I know I know, you are thinking that italians are famous because they DO NOT learn languages.
But let me tell you why Italians don’t learn and HOW I use the italian way to learn languages fast and effective…while having a lot of fun!
Why Italians Don’t Learn Languages
I bet you have seen already the video of the Italian in Malta!
We are terrible english speaker. We have a horrible pronunciation and we do not understand anything people are telling us.
We spend 5/8 years at school doing boring exercises, learning all the grammar you can imagine practicing boring dialogues
Problem is that Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and all the 6 guys from FRIENDS, they all speak italian. In Italy you can listen to real english only from music. We do have a lot of tourists and we do understand what they are saying, but we reply in italian to them. This is why they go back home speaking italian.
But Italians CAN Learn Languages
Italians are good at few things: pizza, coffee, pasta, you probably know we are quite good with LOVE. And by love I mean PASSION. We are very passionate people and when we like something we put an amazing amount of passion into it.
And this is when Italian learn languages very quickly. If we fall in love with somebody, or with the local culture, with the people, the food, the movies, then we have no enemies.
LOVE: My Approach to Languages
I recently started learning Russian. I have been studying for about a week and I just love it.
I started with Michel Thomas, learning few verbs, nouns and phrases.
And from day 1 I started to speak with people.
Stalk from day 1
Benny Lewis is famous for his “Talk from Day 1″ – I personally Stalk from Day 1.
I jump to random people and just talk. All I care it’s to make sure it’s fun and easy to understand for both sides.
My dictionary is limited but I always have some special phrase that I use to make them laugh and interact with me. It never feels like language practice, I make it feel like fun, also for them.
Some of my favourite phrases in all languages are:
- would you marry me?
- would you like to dance with me?
RADIO BROADCAST, not conversations
It is more like RADIO BROADCAST than conversation. There cannot be a conversation yet as I don’t know so many words, but I have my show prepared and I keep improving it every time I test it on somebody. I am able to predict what they are going to ask me, so the all “conversation” is more or less staged, with me in total control and ready to bring it back to known territory. I create conversations so that the natives always reply to me with something that I can actually understand.
Build on top of what I know (n+1)
I have my show and what I do is constantly adding new peaces to my radio program. In the beginning I can talk for 30 seconds. Than 1 minute, then 2, then 5, then 10. And I say the same things all over again, simply adding few new words into the SHOW based on what natives keep replying to me. I become so good at anticipating their reactions/answers that it starts to feel quite natural.
For my friends this is boring, as they get to listen to this all over again. This is why it’s so hard to practice with friends: they get bored of you! A joke is fun one, maybe two times, not 1000. But I need to tell it 1000 of times to get better at it. This is why I used a lot of natives, between friends, random people, online people, to make sure they don’t get bored and I get a variety of feedback.
I focus a lot on pronunciation to make it sound as natural as possible, not worrying too much about the right words, the right expressions, am I being formal, informal…I don’t care. I just want to sound like a native. And this is the one and only time that I let native to correct me…but unfortunately they get bored after 3 times and my pronunciation becomes perfect.
Positive Reinforcement from Environment
I create a fake world where every time I speak I get positive reinforcement from the environment. People like when you speak their language, especially if you speak with confidence. And I flirt heavily, especially with older women. Who knows when was last time they got a compliment and here I am, studying Russian and telling them how beautiful and young they look. And seriously, this does not work with younger girls, it works only with 50/60 years old women. But it works like magic!
I don’t study the grammar. I have a good knowledge of it, having studied Italian, English, French, Latin, Lithuanian and Finnish grammar. I can understand why words behave in a certain way and I try to figure out grammar from real usage.
I certainly don’t want natives to teach me anything, unless it perfectly fits in what I know already. Natives are really bad with their own grammar. Students on the other hand are better and I listen to them when they have a valuable tip.
Avoid Difficult Stuff
When it feels too difficult, I just skip it. No matter how much it’s important, I don’t care. I want to keep it fun so that it is effective. When I get stuck, I just move on to something else, jumping from online course, talking with people, watching videos on youtube, music, tv series, anything.
I am focused on keeping the motivation at a very high level.
Make it a Habit
I don’t “study” for 3/4 hours and then forget about it, but I keep using the language as much as I can. I focus during the day with a timer for 30 minutes, morning and evening. But I also try to use the language in my daily interaction.
You can say a lot of Good Morning (Доброе утро) and Good Evening (добрый вечер) in a day.
When I start a new language I tell it to everybody. As an Italian you might think that this is because we love to show off, truth is that if you make yourself accountable, then it becomes harder to drop out.
Once the world knows you want to be fluent in Russian in 3 months, now you are on a mission and you have nowhere to hide.
Use it for Real Interactions
I start posting interesting links I find on every social media so that my friends know how to help me. I use the language on Instant Messaging actively asking for help! I want the natives/fluent people to keep sending me good stuff so that I have a little bit of the language during the entire day. And most importantly, so that I connect the language with something useful that matters to me.
Call me lazy, but this is what I DO NOT DO
- I don’t learn list of words – only words that I can use
- I don’t do homework
- I don’t write (not too soon)
- I don’t try too hard to understand
The Journey is What Brings Us Happiness,
Not the Destination
When I learn a language my final target is to be fluent and be able to participate in actual conversations. But my reward comes every day, I don’t want to wait 3 months (or 3 years) to celebrate. I believe that the entire learning process needs to be fun, from day 1. It’s not always fun, not every day, not every time. But you will not become a good basketball player unless you have fun training and playing. Same goes with languages.
Learning languages is like an adventure, not just to discover words but to explore the world with new eyes. This is what really excites me about languages.