This is not Fantascienza: A Real World Language Learning Sprint

I hope you have been looking forward to Tanja's most recent update of her progress in the italki Language Learning Challenge as much as I have. Tanja signed herself up to taking 20 Italian lessons in just 8 weeks. Has she done it? Is this possible for normal people? Find out everything right here in this awesome guest post.

Where is my Mind?

Only a few days to go until the iTalki Language Challenge ends – I have 18 lessons under my belt and the two that are left have been scheduled, so it’s looking hopeful. I’ve just finished a run of four Italian lessons in five days. In my last blog post, I mentioned that three to four hours a week didn’t seem all that bad to me. What I had forgotten is that when studying on intensive courses, you tend to not do much else. When I was doing my TEFL-training in Spain, the practice part involved teaching in the afternoon and in the evening, plus revision in the morning and preparation every single spare minute in between and on the weekends. With job and life and Italian, the past few weeks have felt like that.

A Hard Day’s Night

I also stated before that without further study in between lessons, people will not progress, or at least they won’t progress fast.

I have become more diligent with reminding my students of that: it’s not possible to upload knowledge into your brain, you will have to revise, you will have to read, you will have to focus. Don’t get me wrong. Every little helps. If you don’t really have time and determination to study right now, a “word of the day”-screensaver is a start. If you’ve previously learned a language and just want to maintain your level, a weekly discussion group might be enough. If you have to send business emails that are fairly standard, you may be able to get them mostly right with templates and a good dictionary. If you only want to read, working up the courage to speak to strangers spontaneously and trying to activate your passive vocabulary could be unnecessary (but I’d still recommend it). But, and this is a big but, if you really want to improve fast, or if you are just starting a language and know nothing, you will not be able to get anywhere without putting in some work.

Which brings me back to my hard day’s night. Eighteen hours into the challenge, I am shattered. Still getting over my cold, loads of other stuff going on – the late lessons have been quite strenuous. The good thing about lessons after 9pm is that I’m usually home, but having to be ready and chatty in front of the computer at the end of the day is surprisingly demanding.

Senses working overtime

So how much time have I actually spent studying Italian?

I vowed a few weeks ago to do at least half an hour of active listening per day, which I accomplished mainly by watching television. Having finished my Montalbano-miniseries (English subtitles), I bought a television show on DVD that was meant to have Italian subtitles, but didn’t - I am a little impressed with myself for sticking with it. I do believe that watching “original” television is great for experiencing the correct rhythm and speed of your new language. I have been assiduous and covered a lot of grammar - in theory. I did exercises, I familiarized myself with structures, but I haven’t really applied them much yet. In fact, my last few lessons have been mainly conversation, which has been challenging - but I think I want to go back to fifty percent studying new words and new structures. I also have to read more - I am a visual learner, so my eyes need exposure to correct syntax.

My favourite things

What I have been enjoying most during my learning experience is having set both my phone and my laptop to “Italian”. It’s such a pleasant language!

“Connessione in corso”, “Appena aggiornato”, “Controllo posta”, “Caselle”, ”KK sta scivendo”, “tre minuti fa”, “inserisci il password qui”, “A cosa stai pensando?” “MM ha condiviso questo articolo” - the new language makes facebook updates and various logins much more interesting. The computer settings are good for memorising little words - “aiuto”, “finestra” - and for learning proper sentences like “La batteria non è in carica“ (which means “the battery is not charging”, but unfortunately doesn’t offer an explanation for that…). Most importantly, all of this is a constant reminder that you are currently learning a new language.

Everybody’s talkin’

Let me share with you my three favourite words of the challenge and how I’ve memorised them:

  1. cucciolo - puppy: Puppies are unforgettable per se, but the pic in the 3400 words app is particularly endearing. Even the word is cute!

  2. fantascienza - science fiction: This confused me for the first couple of days because I kept forgetting the word order and fiction and fantasy wouldn’t mingle in my head. But then I remembered a picture I’d once seen on the internets and the picture and the word instantly became associated in my brain. I doubt I’ll forget it again, ever. (I won’t post the drawing for copyright reasons, but google “fanta sea”).

  3. cascina - country house: When I see the word, not only do I have the Blur single ringing in my ears, I also think “Tuscany - countryside - peace and quiet” (see my previous post for more detailed day-dreaming). Note that my associations are not “spiders”, “no central heating”, “no public transport” - because the brain can’t process negatives, right?

The Tower of Learning

I had a lesson with a community tutor this week who made me talk about very specific topics. He spoke quite fast so the lesson was tough for me. However, he did comment afterwards that some conversation had been on a C2 level (which I highly doubt) and that whatever I was doing, I should keep doing. Mille grazie!

In my next post, I will talk a bit more about the future, but I am already wondering what to do come March. I can’t afford to keep up with this amount of lessons, though I have grown quite attached to my teachers. I have arranged for a small test to be done after lesson number 20 to somehow assess my progress, though of course I know that’s not going to be a definite result. The trick is to keep going.

I also kind of want to learn another language now, because I am feeling super inspired - and wouldn’t it be fun to be able to read in Arabic?