Friday, November 12, 2010

I’ve finally joined the Italian club.

Yes! It’s been a month already, in fact. Two.
I’ve had three lessons, but yesterday was skipped for the holiday and the week before was skipped because our teacher was recovering from a minor medical thing. So it’s been:
Lesson 1 with a woman who doesn’t usually teach beginners so she didn’t know how the book worked and wasn’t ready to get us started learning a whole different language. (I really admire people who teach entry-level classes in a foreign language. I may know how to speak/read/write English, but I’ve really no idea how I’d go about teaching that to someone who didn’t at all.)
Lesson 2 I had to skip for a meeting out of town.
Lesson 3 I prepared for by reading up and doing all the exercises for “Lesson 2” in the book, thinking that would meerly catch me up to where the others were the week before. But in fact, that evening’s class covered just about the first third of “Lesson 2”. Aha. The book’s lessons correspond to what a college student might do in a 2-hour class. But this is a more or less casual club, a hobby sort of thing. The students are all middle-aged (I’m the youngest! I love being youngest once in a while.), and nobody wants the kind of cadence the book offers. So we’re getting through it as we get through it.
Lesson 4 covered more of “Lesson 2”, but didn’t quite finish it. We’re all still at the frustrated stage where we don’t have enough words yet to say anything.
And now this 2-week break before getting back to it. I don’t know what people will retain from the early lessons by the time we meet again. Might have to start over!
I think learning a new language is mostly a vocabulary thing. Plus some lessons to show you how to put the words in order, maybe a bit of conjugation. Of course. Essential. But if you have some vocabulary, you can start using it to express thoughts, even if the results are all garbled up in your own usual grammar. We all know the mistakes that non-English speakers make when they talk to us. But switching the verb and noun around isn’t such a huge burden to understanding. Yes, well, there are plenty of examples of how getting it wrong can go very wrong. But overall, you can get something across. And if you listen to films in the language, and read books or magazines in it, or go there and talk to people, you find out pretty quick what the major rules are.
Italian isn’t so different from French. Both romance languages and all that. Half our words in English are pretty much the same ones in French or Italian or Spanish. (The ones that aren’t can be counted on to be German or Greek.) When I came to France, I found that English with a cartoon-french accent worked pretty well. Should be the same with Italian! Right?
So I bought a book in Italian last weekend. A slim volume by Primo Levi, a book I’d read before in translation. Perhaps I could have found something happier, but the selection barely covered one narrow shelf and at least with this one I have an idea of what’s going on.
Thus far I’ve read about five pages. There’s a balance to strike between making a dictionary pause for every word you really can’t imagine what it might be, and barreling through with these holes in your understanding because otherwise by the time you get to the end of the sentence you don’t remember how it started.
But I’m doing it. I’m reading in Italian.


jabblog said...

Well done! It's all about the 'tune' of the language but I like your idea of speaking English in an Italian accent - that would work for me, if not for the people I might be speaking to.

Argent said...

I love languages and you're spot-on: vocabulary is very much needed. Well done for reading a Primo Levi at this stage. It is annoying to have to keep looking things up but at least we have the Internet now to help out. I used to get frustrated with the hobby style/pace of language learning as I like a very structured and fairly intensive approach. Kudos though in any case.

marc aurel said...

Have you looked at this blog?

steven said...

nanu - i really wish i could speak french. there's so much literature and so many films and so much music that is lost to me because i was a goof during french from grafe 4 to grade 8. good luck with the italian!! steven

Short Poems said...

Great post.... I like your ideas :)
All the best
Marinela x