“Unzipping” languages in your brain

Author: Inês Carvalho

I sometimes use a metaphor to talk about language learning that depicts the inability to simultaneously use all the languages you’ve learnt in “full potential”. I’ve talked with other polyglots and they share similar experiences. For example, let’s imagine that you speak French at an upper-intermediate level and Italian at a pre-intermediate level. You decide to put in a lot of effort to improve your Italian, but after a few weeks, you realize you’re struggling more than before with French. The metaphor that I’ll introduce you to also covers that phenomenon of feeling that you forgot a certain language and that it’s all lost forever, but after a few hours of practice you’re back on track.

At Mundolingo, “unzipping” languages

Maybe someone else has already thought of this metaphor before, but I consider that it’s something worth discussing, if only to alleviate the pain of those language learners who delved into another language only to, weeks later, find out that their language skills in all their previous languages have apparently become impaired.

Bear in mind that this metaphor has no background in neurolinguistics, and that I’m using it to rather describe a feeling that I often have when learning foreign languages. Now, to the metaphor. Imagine that your brain is a computer and that your language knowledge is stored in folders. For the sake of convenience, and because you need some of these files and folders on a daily basis, they are unzipped on your brain desktop. In my case, the unzipped folders on my “brain” desktop are: the Portuguese folder, which I use every day; quite a lot of the files in the English folder, since I need them for work and entertainment; the Spanish files for daily communication with my Mexican exchange students; and all the Italian files, because I am learning it at the moment and I watch YouTube videos in Italian every single day before falling asleep.

Now let us check the other folders, which are compressed: German, a large folder, lots of vocabulary and grammar inside, can be rapidly unzipped but some old files may have been lost; Swedish, a smaller folder, not very well organised somehow. It looks like it is going to be hard to unzip unless you pre-heat the computer – wait, you don’t do that to computers, do you? Never mind, it is just a metaphor anyway. And then there is the French folder. The Dutch folder. The Mandarin folder. The Latin folder. The Japanese folder. The Russian folder. The Esperanto folder.

So I am here in Lisbon and you tell me that there is a cool language exchange going on around the corner tonight. I’m all excited about it, of course I’m going. Will there be any Swedes? I definitely miss speaking Swedish! Of course, I also want to practice my Italian since that’s my focus right now.

We arrive at the bar where the language exchange is taking place. A tall blond person sitting shy at the corner. That must be a Swede! I approach them. “Hej hej”, I say. They reply and ask something, but my Swedish is so unbelievably rusty! I even manage to confuse Esperanto pronouns (“ni” first person plural) with Swedish ones (“ni” second person plural) and that makes me feel awful. Have I really lost Swedish? No, wait, don’t even think of switching to English! That’s nice of you, such a polite Swede, but we are NOT going to have this conversation in English! It’s just that it takes some time to unzip the Swedish folder. Please, be patient. Tack. Let me listen a bit to you speaking Swedish, let me think in Swedish while we’re at it and let me feel it again. After some minutes it is going to be much better, still a little bit rusty, I’ll still have to think a lot, but you’ll have no excuses to switch to English. Keep talking to me please, I can understand what you say, it is just that “unzipping the files” is taking longer than usual. Another beer, please. Or maybe not, my Spanish friend told me that my Spanish does not get any better after a few beers. Maybe we just lose the ability to notice our mistakes and stop worrying about grammar details.

We have now been talking for a while in Swedish, haven’t we? It’s now flowing much better than at the beginning. For my Swedish to reach its full potential I would probably need a couple of hours, but it’s a language exchange after all, maybe we should go and try talking to other people too. Just let me exchange Facebook profiles with this Swede.

Now you introduce me to your Dutch friend. You told him before that I could speak Dutch. Yes, you are totally right. I could. But then I started learning Swedish some years ago and now the Dutch is all gone. I cannot unzip that folder. It says that the files are corrupted, what can I do? This time I won’t even try. I politely say something in English to your friend and then from the corner of my eye I spot some people doing a lot of gestures and laughing very loudly. They might be Italians, let’s go and check!

