I fell off the wagon. I haven’t been on Duolingo for a couple of weeks now. After I lost my streak, I lost the habit of doing it every day. My experience has shown me that consistency is absolutely vital when learning a new skill, including language acquisition. Today I am going to start my Duolingo again and hopefully keep going until my trip in May. I am sure that I will learn a lot while I am there, but I would like to come armed with a few useful phrases.
Day 1 of my Duolingo comeback went really well! I expected to be a little rusty, but I actually caught on again right away. I think that my prolonged break actually caused me to be more focused on the lesson. When I was in the routine of doing it every day, sometimes I would find myself on “autopilot”–not even paying attention to what I was supposed to be learning.
After I lost my streak, my Duolingo practice has become a little sporadic. As a result, the Duolingo Owl has been accosting me. My entire inbox is full of passive aggressive reminders from Duolingo, saying (threatening?) that I should “keep the owl happy”. I tried to unsubscribe, but I keep getting emails. Receiving these emails does not actually motivate me to practice my Italian. However, I know that I should keep learning because I want to have at least passable Italian when I go to Italy in May. I have turned to YouTube videos to help me learn lately. There are endless videos on how to learn languages on YouTube. What I have learned, is that you just have to try them out and see which ones help you learn. Sometimes, while watching a video, it is tempting to watch passively. However, if you are actually trying to learn new information, you must be an active participant in the video. I have linked the videos that I have found to be the most helpful below.
I have never had my heart broken, but I think I know what it must feel like. You guessed it, I lost my 30 day Duolingo streak. I have been trying to do my Duolingo lessons before bed, as an experiment to find out if it helps me remember more, and I think that this was my down fall. I like to wake up in the morning and be productive. For a long time, Duolingo was one of the first things I did when I woke up. I loved the feeling of being able to check it off my to do list right away. I think that I should go back to doing my lessons in the morning. When I said that my heart is broken, I was obviously being facetious. I am feeling a little discouraged, though. I don’t particularly like the look of this graph:
As I have said from the beginning though, Duolingo is not the be all and end all. I am taking my lost streak as motivation to try out some other methods. In my last blog post, I talked about cognates (words that are similar or almost exactly the same in your native language and the language that you are learning). I found an article all about Italian and English cognates that I have found really helpful. It provides some grammatical rules which I will list below:
When an English word has the suffix “ty”, its Italian cognate has the suffix “tà” (e.g. “generosity” vs. “generosita”)
When an English word has the suffix “ble”, its Italian cognate has the suffix “bile” (e.g. “adorable” vs. “adorabile”)
When an English word has the suffix “tion”, its Italian cognate has the suffix “zione” (e.g. “education” vs. “educazione”)
When an English word has the suffix “ly”, its Italian cognate has the suffix “mente” (e.g. “probably” vs. “probablimente”)
When an English word has the suffix “ic”, its Italian cognate has the suffix “ico” (e.g. “dramatic” vs. “drammatico”)
When an English word has the suffix “ism”, its Italian cognate has the suffix “ismo” (e.g. “vandalism” vs. “vandalismo”)
It is also important to be aware of “false friends”. False friends are words that seem like cognates, but actually have different definitions. Here is a link to an article by FluentU that lists 14 of the most common fake friends between Italian and English : https://www.fluentu.com/blog/italian/italian-false-friends/
It is day 28 today; I am have been learning Italian for 4 weeks now! Honestly, it is getting a lot more difficult. At first, I just learned the basics: common nouns and a few phrases. Lots of Italian words are similar to English words, so it was easy to identify them. They also provided pictures to go along with every noun which always gave away the answer.
Now, I am working on some more difficult components of language. I am having particular difficulty with possessives. I remember that this was challenging for me when I was learning French in school. Some of the Italian possessives are similar to French which is a blessing and a curse because sometimes it helps me remember and sometimes it just confuses me. For example, “our” in French is “notre” and it is “nostro” in Italian. This can be confusing, though.
