Lessons from 800 days of Learning Italian
While living alone during the thick of the pandemic in the Pacific Northwest, I needed a productive outlet to escape from overcast days, the inability to travel and the dread of existential nihilism. During that time, I was listening to Mike Patton's Mondo Cane on repeat, watching the Sopranos and perfecting my interpretation of Italian food. Thereby, I felt it most appropriate to start learning Italian as a way to learn a new skill and have something to look forward to everyday in addition to the eventual prospect of traveling once things became less apocalyptic.
Through consistent effort of initially just using Duolingo, and then with Toucan and more recently, Italki, I was able to make considerable progress and recently accomplished a goal of consistently practicing Italian on Duolingo for 800 days.
This post goes over lessons I have learnt from learning a new language, language learning goals I have set for myself and mistakes I made.
- A good language teacher is a game changer.
- Consistency, Power of Compounding and Spaced Repetition are your friends.
- Consider multiple forms of media as learning tools such as TV shows, books and interviews.
- I wish I had got a language teacher sooner.
I got a language teacher 2 years into my language learning journey (way too late!!). I realized how terrible I was at conversing after facing some embarrassing moments while traveling to Italy. Furthermore, proclaiming I had been learning Italian for 2 years while not being able to speak well hurt my ego.
Duolingo, in my opinion, can only get you so far in terms of vocabulary and lacks forcing a conversation out of you. In other words, you need to be put into those embarrassing situations where you are forced to come up with a cogent reply. Consequently, yearning for a more formal approach, I researched and found Italki and have recently been consistently practicing Italian online with a teacher. I will add that Duolingo was exceptionally helpful in terms of vocabulary and grammar usage.
The process of finding a teacher that fit my needs required iteration and therefore, time and money and as a result, got me to formulate some goals before jumping in blind; I based the following off a variant (bastardization is probably a more apt term) of OKRs.
Learning Italian in 2023
Objective: Speak, read and understand Italian language correctly and learn about Italian culture and history.
1. Speaking Italian well: Within 4 to 6 months have a complete conversation without grammatical errors, hesitation and with confidence.
2. Reading and understanding Italian: Within 6 months, reading a book in Italian and fully understand shows like Soliti Ignoti, Mina Settembre.
3. Learning about Italian Culture: Within 6 months, learn about the history of Italy and the cultural do's and don'ts.
2. Consuming Italian from Different Sources
I realized relying simply on a grammar book or learning on Duolingo would eventually become language learning a mundane task. I got myself a VPN and binged Italian TV shows that indelibly broadened my horizons and kept me more engaged than before.
My recommendations are the following:
- Watch TV shows initially first without English subtitles and then with.
- Listen to music and looking up the translation of lyrics while listening.
- Read children's books in the language you want to learn and then move up.
3. The Power of Compounding, Spaced Repetition and Consistency
The Power of Compounding, a concept that's typically applied to wealth building, can be universally applied to any appreciating process. In a nutshell, appreciation of your assets (language skills are mental assets) if consistently accrued, will exponentially grow. In the context of language learning, the power of compounding means that in the long term, you are better at the overall language than just the individual lessons as a result of getting better at connecting the dots between concepts.
There is a ton of of research out there highlights that Spaced Repetition rather than binging all the lessons is the most efficient way to learn anything. To summarize, time spent on focused learning followed by giving your brain a break allows your subconscious to fully digest the material.
Spaced Repetition combined with the power of compounding was the way I was able to keep engaged as the positive feedback I received from iterating was motivation to keep going. Knowing what these channels of positive feedbacks are make all the difference and reduce that feeling of difficulty every novice experiences.
Overall, I am extremely proud that I have reached a significant milestone in my learning. Additionally, getting more clarity about goals was a profoundly useful exercise. Finally, I have a greater appreciation for those learning English as a second language than before - learning a new language is difficult especially when there are irregularities in grammar rules and pronunciations.