After two hours, on our way home, you are puzzled. “Why didn’t you try to speak Dutch?”. I reply that I might have completely forgotten how to. “Why don’t you try to have it back?”, you ask. Well, I’m afraid that if I try to fix it, I’ll damage my Swedish files. I could have a simple conversation in Dutch a few years ago, but after living in Sweden I’ve never been able to speak Dutch again – not that I’ve tried that much anyway. Well, my fear is that if I learn Dutch again, it’ll negatively affect my Swedish – and I really don’t want to lose it! “Oh but that makes no sense according to your ‘zipped folders’ metaphor”, you say. “You just have to be careful not to unzip the Dutch folder into the Swedish folder”. Now I can’t even understand what you’ve just said implies in practical terms. I got caught in my own metaphor.

But what you said did get me thinking. So tonight, before going to bed, instead of watching Italian videos on YouTube, I’m choosing a very easy Dutch video for beginners.  Of course I’m able to understand it, I’ve never stopped being able to understand it. But this time I am pausing, I am taking the time to internalize every sentence that appears on the screen. Suddenly, a grey window appears somewhere in my brain: “Unzip file?”. And I click “Yes”. I fall asleep with a confident smile. There might still be hope for my Dutch after all!

Written in 2017

How to have a fruitful language exchange

Author: Inês Carvalho

Have you ever participated in a language exchange? It can be a lot of fun! It’s all about meeting interesting people from many different countries, speaking different languages and making new friends.

There are many different kinds of language exchange. In some events, there are tables assigned to a specific language, or to language pairs (e.g. English-Portuguese, Spanish-Portuguese), in other cases there are no tables and you choose who you want to interact with. Mundolingo has an interesting system, where participants use flag stickers to show which languages they can speak and which ones they are trying to improve. You can also have your own language exchange with a friend that speaks your target language and whom you help improving in their target language. This article is about language exchange events where you have different physical areas (such as tables) assigned to specific languages, and how to benefit the most of these events in terms of language learning (but there are many other benefits besides the language learning aspect).

SPEAK Language exchange at Casa do Impacto

If you have zero passive knowledge of a language, don’t expect that you will learn a lot at such an event. What I mean is that if you don’t understand anything in that language (let’s say you’re Portuguese and want to learn Japanese from scratch), it’s very unlikely that you will learn more than just a few words at such an event. That’s because most of the participants are not teachers and they don’t know how to “teach” the language from scratch. However, if you don’t speak a language but can understand a little bit (imagine you’re Spanish and don’t know any Portuguese), you might be able to learn a lot because you can understand what people say to some extent and take part in the conversation. My point is not that you should only come to the event if you already speak the language, but rather that you should adjust your expectations. It might still be great to get to know native speakers of your target language, make friends with them and learn a few words – maybe in the future you will be able to speak back to them in their mother tongue! If you’re a beginner taking the first steps in a language, another approach is to be proactive and bring with you a text or some words and ask a native speaker to help you read and pronounce them, or bring some questions/answers that you would like to practice . This way, it will be easier for your language partners to help you out in such an informal context.

Italian notes I took at one of the events

If you’re really focused on improving your language skills, I suggest that you bring a notebook with you to write down new words, “false friends”, and all the corrections you get (or just use your phone to take notes). This implies not only noting down words, but sometimes whole sentences. This is a great way of learning grammar structures. Always check if your spelling is correct after taking notes. At home, look at these words again every now and then, so that they slowly stick to your brain.

Another important aspect is asking your language partners to correct you, and thanking them whenever they do that. If you’re talking a lot and don’t get any corrections, you will intuitively assume that you’re speaking correctly, and the wrong structures and words will be “fossilized” in your brain (“fossilization” is actually a concept in linguistics). Once fossilization occurs, you are more likely to repeat the same mistake over and over again, believing that you’re speaking correctly. It will also be harder to get rid of this mistake in the future.

I believe that the best way of improving is to set times for specific languages, i.e. 15 minutes for Portuguese, 15 minutes for French. People are more likely to speak their target language, while their language partners answer back in their own target language. It also works well, but I still think that it is important to listen to people speaking their mother tongue.

In some kinds of events (at least the ones I organize), arriving early also guarantees better opportunities of being paired up with someone that speaks the language you’re interested in. At the end of the event, don’t forget to ask people for their phone number or Facebook addresses so that you stay in touch!