I read an awesome article by Tim Ferris and Benny Lewis about learning languages. It outlines 12 rules for learning languages in “record time.” It also includes countless resources for language learners. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but I thought I would summarize it anyway:
The 12 Steps:
Learn the Right Words, The Right Way: learn the words that are most frequently used in the language.
Learn Cognates: cognates are “true friends” of words that you know in your native language (kind of like what I was talking about above with “notre” and “nostro”). You already know tons of words in the language that you are trying to learn!
Interact Daily in your language without travelling: listen to the radio or watch TV in your desired language.
Skype Native Speakers: I might not do this one because it creeps me out, but I understand that this method has merit.
Do not pay to learn a language: the best resources are free!
Realize that adults are actually better language learners than kids: you are NOT too old to learn a language.
Expand your vocabulary by using mnemonic devices.
Create S.M.A.R.T. goals: (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound)
Jump from “Conversational” to “Mastery”: Do a lot of spoken practice. Like, a LOT.
Learn the accent. You will not sound like a native speaker until you develop an accent.
I have officially been learning Italian for 3 weeks now! I am getting more and more comfortable with the language and am actually quite proud of my progress.
I had every intention of following through with my plan to experiment with the time of day at which I do my lessons, but I will confess that I have not stayed true to my plan. However, tomorrow I will start doing my lessons before bed, as suggested by the article that I read last week.
I saw my Nona this past week and made an effort to speak Italian with her, as I think my conversation skills are lacking. She does not speak true Italian very often; usually when she talked to relatives on the phone she speaks Calabrese, so I could tell it was a challenge for her to shift to formal Italian. Although we did not speak Italian together for long, I think that it was a valuable experience. My accent definitely needs work. I have an issue speaking in a fluid and natural way and, as a result, I sound pretty choppy. I think that this issue will resolve in time and with practice.
As a creature of habit, I have been enjoying my Duolingo Italian lessons every day. However, as I have mentioned in previous posts, Duolingo alone will not help me achieve a high level of fluency. I have been researching other supplementary methods and came across a useful article. One of the methods suggested in the article was the Michel Thomas audio lessons. My older brother used these when he was learning Italian and found them quite helpful, so I think I should try them out too.
Today is day 14 of my adventure of learning Italian, and I daresay that I have had somewhat of a breakthrough. When I first started Duolingo, I did not have any intuitive sense of how to construct sentences. I could recognize some words, but I could not put them together in any meaningful way. Today, I found myself putting together a simple sentence without thinking about it. This led me to think about the concept of active learning/participation. I have been actively participating in every lesson (speaking aloud as I type out my answers, making a real effort to process the information), but I only recognized my progress when I was participating more passively. I suppose the passive participation allowed me to test out my muscle memory.
Today also marks the beginning of an experiment that I am going to do on myself. I read an article that made me wonder if I could further my learning by changing the time of the day at which I practice my learning. The article, linked below, said that many people found that practicing their language at night, right before they went to sleep, helped them retain the information better. I have been completing my Duolingo lessons relatively sporadically, sometimes right when I wake up in the morning, sometimes at night, and other times in between classes. For the next week, I am going to do all of my practice in the morning. The week after, I will try right before I go to bed. This will not, by any means, give me conclusive evidence; I may not even notice a difference! However, there is no harm in testing it out for myself.
Today in class we talked about screen recording. I am going to use my new found screen recording ability to show you what a Duolingo lesson consists of.
Today is day 8 of my mission to learn Italian (and also day 8 of my duolingo streak!)
I have started to recognize some basic words (types of food, clothing, etc.) and have just started learning the possessive. Duolingo asks learners to answer different types of questions by either typing out the answer, saying the answer out loud, or picking from a list of possible answers. This is beneficial because it challenges the learner to apply the words/concepts in different scenarios. Many of the phrases are conversational and are applicable to every day life. There are quite a few, however, that I am quite sure that I will never use. For example, one of the phrases that I have learned from Duolingo is: “l’orso mangia la mi bistecca” which means “the bear eats my steak”. But perhaps my perception of Italy is flawed, maybe this phrase will serve me well on my trip in May. Maybe, on a beautiful night in Positano, I will be sitting eating my dinner only to be rudely interrupted by a bear, who has come to eat my steak. I will be grateful to Duolingo as I call out, “l’orso mangia la mi bistecca!”
