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.

Back To The Grind

My three weeks just south of London have come to an end. In case you’re out of the loop I’ve been housesitting a Boston Terrier named Malibu for a few weeks. My parents don’t live that far away so I’ve been making the most of the proximity to catch up with them and meet my brand new nephew. I’ve also taken myself into London for a couple of days of research at the British Library (that’s the image at the top of this post in case you are wondering).

Manchester for those of you that don’t know the geography is a 5 hour drive from my parents, so I rarely come down this way. And when I do, it’s usually via the medium of other tasks. It’s a lot to justify especially when you run your own business.

Primarily the reason was to get away from my day job and finish revising the second edition of my book which needed a lot of new material putting in. My time here has gone remarkably slowly, and though I don’t feel like I’ve done an awful lot with my time I have achieved what I came here to do – finish the book.

It’s gained a lot of pages and I’ve thrown a few out. And this edition will come with pictures once I’ve forked out for the copyright and got some artefacts properly photographed. There are lots of exciting things to show you and I hope you will be inspired. I doubt the copy will be out by the time I go to Venice in May. But rest assured the link will be up when it’s done.

In the meantime I have continued to plough away at my Italian lessons. And I’ve gained myself a Manchester based Italian penpal via WhatsApp. I’ve also managed to expand my Italian family tree and my grasp of the language seems to be coming on well.

So yes I suppose it has been a good few weeks. Back in Manchester it’s time to return to business. And in just five weeks I will be in Venice. After 10 years absence I am finally back at the ancestral home. And it cannot come soon enough.

Lingua Italiano Parte 2

I am not a natural when it comes to learning new skills. If I am really interested in something it’s relatively easy to pick it up and retain the information but there are some things I am just not that great at. Languages is one of them. I admire anyone who can speak a second language. So my bucket list task this year, to learn Italian, is not an easy ride.

Duolingo got me hooked, Tom Weila helped explain the problem areas I couldn’t master, and now I’ve found Italianoautomatico to fill in even more gaps. To top it up I have Google Translate which does get me out of scrapes especially when I am trying to build sentences in real time, and I have a fantastic app on my phone called Vidalingua which is great for on the go. I use this a lot when I need to find words Duolingo hasn’t taught me yet. Of which thre are many!

But of course the main problem is that I live in Manchester which is not known for its ‘lingua italiano’. So I’ve converted all my home pages on my laptop to Italian and and I have Italian Radio and news channels playing at work.  The only way to truly learn a language is to live with it and in it. And from here that is not easy. So it’s all remote at the moment.  By surrounding myself in it, thinking it, saying it and listening to it, it’s like a slow drip feed.

Come May I will know how well I am doing. I’m off to Venezia for one week. Of course Venetian is a dialect all of its own, even a language of its own, so I know I am going to hit many stumbling blocks that week. Using the language in a real setting will be my first major challenge and I am excited for the challenge and terrified of getting it oh so very wrong and looking like an idiot. I just hope I’m up to the task.

Ho a molto lungo viaggio in anticipo di me!

 

How Do You Say…

I have been trying to find the Italian word for great-great-great-grandfather. The closest I can get is bisnonno which is great grandfather. Someone suggested that ‘bis-bisnonno’ was great great grandfather and therefore it would be ‘bis-bis-bisnonno’ but I’m not sure that sounds right.  I’ve resorted to ‘antenati’ – ancestors.

In most of my ‘scritto Italiano’ I have reverted to more obvious phrases such as ‘storia famiglia’ and ‘genealogico’. I’m sure that Italian genealogists have a whole raft of words that fit far better. You are welcome to enlighten me anytime you see fit.

As I work my way through my Italian lessons, it is becoming obvious that the use of language is more generalised. In English words are very specific. It’s a difficult mindset to get out of. Some sentences can only be truly understood in context, so in the confines of an online lesson they are open to conjecture causing endless confusion amongst ‘early learners’, myself included. The very helpful Duolingo discussion sections are testament to this.

In English there is a word for everything and sentence construction is always in the order in which it is said. ‘The’ means ‘the’. In Italian I so far have 7 words for ‘the’. We don’t bother with masculine or feminine. So it’s not simply about learning words, it’s about an entirely new structure and in fact a whole new way of communicating. I find it very difficult but I am very very English with no foreign language exposure and I have a relatively large vocabulary so I am used to specifics.

So, for instance, in Italian ‘proprio’, ‘veramente’ and ‘davvero’ all mean ‘really’ depending on the context. But ‘proprio’ also means ‘own’. ‘Particolamente’ seems fairly obvious except that it also means ‘especially’. And whilst there are many words that are very similar to their English counterparts – ‘perfetto’, ‘momento’, ‘generosità’ – ‘caldo’ means ‘hot’ not ‘cold’, ‘aggiunge’ means ‘add’ (which took me forever to remember) and ‘meraviglioso’ means ‘wonderful’ and has its variations such as meglio – best.

Add to this mish-mash that sentences are not constructed as they are in English and that there are lots of things you say in English (particularly idioms) which just can’t be said in Italian (because they don’t exist) and for someone like me it adds to an already confusing pot of learning problems. And don’t get me started on rolling my r’s (which I cannot do) to sound authentic, or shortened words like don’t, can’t or won’t.

My online counterparts, who are French and Spanish, get it. Because English seems to be the only language that doesn’t work like the rest of Europe. If I ever get to over 30% on Duolingo it will be a miracle. And this despite my 57 day streak.

However there are some quite advanced sections I find really easy. I’ve grasped ‘mente’ as a word appendage from day 1. And I THINK I have good pronunciation. But I won’t know that until I have to inflict it on someone else. At the moment I am too scared to try. I roll endless Youtube videos and Radio24 programmes to make sure I’m getting it. I can read whole passages of text that I might not understand but with an Italian accent because once you know how letters sound you can say pretty much anything even if you don’t know what it means.

Add to this that my preferred dialect will be Venetian (for obvious reasons and because I largely translate old Venetian in my family history research) and I’m almost back to square one. Did you know Venice is trying to get Venetian recognised as its own language? There are many spelling variations. Now try doing that in 200 year old documents and you’ll see how much I love challenges. All I can say is ‘thanks Tita’ – I blame this entirely on you.

To wrap up here are my tips for learning a language when you aren’t ‘living it’ and when you have no language experience:

Convert all your electronics to your chosen language
Stream current news and radio stations (listen to Radio24 if Italian is your thing)
Get tv and films with the subtitles
Join learning pages on Facebook for people learning your language
Subscribe to social media feeds in your chosen country
Join Duolingo