase books are useless for anything other than what some of us language teachers call ‘yes/no’ questions. The best phrase to start with is probably ‘Do you speak English?’. It can overcome a lot of unnecessary agony, I can tell you.

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Stop reading, start speaking

Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.

As you will have started to understand, the road to fluency (do not like this word at all..) has been arduous.

What really helped me to make some progress was, and how I hate to admit this, the humble tv. Now, I am not a great lover of TV, unless it is intelligent, original and stimulating, like Big Brother. A joke, I hope you will understand. However, although Italian TV leaves a lot to be desired, too many quiz shows, zillions of police and crime solving dramas and far, far too much advertising. ‘Solo per oggi’ – only for today goes a lovely TV shopping spot for shoe holding cabinets. Three for the price of one, the narrator repeatedly blurts out, to the first 50 callers, he or she continues. Only, every day is today. Surely,’ only for today’ means just that, today, once, not every blasted day. Rant over, but it does get to you after a while. Italy would keep the old ‘That’s life’ team going for the next 1000 years. I do hope anyone who reads this is old enough, like me, to remember ‘That’s life’. Maybe it’s still on TV in GB? Anyway, one thing that repeated exposure to tons of telly does is work wonders for your comprehension – a friend, who had been in Italy for longer than I told me about the linguistic benefits of TV – and she was right. After a few weeks of nightly exposure, six weeks or so did it, if I recall, you suddenly find yourself understanding words and even whole sentences. The mind warping gobbledygook starts to become intelligible. Great. I found myself talking to people in Italian, bad Italian, but much better than before. I will admit to using a little Harrap’s grammar book to help me untangle the intricacies of Italian grammar. Even more amazing was my ability to say things which I never even remembered hearing or studying. It was just there, spontaneous. Amazing. Thanks Italian telly!

End of part one – it’s getting late and I’m possibly starting to get boring. More on language learning experiences in the near future. If I remember, that is. If not, maybe some kind reader will gently remind and encourage me.

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