I went to Italy this week and had a great time. I don’t speak Italian a lot, and I don’t mean to learn yet. But there was something about being able to exchange those few basic words that made me love the way this language is spoken. This is a short guide to being Italian – even if your language of choice is completely different. I hope you find this useful.
1. The Stressed Language Learner
You’re afraid of mistakes. You want lots of progress fast. You give yourself time limits. Or any other limits. Sometimes you do things that you know are impossible. It’s all in the day’s work for any learning polyglot. There are plenty of traumas, shocks and false starts – and then plenty of high stakes, deadlines and commitments.
This is stressful. And stress can work to your advantage, also when you learn a foreign language. It can motivate and excite you. But it can also destroy the enjoyment you have in speaking a language.
2. The Italian Job – or why slowing down is OK
I remember my Italian students on English summer schools. They’d come in late, apologize and sit down. Then they’d realize they forgot their pen, but managed to tell me all about their day in the meantime, in a mixture of Italian, English and body language. They learned a bit, but mainly enjoyed themselves. And why not? They were on holiday.
Of course, it felt pretty unproductive to be their teacher. But today, I feel I could look at this whole situation differently: the qualities they brought into the classroom – the garrulous, relaxed curiosity, and the fun-loving extrovert nature of their talk – this is just what you need sometimes!
The crucial thing here: slow down.
3. Being Italian in any language – a quick list
So here’s what you could do if you wanted to apply a more relaxed approach to your language learning:
- – Focus for a while on the words you know. Repeat them loudly and slowly. Enjoy the familiar feeling of them rolling off your tongue.
- – Say whatever you have to say – slowly and with confidence. Even if it’s just a scripted answer to a grammar exercise. Enjoy the fact that you get to talk – and make your mark on every sentence.
- – Switch back to your native language. YES. Do it if you feel it’s necessary. Maybe someone around knows your mothertongue and will help you out? Maybe it’s just a few words that you’ll be able to build your next part of the conversation around? Don’t feel that your L1 is “taboo.” It’s a tool, just like the language you’re trying to learn.
- – Don’t obsess over time frames, deadlines and targets. Deal calmly and cheerfully with the lesson ahead of you, and make sure you have fun every stage of the way.
- – Look behind the strict rules and dry general statements. Discover the melody, the rhythm, the flavour of every word and phrase.
- You don’t need to do this every day. But every now and then, it helps to move away from the high-achieving mindset and have some fun with the language you’re learning.
The funny thing about it is this: you may just discover that you learn, work and speak much better that way. Keep it up then!
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