Finally, let’s not forget one of the most basic rules of language exchange etiquette, which is helping your language partners by also giving them the opportunity to practice their target language with you (assuming that you speak the language they’re trying to learn).

If you live in Lisbon, these are some of the Facebook groups where you can find more information about language exchange events. Have fun!

Language Exchange Lisbon: This group is managed by me. I share here the free events that I organize for SPEAK (usually on Saturdays) and other cultural and language-related events that take place in Lisbon.

SPEAK Lisbon – Language & Culture Exchange: SPEAK has several Language & Culture Exchange events, and not only in Lisbon. I organize some of the Lisbon events, but there are more events organized by other people. They also offer language courses!

MundoLingo Lisbon: There’s a language exchange meetup every Tuesday at Anjos70. You pay €2 the first time you go and then it’s free.

BlaBla Language Exchange: They used to have meetups on Thursdays, but I think that the last ones have been on Wednesdays. You should register beforehand.

The Gift of Language: How I am teaching my son three languages

Guestblogger: Bryce DeCora, founder of Finite Languages

I’m a recovering monolingual who is teaching my son three languages. Interested in hearing how? I thought you might be. Let me start by saying only an estimated 15% of people born in America are able to speak another language conversationally. It’s no wonder Americans are sometimes viewed as self-centered and non-empathetic. In my experience, learning other languages has drastically opened up my eyes to cultural differences and world struggles. This is something I had to pass on to my son, Atlas.

We had some immediate hurdles to get over on this new adventure. Our parents are from the Midwest, where everyone speaks English really well… and that’s it. Nothing against the Midwest, but they are not very culturally diverse and the idea of raising a multilingual child was pretty foreign to them. They said things like, “Why can’t he just grow up like a normal boy?” and “He will fall far behind all of the other kids who are just learning one language.”

In addition to the lack of support, my wife and I only spoke English fluently. I had studied Italian for 18 months by the time Atlas was born but was not fluent by any means. So how were we going to raise Atlas multilingual? Lots of hard work and good planning.

By the time Atlas had turned one I was an intermediate Italian speaker and decided to only speak Italian to him from that point on. It’s been one and a half years now and I have yet to speak to him in English. Let me pat myself on the back here for a second. I have multiple friends who do speak another language natively. People who have failed to teach their children this language because it was hard for them to switch between speaking English all day at work, to their other language at home. If it’s difficult for a bilingual to do this, just imagine the strain I go through every day. After 8 hours at work as an engineer, I keep my brain turned on to the max when I arrive home to speak Italian with Atlas. It’s not easy. At times, it’s borderline torture.

Imagine never saying, “I love you” to your child in your native language. Imagine if your spouse couldn’t understand anything you were saying to your child. Imagine never having a time in the day where your brain can rest. It’s even more difficult than you can imagine, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Let’s get into the details of how I teach Atlas Italian. Kids are very active learners. Anyone with kids knows how well sitting a toddler down with flashcards works… not well. We mix Italian into his daily life wherever possible. He loves to draw – We draw shapes and animals together and name them in Italian. He loves cartoons – He watches cartoons with me in Italian. He loves his toys – We play together with his toys while speaking Italian. He loves to dance – We listen and dance to Italian music. The only way to teach a child is through immersion.
I have recently come to realize that this is not something I can accomplish alone. Kids learn best from watching interactions between people. This means it’s necessary for him to be around other Italian speaking children and to see me interact with other Italian speakers. Recently, we have started attending an Italian story time and Italian immersion class for kids two times per month. This way Atlas is able to grow through interactions in addition to the work we put in at home.

Did I mention Atlas is learning Russian as well? One year ago, we decided it would be possible to gift Atlas with another language when it was time to select a nanny for him. Fortunately, we were able to find a native Russian girl who would take care of Atlas for 20 hours every week while my wife and I worked. Atlas soon became part of the nanny’s family. He plays with her siblings, nieces and nephews and even attends her church every so often.
Atlas is now two and a half and is able to easily understand most of what he hears in English, Russian and Italian as well as say simple phrases. His Midwestern grandparents have seen his remarkable progress and now give us their full support. I’ve gotten used to speaking with him in Italian and even feel satisfied saying “Ti voglio bene caro” instead of “I love you”.
If you’re thinking of raising your child or children multilingual, I would highly recommend it. Nothing compares to hearing your child say he or she loves you in another language. Nothing compares to seeing them grow in their language skills because of you; something they will have with them their entire life. Be prepared for the difficulties, but press on. The gift of language is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child.

