Welcome to my new series, “How I’m Learning Italian!”
“How did you learn [insert foreign language]?
That’s the most common question anyone fluent in a foreign language is asked…yet it’s likely one of the most difficult to answer.
First of all, there is the question of fluency. What does it actually mean? Do we ever actually complete the learning process, or is learning a limitless, ever moving target? How do we so succinctly summarize a process that is so complex and seemingly endless in duration?
This series is my attempt to thoroughly answer to the complex question,“How did you learn Italian?”
From the start, my intention with this blog was to document my progress in Italian. It has been awhile since my last Italian language update, as life tends to get in the way of our best laid plans. However, learning Italian is a lifelong journey for me!
My beliefs about the language learning process
I will document my learning process with the following observations that I have made as both a language learner and educator:
- Language learning is an infinite process. Essentially, it’s getting comfortable with the fact that even though you pass a language exam or get an A in a language course, that doesn’t mean the language learning process is complete. In fact, I am always learning something new in English, my native language. There are 171, 476 words in the Oxford English Dictionary that are currently in use. If I were to study a subject such as biology or accounting in English, I would have to learn jargon specific to those fields. Not to mention, I am consistently in awe of regional differences in spelling and vocabulary amongst English speaking countries around the world. This novelty is what excites me the most about languages.
- Therefore, fluency, or proficiency, in a foreign language is an infinite spectrum, not an exact target to reach. Ultimate fluency does not have to be our goal. Language is a communication tool, and we can choose how we would like to use it. For example, at this moment in time, English serves a very different purpose for me than Italian. English is a tool for daily life, whereas Italian is my key to a new world of food & wine and a connection to my heritage.
My “Why” Behind this Project
To become a better teacher
A love of learning is what brought me to teaching
I became a teacher because I love to learn. When I studied abroad in college, I had two incredible language instructors in France & Italy who inspired me to become a teacher myself. I’ve taught English for over a decade now, and remaining a language learner myself is what keeps me excited to teach.
In my opinion, there is no better professional development as a language teacher than being a learner oneself. I want to continue to put myself in my students’ shoes and really understand the learning process. Every single strategy and learning method that I recommend to my students is one that I utilize myself. I want to show how to learn, not tell.
It’s better than getting a PhD
Learning is my true love, and for several years I considered getting a PhD in second language acquisition or sociolinguistics. Ultimately, I decided against it. A PhD would have only meant more student debt without the possibility of greater job opportunities. (There tend to be more qualified applicants than there are available positions in the liberal arts these days. Universities also tend to cut expenses by relying on poorly paid and overworked adjunct instructors – been there, done that, NEVER again).
Research on my own terms
Education doesn’t necessarily have to happen in a classroom. I’m considering this project of mine to be an informal case study (qualitative research) of second language acquisition. I’ll probably learn just as much or more as I would in a PhD program, and have complete control over my research. It will be A LOT more fun because learning should always be joyful, and most importantly, doesn’t need to put you in debt.
To track my progress & stay motivated
I recently had a major breakthrough in my Italian. I’ve been to Italy over a dozen times, and I’ve always used English as a crutch. Although my March 2020 trip to Italy got cut short due to the lockdown, it was the first time I spoke ONLY Italian! It’s still undetermined as of yet when international borders will reopen. In the meantime, I’ll keep improving my Italian!
visible results = motivation
At this point, I consider myself conversational in Italian, but it has taken me over a decade to get here (with lots of periods of inactivity in between). I still have a lot of gaps in my command of grammar. (My formal education in Italian only consists of a beginner’s course when I studied abroad in Torino over a decade ago).
I’ve been working on refining a study system that keeps me constantly learning something new, while actively reviewing what I have already learned. I have tried many things, including flashcards, both paper and digital, which I never looked at them again. That’s when I decided that I should get back to my original purpose for the blog and document my studies here. There is nothing more motivating than SEEING progress.
Most of all, language itself is a social tool, and It’s highly motivating for me to be able to interact with other language learners and Italian teachers.
I hope that sharing my journey inspires others to keep going with language self-study. I look forward to exchanging language learning tips & strategies with my fellow language learners & teachers!
Coming up next…a peek into my Italian notebook. Stay tuned for weekly recaps of what & how I’m learning!