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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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