Learning a language, as you’ve definitely experienced, is a time suck.
If you let it, it could become a full-time job.
But if you’re here, you probably don’t have the time to make Italian your full-time job – even if you’re retired.
And it’s easy to get sidetracked, feel overwhelmed by resources, and generally wonder what the heck you should do that day that’s going to help you move forward with the language.
Step 1.) Ask yourself these three key questions.
— Where am I currently at with Italian?
— What ideal level in Italian would I like to reach?
— What areas of Italian am I most interested in improving?
Here are my answers:
As of June 2015, I am at a B2 level in Italian, which means that I can comfortably discuss a wide variety of topics — particularly more complex topics ranging from concrete to abstract. The most important distinction at a B2 level is being able to converse spontaneously and flexibly with native speakers without too much strain.
I would like to reach a C2 level, what is considered the closest native level where you understand almost everything that you hear and read and can put your thoughts together clearly and with precision, taking care to pay attention to the thinnest layers of the language. I would like to reach this level by next year (June 2016).
I am most interested in improving my conversational and writing abilities.
For more information on the European levels, read this.
Other areas of growth could be:
— Reading comprehension
— Listening comprehension
Step 2.) Choose a realistic amount of time that you can study each day.
If you look at your schedule and think that you can dedicate an hour to an Italian each day, round down to something between 35-45 minutes a day.
You’ll thank me later.
I say this because no matter how good our intentions are and how diligent we intend to be, life often gets in the way.
When it does, we can prepare ourselves to keep moving forward by keeping a less strenuous & more consistent schedule.
Step 3.) Choose 3-5 key resources for improving your preferred areas.
Overwhelm, in the form of learning resources, is an enemy of many students.
If it’s something you struggle with, I encourage you to choose just 3-5 of your favorite resources that will help you improve your chosen areas.
There is a fine balance between having just the right amount of resources and still adding some pepper (as they say in Italian) to our schedules to stay interested.
In order to reach my ideal level, the best resources for me will be:
Reading material that I’m obsessed with – These will come in the form of romance novels, books on spirituality, articles about living abroad (from this site), and anything I can get my hands on about online business and learning languages.
LOTS and LOTS of speaking – If I’m going to reach a C2 level, you better believe that I need to be speaking as much as I possibly can so I can make the grammar and vocabulary as automatic as humanly possible. This will come in the form of my conversation coffee breaks with you (coming soon!), chats with friends in Italy, communication with my team, and business I’m doing in Italy.
Writing – This is such a weak area for me, and for some reason I have been incredibly resistant to improving it over the last few years. However, I know just the way to improve it while also helping you learn. For the next twelve months, I will write as much as possible for the website in Italian. This will come in the form of newsletters, articles, and posts in the Facebook group.
With the help of the wonderful Anna, I will make sure that all of this writing is corrected before sharing it with you.
Obviously, I’m not the standard student as not everyone has a website they can utilize to make progress. That being said, I know you can find creative ways to interweave your interests, resources, and time to reach your ideal level.
Step 4.) Study Italian every day for the set time using the resources you fancy.
Yep, just do it.
Step 5.) Ask yourself: What may get in my way of sticking to this schedule?
Life can get messy sometimes, and you can look up three months after dealing with emergency after emergency and realize that you haven’t touched your Italian textbook for that entire time.
Sometimes you need a break, and that’s okay.
Other times, it’s necessary that you put safeguards in place so learning Italian becomes less of a luxury and more of a priority.
Ask yourself the simple question of what may get in your way of sticking to your schedule, and then find ways around that.
It’s like you’re protecting yourself from yourself.
For example, if you look ahead at your schedule and know you have a vacation to Mexico coming up that will last a week, plan to adjust your schedule ahead of time and choose resources that you can easily use on the plane, bus or in your downtime between tours.
Obviously you won’t get it right every time, and that’s okay.
Do what you can to stay on top of your game and accept whatever actually happens.
Step 6.) Create a review system for yourself.
To me, this is one of the most important steps and one of the most neglected.
Humans forget things incredibly easily, and if we let our naturally spotty brains get the best of us, it’s going to take us much longer than necessary to reach our ideal levels.
Here’s some advice from the polyglot Judith Meyer:
“People who attend one two-hour class a week and don’t do anything else will generally spend at least 80% of the time on re-learning what they could have remembered from the previous sessions, if they had done proper review. So their learning speed is only 20% of what it could be. It will take them 5 years to learn as much as others might learn in 1 year.” (Bolding added by yours truly.)
What’s beautiful is that review doesn’t have to take up a lot of time each day. It could just be five minutes while you’re in line at the store.
You can create a review system in lots of ways, but here’s what I suggest:
– Use a digital flash card system that you can access on your computer and on your phone – These include Flashcards Deluxe (easiest) and Anki (more difficult but more robust in capabilities).
– Review your flashcards whenever you have free time during your day (in line at the store, walking to work, while on your lunch break, etc.)
– Keep adding new cards to your deck.
– Get rid of the cards that you feel like you’ve known forever.
If you’ve tried Anki before, but it was too difficult to use, I recommend sticking with something simpler.
BONUS: Keep a learning journal.
Many students struggle with feeling like they aren’t making progress.
One fun and reflective way to get over this is to keep a learning journal – either physical or digital – to keep track of a variety of topics, like what words you’ve learned, what phrases you’ve learned, your experience speaking in Italian that day, what areas you still want to improve, what you think of your current resources, etc.
The list can go on and on.
I personally keep a running word document for each month, and it’s messy, but perfect for how I use it, which is somewhere to keep phrases and words until I put them into Anki.
If you want to get allllll of my tips on how to start learning Italian or how to go from absolute beginner to intermediate, I recommend checking out this guide.
Have any questions or anything to add that you’ve found to be particularly helpful? Leave ‘em in the comments below!