The next language on the must learn list is Italian: the language of Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch and the Renaissance. My problem is that I don’t have time right now for organised classes. How then will I learn it?
The shotgun approach, I think, will suffice – at least until some time frees up for classes. This involves attacking and voraciously devouring all the language learning resources I can get my hands on: from podcasts to phrase books to academic text books. As long as I can devote 30-60 minutes a day, I’m learning something. In fact, 30-60 minutes a day is close to the perfect amount of time to drop on any subject in order to progress quickly.
Fortunately, I have a couple of good friends who are native speakers. I intend to make myself nuisance to them, pestering them with questions and making them correct my pronunciation.
Now, let’s break down the learning process and work out how I’ll achieve the mammoth task of semi-fluency.
- Pronunciation (and Prosody)
- This is going to be the tough one. It’s an aspect of language which can only really be assessed and corrected by someone else. One of my pet peeves which grew and grew during my French learning is people who refuse to pronounce the language correctly even when repeatedly corrected. If you can’t get the sounds and rhythm of the language eight, how can you expect anyone to understand you?
- Resources required: Italian speaking friends, audio lessons, podcasts, skype
- For me, this isn’t a big problem. I’m used to the grammar of Romance languages after 10 years of studying French (off and on) and four of studying Latin (fairly instensely but a long time ago). I also have four years of in-depth study of English grammar from AD 440 to the present. Consequently, conjugation tables and terms such “circumlocutory periphrastic phrases” hold no fear for me.
- Resources required: Italian grammar texts and lesson books.
- This is always the tough one. The only real way to learn new words is to use the language. I’ve found reading is the key to increasing one’s vocabulary. Sometime you need to look the workd up in a dictionary. Sometimes you can figure them out in context, if only vaguely. The problem for the beginner is where to start. Obviously, Italo Calvino novels are not a good starting point nor, at this stage, is even the newspaper. I’ll start with phrase books. They are filled with lots of good and useful words and gradually work my way through comics to Don Camillo.
- Resources required: Italian phrase books, Italian dictionary
- Social Interaction
- This is a hardest of the lot. Without the possibility of interacting with people using the language, learning the various gestures which automatically accompany social speech, etc, the degree of communication achievable is serverely limited. Here I’ll be relying on friends again (man, they don’t know what they’ve let themselves in for!)
- Resources required: Native speaker friends
Guiding all of this development is my knowledge of the European Common Framework of Reference for Languages which I have developed an understanding of during my time learning French. It’s the guide and the closest thing to a syllabus I’ll be measuring myself against.
What does this all mean in practice? I need to devote myself to spending 30-60 minutes a day attacking the following resources. When I’ve complete this lot, I’ll re-assess.