Bryce DeCora founder of Finite Languages. A place for writers to write in their target language, get corrections from a native speaker and be published online for free.

Language goals 2018: 普通话 (Mandarin!)

by Inês Carvalho

This blog post is coming a bit late, I know! But I had a lot of work to do, and I also wanted to try out some resources before setting a plan for language learning in 2018.

I suppose you’ve guessed it by now… in 2018 my goal is to learn… Mandarin! Yeay! I want to finally become (relatively) fluent in a non-European language.

I attended a Mandarin course about eight years ago, but after the first year almost everyone gave up, except for two people. Therefore, the university decided not to open a second-level Chinese course.

At the time, I decided to keep learning by myself, so I finished the course book we were using and I even bought the course book for the next level. I was never able to say a lot in Chinese, but I learnt the basics (about A1 level), I could speak a little bit and I studied about 400 characters (“studied”… it doesn’t mean that I actually remembered them).

I stopped studying Chinese in 2011 because I started my PhD at the time and I had no free time in the first semester. In mid-2012 I finally had the time to study languages again, but I wanted to start something new, so I did a short Japanese course and then I started studying Swedish by myself since I was going to move to Sweden in September 2012. The last thing I wrote in Chinese was an e-mail to  a Chinese girl who was renting out a room in Sweden. I don’t think my Chinese was brilliant, but it worked, because out of 35 applicants, she picked me immediately! This is what I wrote at the time:

我叫 Inês。 我是一个葡萄牙学生。 我在LiU大学学习 Gender studies。 我要和你一起住! 我爱 Ryd Linköping, 也在 Ryd 有很多朋友。
我是女人, 没有狗还没有猫 哈哈 I don’t have pets and I don’t smoke!
我认为学习汉语语言和文化很有意思。我只学习了一年仲文, 所以我的中文很差。我的中文很差, 但是我很爱写中文哦。


在中国, 你来自哪里?

I hope my Chinese isn’t too bad :))) Please, take me!! 🙂 Hope my Chinese skills impressed you hehehe just kidding, but I gave my best!!
Last year I realised that I urgently needed to go back to learning Chinese, otherwise I was at risk of forgetting all that I had learnt before!
At the end of 2017 my feeling was that I only remembered very little Chinese. I decided that I would study everything from the beginning but using better resources this time. I think that the resources my teachers used when I first learnt Chinese were outdated. They taught us characters and grammar structures, instead of teaching us useful phrases. When I went on learning by myself after the Chinese course ended, I should have changed the resources and the method. For each word I learnt I always learnt to HANDWRITE the character and I would get upset whenever I couldn’t write them. The problem was that this perfectionism made learning a very slow process. Had my focus been on speaking the language and writing using pinyin (based on Latin letters) to introduce the characters in the mobile phone or computer, I would have been able to reach a much higher Chinese level.
Nowadays I am a  much more skilled language learner than in 2010 (I hope), so let’s talk about language goals and resources.
My goal in 2018 is to be able to use Chinese to speak about areas of immediate relevance (personal information, family, shopping, employment, asking for directions, travelling), express opinions about simple topics or describe experiences and personal interests. Hence, I would describe it as reaching a point between A2 and B1 level. I’d like to aim higher, but I also have a demanding a time-consuming career, so my language goals have to be more modest.
I took some time to do some research on the best learning resources out there. After my successful experience with Italian, I searched for YouTube channels with videos for Chinese newbies and I found these ones:

YouTube channels are an awesome away of learning languages! I don’t have a lot of time to sit and study, so this way I can watch the videos while I’m eating or listen to them while cleaning or cooking. That’s how I learned Italian, and I think that this strategy will also work for other languages.

