Language Learning and Hello Talk

My Italian language learning has become obsessional. The better I get, the more I enjoy it. And the more I enjoy it, the more I do.

I don’t learn new things easily. I am impatient and I never learn for fun. I am practical. Everything I learn I expect to be able to use, and not when I am proficient, but from day one.  And so Italian became a part of my daily life quite literally from the first day through social media, family tree research, and trying to write my own blogs – oh and scriptwriting. I needed Italian to be able to do some of these things. So it was inevitable that its practical implications would be immediate and it was to my benefit to get good at it.

I’m now at an intermediate level apparently. Things which a month ago I could hardly comprehend, and was constantly making mistakes with, are now making sense – sentence structures, tenses. The more I learn, the more I remember. My word recall is getting better. I’m editing my scripts with Italian notes. I write my shopping list in Italian, I spend more time talking to myself and listening and reading and writing in Italian than in English. This is currently as close as I can get to full immersion. You can choose how much you want to do, and I choose to do it all. Because stopping means forgetting.

A lull in my learning, when I feel like I will never get the hang on it, usually signals a  breakthrough and a realisation that something I couldn’t get my head around, suddenly makes sense. Taking the odd online test to check my progress is helpful but I don’t worry about them too much. I took one last week, which is why I now consider myself intermediate. My obsession with grammar and reading seems to have been paying off – these were my best scores. My vocabulary, which wasn’t, I think is more down to my lack of confidence with speaking, more than anything else. When I’m put in a real life situations, I’m a rabbit caught in the headlights, which is ridiculous because I can chat away to myself all day confidently, if not proficiently. But as soon as I’m in real conversation my mind goes blank. And then I anticipate it. So I’m already setting myself up for a fall.

I still haven’t found the environment where listening and talking is easy. Language exchange groups have their place, but I find them very artificial environments. I felt more comfortable in Venice, alone and having to use my skills in real day to day situations with non English speakers, rather than sat in a pub with 30 other people all trying to improve their skills at the same time. Youtube is proving to be my best method for listening. The various scenarios, both classroom and ‘out and about’, and the option to utilise subtitles or go it alone is very helpful.

And although being corrected is useful for avoiding continuous mistakes, it damages my confidence if it happens too often. In Venice, people understood me and if they found out how long I had been learning Italian they seemed to be impressed which is a great confidence booster. Noone corrects you because they are just relieved they don’t have to use English unless they volunteer to. On Hello Talk or at exchange groups I am constantly reminded of my errors, put on the spot and scruitinised, on a sentence by sentence basis. People are looking for problems rather than just allowing you to communicate as best you can. And that’s very wearing. I already have Duolingo for that. It kills my confidence to keep trying because then I start expecting to be wrong. So I’ve ditched Hello Talk for now.

This is just one of many reasons why I am really excited to be returning to Venice again in September. Full immersion with people who just let you get on with it. I had such a great time there in May and it was the one thing that gave me the confidence to start speaking. Because I was there, doing it, and I was getting by on my half rate Italian which proved I was learning something. Not that many people in Venice are confident English speakers, despite the huge number of English speaking tourists, and I think I got by better on my half rate Italian than using English in many of the places I visited.  And I’m thankful for that.

Talking To Myself

Since Duolingo’s update I’ve lost a vital part of my Italian learning. The speaking exercises. Now, you can only do these via Google Chrome on a laptop as none of the other platforms now support the speech software and it’s disabled on Android devices.

But within that update there were also two speaking methods. The one where you repeated what you saw written in front of you in Italian and the other where you were given an English sentence that you repeated back in your target language. And it was this second one that I was just starting to get to grips with when the update was implemented. It’s also this one which hasn’t been reinstated on Chrome. But a complaint I posted via Duolingo’s discussion board turned up an interesting solution. Use the microphone function on your devices.

Because my contact with people to speak in Italian is limited on a day to day basis (I dream of full immersion) I’ve resorted to talking to myself. All the time. I describe what I’m doing, what I’m seeing, trying to speed my memory recall into real time so that as my conversation improves I am able to listen and respond faster. And of course the more I do, the better I get because brain training really does work. But it requires daily usage. And for me I’m talking at least 2 hours of lessons a day aside from all the social media I read and watch.

I have enough friends I can text and message in Italian but writing it isn’t my problem right now. It’s speaking. So instead of writing my texts I’m speaking them. And this I have discovered is the way forward for my language learning. It’s a slow process. My confidence still isn’t up to getting on Skype and chatting to strangers. I’m building up to that. But this is a happy medium. And what this also helps with is pronounciation. From what I’ve seen of my results so far, I’m doing okay. It seems to understand what I’m saying and my only real corrections seem to be punctuation which the microphone function doesn’t allow for.

So, how do you use the microphone? On your phone or tablet, when you start to type a small cog on the bottom left of your keyboard is visible. Click on that, and you’ll get options including a microphone. Still unsure. Here’s a visual. Enjoy the process and let me know if this works for you.

