Language learning is never a solitary pursuit, to consolidate your learning you have to practice and that means talking to other people. I visualise language as a big jigsaw and there are many pieces to put together – so many at times, it can feel quite overwhelming! One of the most important pieces though is your teacher, and this is great because you can choose the one that fits you and your learning style best!
I was a bit hesitant at first about language learning online, at the time I was living in Italy learning Italian just by being there and through sheer curiosity, but the truth is in real life no one will correct your errors. Living life in your target language is immensely helpful – and frustrating in equal measure. However, it alone isn’t enough because people are generally too kind to correct you or don’t know how. Leaving your brave sentences of self-expression littered with errors. BUT – and this is important, at least you can make yourself understood! And, although it’s easier said than done: we need not be hard on ourselves.
Language production (speaking) is a really hard mental barrier to get over… when I first starting living in Italy, my basic level of A2 affected my desire to go out and socialise. I didn’t have the motivation to sit mute playing eyeball tennis across a dinner table all evening, trying to follow the conversation, quite often in Trentino dialect. I wanted to tell the Italians with whom I spoke (and mostly listened to), that I wasn’t stupid, and I found myself in many situations saying, sorry I speak like a five year old. To which they would say TRANQUILLA! (Be calm, don’t worry). But when I did understand jokes and things, I honestly did get this little firework go off inside me like YES, I am doing it!
Living outside of your comfort zone in a constant state of learning is stimulating but also very tiring, no wonder babies need their sleep – all that new information!
Since deciding to learn Italian grammar more formally with the consistent help of a kind and open teacher I am finding out that who you choose to learn with has a huge effect. You have to get on with them, be able to laugh at your mistakes with them and have a fun along the way. It’s teaching me what I like as a student, which informs my own teaching.
I like interactive speaking exercises that will engage me with the grammar rather than doing textbook exercises. There has to be a balance of correction and encouragement, and if you’re having an off-day or something is new and, or difficult it can really make you want to just give up. And we’ve all been there right!
Someone once likened language learning to mountaineering, I don’t disagree… it’s a long, hard slog, easier to start than to finish, the weather constantly changes and you need the right tools for the job.
Speaking of tools for the job, I am coming to realise although we live our lives online and it’s very tempting to try and construct our learning that way, we do need paper. Recently my teacher sent me a PDF exercise that required rotating horizontally. The PDF programme wouldn’t let me do it without an upgrade so I printed it out. My teacher and I laughed that in this way I could turn it whichever way I wanted. I could also write on it and it’s been scientifically proven that you are more likely to remember something if you physically write it out rather than type it. Now I just need a folder to organise all the papers currently strewn across my desk.
Photograph shows Rifugio Lavaredo, Italy. Credit: Matteo Di Iorio