I also looked for podcasts. For now, I’m following ChinesePod, and I listen to it mostly when I’m on the bus (unfortunately I spend too much time on buses… fortunately there are podcasts!). ChinesePod‘s website is really cool too! I highly recommend it (though I think that at some point you have to pay to use it).

As to course books, I’m starting New Practical Chinese Reader 1. This is going to be my main resource. My plan is to finish this book by the end of February, then study New Practical Chinese Reader 2 for three or four months and then do New Practical Chinese Reader 3. I plan to study four lessons a week at the beginning while the lessons are still easy and there’s more that I can remember, and then slow down a bit as lessons get more complicated, probably to one or two lessons a week.

As to speaking practice, I’ve already found a nice exchange group in Lisbon and I think it’s going to be fun and motivating.

After my first week of Chinese learning, I’m highly motivated and I’ve realised that I can remember so much more than I had thought at the beginning! I told my boyfriend that my goal was to be able to have a simple conversation with a friend of his who is from Taiwan by the end of March, and he has already shared with him my goal, so now I really have to learn Mandarin because I don’t want to disappoint them!

As to the remaining languages, my plan is:

  • recover my C2 Spanish (sniff) and remove as much as possible Italian interference;
  • B and C level languages (i.e. French, Italian, Swedish, German, English, Dutch): listen to podcasts, YouTube videos, movies, maybe read literature in these languages, find language buddies and hang out with them every now and then;
  • A level languages (Japanese, Esperanto): do some Memrise or Duolingo so that at least I don’t forget the basics I’ve learnt. In Esperanto, I want to keep on doing lessons in lernu.net every once in a while.

You can follow my language progress and tips on Instagram: @ines_wordwideweb

Happy 2018, you language freaks! Or… 新年快乐! 🙂



How languages made me happier in 2017

It’s not that 2017 was easier or better than 2016. But my approach to life did change over the last year –  and the decision to put more effort into language learning has largely contributed to self-improvement and a happier state of mind, thus bringing benefits that span much beyond mere language proficiency. It’s cool to have become B2 in French and B1 in Italian, but languages have given me so much more than that this year.

By the end of November 2016, I was not feeling very happy – it was this sort of unhappiness that creeps from the inside and that feeds on itself. In mid-December I did a meditation retreat for four days. I took several decisions after coming back from the retreat, and most of them were related with spending more time doing things that were meaningful for me like drawing, learning languages, being creative, having fun or having more contact with nature. Stop wondering about the meaning of life, because, hey, it might not mean anything at all. Unless we try to fool ourselves by giving some sort of meaning to it. As if life was a poem with random words and we could make some sense out of it, if only for ourselves.

So on December 31st I set up my Instagram account and just before leaving home for celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends, I posted this:

New Year resolutions 2017: I’ve accomplished everything except sleeping better…

In January I joined the Instagram Language Challenge (#iglc) during the whole month of January and I posted videos of myself speaking French. Pretty awkward but also quite fun. Arriving home and studying French gave me a sense of purpose and achievement, which boosted my self-esteem.

I’ve also coupled my passion for languages with my love for drawing.  I’ve always loved drawing! For me, it’s one of the most relaxing activities, but I had totally neglected it in the last decade because it was not “useful” and it did not contribute to “productivity”. On the one hand, I told productivity to go to hell. On the other hand, I decided to “label” each drawing with a sentence or word in a foreign language (see the hashtag #wordcreate on Instagram):

Using drawings for language-related purposes

In April I wanted to go on holidays and none of my friends were able to come along. I decided to go to Italy by myself and about ten days before departure I started to study Italian. It was quite a challenge since I wanted to learn as much as possible before travelling (more about how I learnt Italian at the beginning and my first trip to Italy here). I fell head over heels for Italian (I love it much more than French), and I think I’ve learned it very quickly (not too surprising since Portuguese and Italian are quite similar).

So off I went to Italy. Solo-travelling was such an enriching experience and I became so in love with Italy that I decided to return for three weeks in August. As you can probably imagine, travelling by yourself makes you much more open to the atmosphere around you and to meeting other people than if you’re travelling with friends. The three-week trip in August changed me a lot and I became much more self-reliant. The feeling of constantly missing something that I could not name was replaced by a feeling of self-reliance. There was only me and a suitcase with seven kilos, and I was feeling at peace with myself and the world. Had I not been learning Italian, I wouldn’t have travelled to Italy for three weeks by myself.