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Source

Full Immersion

This Italian learning malarky is taking over my life. I believe in full immersion in anything that I do and I’m the kind of person that if I don’t keep at it every single day I forget things really fast.  I live in England so of course most things are English and you have to work hard to make sure you’re coming across your learner language on a regular basis.

My language exchange group has broken up for the summer, so a bunch of us have migrated over to Whatsapp. So there’s 7 conversations going on already.

I joined Hello Talk this week. I’ve steered clear of the chat apps so far because they take up so much time. But I thought I’d give this one a go. Day one and I’m already having 6 separate conversations. Ironing out my issues with getting ‘sto’ and ‘io sono’ correct (something I was doing fine with but suddenly seems to have slipped) and mastering my sentence structure is coming along nicely thanks to the vigilence of the users there but I am reminded how far I still have to go.

I am rarely corrected on Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter so I’m guessing readers are just being polite and are understanding what I’m on about. Impatience is a major personality hangup of mine. So 6 months in to my Italian language learning and I just don’t think I’m good enough. I’m also obsessed with getting the grammar right. The basic present tense is fine for holiday ‘conversazione’ but I want to write blogs and comment on important Facebook groups and get it right.

I am a perfectionist and whilst this isn’t a bad trait it can get in the way of your enjoyment of something when all you want is to talk like a native – which of course I will never be – 5 generations removed as I am from my Italian roots. The Italian blood is still obviously there but I don’t find languages easy. I gave up French as soon as I could in school and its been 27 years since I’ve tried a languge again. And here we are.

But I have the added positive trait of being one of those people that if I really want something I don’t stop until I’ve got it. I’m also slightly comforted that in the 42 years my g-g-g-grandfather (that’s bis-bis-bis-nonno to my Italian readers) lived in England he never fully mastered English.

Di Venezia Con Amore

Forgive the impersonal nature of this blog post. Today I arrive in Venice – actually I’ll be somewhere over mainland Europe when this drops onto your timeline. I don’t know when I will get internet access so this is damage limitation, by way of a quick pre-published introduction to say hello from here. If you are in Venice, drop me a line. I am open to all sort of interesting liasons over prosecco, cichetti and anywhere else dreamy and romantic as ever Venice is.

The aim over the next six days is to document my time here with observations, the kinds of photographs you don’t normally see (I promise no Grande Canale panoramics), thoughts on prices, where to eat, artesans, people and the history I see as I trace my ancestors back and forth. I will also be tracking my spending, to see just how true it is that Venice is an overpriced tourist trap. I am very budget conscious so this will be an interesting exercise.

Ciao. Ci vediamo dopo…from somewhere over Europe.

My Venice Review – Countdown!

This post is written mostly in English but with a bit of Italian as well. I’m still learning so translating takes agggeeesssss! But it is good practice!

When I first went to Venice 15 years ago, I was oblivious to the problems. I went five more times, still unaware of what was going on. This year I have returned after a 10 year gap. I am now educated and aware of the problems, the pros and cons. Largely this is also because I know so much more about my personal connection to the city. It is my ancestry. It is my family history. It is my past and it has also been a huge part of my life and my future.

To record my return and my new awareness of the city, I am going to write, research, visit, eat, drink and photograph my six days and blog here. I will be blogging in both Italian and English which I hope will have some accuracy! Excuse my errors!

Please follow my posts. I don’t like to be considered a tourist, but I suppose I am and I hope some of what I say will be of use to other tourists who want more than the tourist experience, and of course for those who live in and care for the city in a small way.

Quando mi primo andare a Venezia 15 anni fa, ero non consapevole dei problemi. Ho ritornato cinque volte, ancora non consapevole. Questo anno ho ritorno dopo 10 anni. Sto più istruito e più conscio dei problemi  – la buona e le male. In gran parte, questo è anche perchè conosco molte di più riguardante la mia connessione personale della città. E il mio antenati. E la mia storica famiglia. E il mio passato. È stato una parte enorme della mia vita e della mia futura.

A ricordo il mio ritorno a Venezia e della mia consapevolezza nuova della città, scriverò, ricerca, visita, mangia, beve e fotografia il mio sei giorni e blog qui. Sarò blogging in Inglese e Italiano quale spero è accurato. Scusa il mio errori! Io sono una studente nuova della lingua Italiana (quattro mesi).

Per favore seguito il mio posti. Non piace le persone pensare io sono una turista, ma io sono suppongo e spero che cosa dico sarà utile per oltre turisti che vogliano più che la turista esperienza, e naturalmente per le persone che vivono e occuparsi della città nel un piccolo modo.

And now for more English because I’m all out of Italian words for today…

My two primary guides on this, my first trip as a solo traveller, are Venezia Autentica and Her Grand Tour. Most of the recommendations are for food and drink because Venice is a minefield of tourist hotspots that I really don’t want to repeat. I hope to add to their recommendations but I’ve pretty much included everything they have to offer on my Google Map (I was writing it all down but it’s turning into a novel on its own). There is no way I am going to manage everything in six days. Thankfully my next trip is just four months away so here’s to multiple returns to the most beautiful city in the world.