I do not think that doing Duolingo alone will help me develop a command of the Italian language. I my plan for this week is to learn some vocabulary and write it out using a pen and paper. Personally, I find it harder to remember things that I have written out via keyboard, so I think that this method may help me. I am also going to see my Nona this week and hopefully I can learn more conversational phrases with her.
In my last post, I talked about how I changed the language on my social media platforms to Italian. I wish I could say that this has been an effective strategy for me, but it has not been as successful as I had hoped (so far). I am so used to seeing notifications from these media platforms (facebook, instagram, pinterest) that I do not even read the notification anymore because I just recognize it and automatically understand what it means. Maybe I am speaking too soon, but as of right now I do not think that this is a revolutionary method. Seeing my notifications come up in Italian does remind me to do my Duolingo practice everyday, so that is one benefit!
Why are some people better at learning languages than others are? What is the secret? One of my older brothers can speak English, Spanish, French and Italian. I always thought that he simply possessed a “language gene” that I do not have. However, after watching Lydia Machová’s TED Talk on learning language, I have changed my mind…
In her talk, Lydia says that there are four important components to learning a new language quickly and effectively:
Enjoyment: The learner must use a method (talking to other people, making lists of new words, watching Netflix in your desired language, etc.) that they enjoy. Polyglots (people who speak many languages) all use different methods to learn new languages. The way in which one person learns a new language may be completely different than how another person may learn. Any method that keeps you engaged and interested is valid!
Methods: If the learner wants to achieve fluency in a new language, they must use methods that will store new words and information in their long term memory rather than their short term memory. Lydia suggests reviewing the new information every few days. She suggests using apps such as Memrise or Anki to help with this practice. She also suggests looking up different polyglots on YouTube and seeing what their favourite methods are.
System: Lydia emphasizes the importance of establishing a systematic language learning routine into our daily lives. She suggests waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual to review vocabulary or listening to a foreign language podcast during your commute.
Patience: Skill acquisition takes time. Whether you are learning to shoot a proper layup in basketball, learning to use Wordpress, or learning a new language, time, effort, and patience are always necessary.
Lydia mentioned that when she was learning German, she watched the TV show Friends on Netflix in German. I think that is a brilliant method! I decided to take Lydia’s advice and change the language on my Netflix to Italian so that I can watch all of my favourite shows while still being productive! After a little bit of research, I found out that there are only 17 movies that I can watch on my Canadian Netflix account in Italian. That’s right, only 17. There may be a way to change the settings on Netflix to make it work (possibly through a VPN) but I am not sure how to do that. If anyone knows how to make this work, please let me know. If I could watch The Office in Italian, I would learn so quickly!
After I changed the language on my Netflix, I thought: why not change the language from English to Italian on all of my social media? I changed the language settings on my Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
For my open inquiry project, I have decided to learn Italian. I am one quarter Italian, but did not grow up speaking Italian at home (apart from the odd idiomatic word or phrase). As I have gotten older, I have realized the importance of staying in touch with one’s culture. Not only does this connect one with one’s family, but it helps one connect with a deeper part of oneself. I am going to Italy in May and would like to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the language before I go.
I have a few ideas on how to begin, but hopefully will gain more insight along the way. My first idea is to do learn Italian through the website duolingo. I have created a profile and selected the 15 minute per day option.
My next strategy will be to talk to my Nonna (my grandmother). She grew up speaking Calabrese, an Italian dialect, but also knows formal Italian quite well. Every time I see her, I will try to learn a few new words–besides just different types of pasta!
I am feeling excited to honour part of my heritage in this way. I do not know where my speaking ability will be by the end of the semester, but hopefully these two steps will take me in the right direction.