No rules. By myself.

Don’t get me started on how speaking several languages enriched my travel experience in so many ways: meeting new people, bonding more easily, learning more about local culture, gaining a guided trip to Capri, and the list goes on.

Learning languages also made my life happier in Lisbon. I moved to Lisbon a bit more than one year ago, and although I already had friends there, I found it very difficult to meet new people at first. When you’re not a student anymore I guess it’s just harder to make new friends. Everyone has their own lives set and no time for new people. The good thing about being passionate for languages is that there’s always someone who speaks a language I want to improve and who wants to speak a language I can teach. That’s how I met Valentina, who became my friend. Later on, I organised some language cafés, and this also provides great opportunities for meeting new people with similar interests. I also feel that I’m positively contributing to other people’s lives and their integration in Portugal.

Finally, I started reading more with the side goal of language improvement. Only four books (two in Italian, one in French, one in English), but one of them is “Il nome della Rosa”, so it should count as two! My boyfriend has also given me a Spanish book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón for Christmas to make sure I don’t get out of books to read soon.

Learning languages made me happier in 2017 than I would have been, had I not set this goal for myself. In 2018, set goals that match your passions, and become a better and happier self.

Travelling to Italy to learn Italian? 8 tips!

So you want to travel to Italy to improve your Italian? You’re going to have fun! I spent three weeks in Italy this August and I went from Venice to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. I saw a handful of wonderful cities and came back three kilos heavier and with a big smile on my face 🙂

Look at that happy face at the airport!


In April I decided to start learning Italian for real  (see how) and I travelled to Rome for five days. I was so motivated with Italian (and loved Rome so much), that I decided to return to Italy in August. Before my second departure (after learning Italian for four months) I had attained an intermediate level of proficiency (check here). It was enough to get along in Italy, but how much could I improve it?

Well, actually I think I improved quite a bit, but I was also improving a lot each month only by listening to YouTube videos and meeting up with my Italian friend. In Italy I got exposed to a lot of other languages because I was sleeping at hostels (which was also quite cool, my French and even my English benefitted from that… I use English a lot, but seldom with natives). However cool it was, it shifted my focus a bit from Italian.

In addition, in the first cities I visited, I barely met any Italians apart from the shop assistants or waiters. While this would provide an exciting opportunity for practising Italian if I was a beginner, at my current level it’s not really challenging or motivating anymore to simply order some pizza. In fact, in some of the days I was travelling, I actually had less contact with Italian than when I was listening to YouTube videos at home. Fortunately, there were also days when I used Italian a lot.

Therefore, I’d like to give some advice if you want to travel for improving a language:

  1. Solo-travelling is the best option, unless your travel buddies also have the same language goals as you. Imagine meeting some cool Italians and you want to hang out with them but then you feel bad for your friend who doesn’t speak Italian and switch to English. Or that you come off as totally impolite to your friend by not switching to English. Solo-travelling probably also makes you more open to meet new people.

Solo-travelling with no selfie stick

2. Hostels are the best place to easily meet cool people when you’re travelling solo (especially if you’re young), and they’re an awesome place if you want to practise languages in general. However, from my experience, hostels (and hotels) aren’t that good when you want to meet natives. I met very few Italians at hostels, the only exception being Peschiera del Garda (I only met one).

Cool people I met at the hostel in Venice

3. AirBnB may provide a better experience for avid language learners than hostels. Though I didn’t book anything on AirBnB, I spent three nights at a small guesthouse in Sorrento, hosted by a lovely Italian family. That’s when it occurred to me that booking rooms in guesthouses and private houses (instead of hostels) would have been much better for my Italian. This family in Sorrento was really awesome, they took me to a lot of places, and the fact that I spoke Italian made my experience so much better there. While they would only communicate basic things to other non-Italian speaking tourists (“what time should I pick you up?”), I was able to get to know them a bit and socialize with them. The most amazing thing was that the host’s dad was a tour guide and he took me on a tour to Capri for free just because we talked in Italian quite a bit and he loved Portugal (he is very religious and wanted to visit the Fátima sanctuary in Portugal). How cool is that??