Ciao ciao!

Conquering Your Duolingo Tree

On 12th April after 97 days I completed my tree on Duolingo and my owl got his Italian scarf. But this is just the beginning and you can’t learn in isolation. I don’t believe in learning one lesson by heart and then moving on to the next one. I can’t learn by rote and certainly you can’t make sense of one set of words without understanding their context. In Italian many words change not one, depending on the context.

And so I ploughed through the whole lot with a basic understanding, memorising as I went. I’ve managed to implement a lot of it and I can now read basic Italian across social media, understand most of the articles I read and I can get most of my own basic sentence construction right. Italian is now a part of every day life.

But the tree doesn’t end there. You constantly need to update and refresh. Italian is far more complicated than English. And there are far more words to learn because each word has singulars, plurals, are gender sensitive, and have various past, present and future tenses. Quite simply you need to combine Duolingo with a whole bunch of other learning techniques if you’re to master it.

There are a multitude of things you can do. If you want to get good you’ll have to spend a lot longer than a few months. In fact, unless you have a photographic memory, language learning takes a lifetime. But it’s been liberating and I intend to press on.

What I have noticed is how much more advanced my reading and writing is compared to my spoken skills. Talking to an app is one thing, doing it in the real world and with native speakers is quite another and I don’t have many opportunities for that here in Manchester.

And so I joined some language exchange groups on Facebook. I am going to be meeting Italian people. Also, I get randomly messaged by Italians hoping to improve their English so I am constantly having to think on my feet.

I am using a range of elements to improve my language and make sure every day is a new learning and practicing experience. To sum up here’s what I use every day:

  • Facebook and Twitter articles and status updates – I read, write and respond
  • Read a book – someone lent me an Italian book. It’s hard work but handy for dipping in
  • Meet Up – I’ve just joined a language exchange group which meets in Manchester
  • Whatsapp – I have Italian friends in Manchester and Venice I chat to.
  • Duolingo – lesson plans are still set to ‘insane’, you never truly finish your tree
  • Learnitalianpod.com  – spoken lessons only, handy for not using the written word as a prompt
  • Italiano Automatico – Facebook and Youtube – Alberto specialises in teaching Italian. He has slow podcasts – I drop them on to my player for the car.
  • Weila Tom – Youtube – easy explanations about all aspects of the Italian language. This has been my saving grace on so many occasions when I’m struggling to understand structure and variables
  • I back everything up with the vidulingua.com app for checking individual words or checking my sentences before I post to social media
  • I converted all my gadgets to Italian
  • Post it notes – I put them up in strategic places I look every day like my bathroom mirror – I use this mostly for words I struggle to remember – subliminal learning does work
  • podclub.ch – advanced but just hearing the language is beneficial – I drop them on to my player for the car
  • RadioVenezia – or any Italian radio station. Again, just hearing the language is beneficial and that this station is based in my favourite city encourages me
  • Try and think in Italian, I talk to myself a lot. I try to do it in Italian and practice imaginary conversations that I would use regularly such as talking about what I do, or where I am going. It becomes second nature, believe me.
  • Films with or without subtitles – my favourite is ‘Venezia, la luna e tu’ – if you watch it you’ll understand why

In a nutshell SURROUND yourself with it.

#IfVeniceDies

If something lives, it can die. If it was built, it can fall down. In that respect Venice is like anywhere else.

But our perception of Venice’s fragility is largely down to its uniqueness and the passion its people has for preserving it. Where else can you walk amongst 900 year old buildings that are still in daily use. Here in the UK, we just knock them down and build ugly ghosts in their place or they house museum collections. We have no passion for preserving cities or towns in this way.

Venice, being bordered as it is by water, has an insular community which makes it ripe for preservation. The community is hardened to the problems, it isn’t complacent. It’s had to stand up to itself for centuries. Why should now be any different.

The population of Manchester, where I currently live, is 9 times that of Venice. Just think about that for one moment.

If Venice Dies is not just about Venice, although in this instance, it is. It applies to all our historical cities – those which have anything left to show as historical. Venice’s design is it’s biggest ally and also it’s biggest downfall – depending on how you look at it. As someone who has always lived in the UK, I have observed the slow erosion of our architectural and cultural history. Venice represents a paradise. I can go here and walk quite literally in the footsteps of my ancestors and know that they would probably recognise a large proportion of what Venice is now.

But I can appreciate it is not for everyone, and for those that live and have to make a living there it must be hard. Tourism is eating away at solid jobs, at tradition, at artesan crafts, at inherited trades. But Venice has a friend and that is the inhabitants. Venice has survived and it’s down to Venice to pull itself through. And it can do it because it makes a passionate stand. 54,000 people afterall, isn’t nothing.