My free tour to Capri…

4. You’re going to find (or not find) Italians in different places depending on when you decide to go to Italy. Let me explain! This time I had quite a different experience from when I travelled to Rome in April, since it was so easy to meet Italians then. They were everywhere. A completely different experience from my experience in August. This time, at some point I just asked someone: “where the hell are all the Italians?”, they answered “They’re on holidays, they’re away, most of them went to the coast. But after mid-August some should already start coming back to their cities”. I travelled mostly to the big famous cities (Venice, Florence etc.) and therefore I met mostly other tourists in these places. In other cases, I travelled to less touristic places (e.g. Mantova), where there were neither tourists nor locals. However, when I went to the beautiful Amalfi Coast I saw more Italians there. I even hung out a bit with a group at the beach. Conclusion: August is not the best month to get to travel to Italy if your goal is to improve your Italian. Maybe if you travel to the coast, but I can’t attest to that since I didn’t do it.

Not so many people in Mantova…

5. CouchSurfing could have been a wonderful option, and I actually looked for it at the beginning, but it was not very easy. As seen in the previous point, Italians were not in the places I wanted to visit, so of course they couldn’t host me. I met other girls who tried to couch-surf and they had no luck either. It could have worked well in another month of the year, but not August. Still, I tried to use the option “hangout” to meet other people, but it never worked, except in Bologna, where we (me and two other Italian learners) found an Italian guy, and we were hanging out the whole day. It was a lot of fun and I was speaking Italian for hours!

Parlando italiano tutto il giorno!

6. Some Facebook groups might also be good to meet locals. I was in an Italian group of Italian women solo-travellers and I ended up meeting one of them in Venice. It was such a cool afternoon! She took me to an incredible library and I learnt so much from her! I thought I’d be as lucky with meeting other people from the group in other cities, but it didn’t happen at all.


Giulia and I at Campanile di San Marco.

7. If you have Italian friends, visit them. I have a friend from Rome and I was so happy to meet him after three years! It was also the first time we spoke Italian, and it was interesting to listen to him speaking his own language. We usually speak English/ Spanish/ Swedish/ Portuguese with each other. This time I tried to stick to Italian, no matter what language Francesco was speaking (he usually changes to another language after about 40 seconds: “Do you know movie X? Har du tittat på filmen? Mi piace tanto! Es la major película de siempre. O que você acha?”).

Meeting Francesco at Piazza Navona

8. Finally, don’t forget to buy some books before you go. Cheap second-hand literature is my favourite option, but this time I also fell in love with the language books and grammars at Feltrinelli! There was such a variety of types of books and languages in the language department of one of Feltrinelli libraries in Rome, that I felt like I was in paradise. I bought four books, would have brought more had I had more room for them. Still, I had to throw some clothes away to make room just for these four… (I made super-short reviews of these books on Instagram).

The books I bought

Good luck for improving your Italian in Italy! If it doesn’t work, you still have pizza and ice cream so it’s still worth it and you definitely won’t regret it 🙂


Since I still haven’t figured out how to make the “comments” function work, if you have any questions or would like to say something, do e-mail me: ines@wordwideweb.eu (or message me on Facebook).


La bella Italia! Language goals August 2017

Author: Inês Carvalho

And August has started! Before talking about my exciting language learning (and travelling) plans, let’s talk about how the previous month went in terms of language goals.

1. I’ve realised that maybe I just have too many languages to maintain, which is definitely going to dictate a slower pace in learning new languages if I want to practise all the other… eight languages on a regular basis. However, I think that my recent strategy of devoting some time to each language on a monthly basis may be a good one, so that my memory stops discarding languages that I haven’t used in years such as Dutch, Mandarin or Japanese. If I have less time for new languages, so be it, I do want to minimise memory loss.

2. My practice of eight languages (besides Italian and French) went more or less as planned, except for Chinese, which was a flop. The only thing I did was gathering titles of good Mandarin resources. I don’t remember what I did for Swedish either. However, I excelled in Esperanto.

3. I dedicated much more time than I had planned to Esperanto because it’s so lovely. I even gathered my notes in small pdf documents which I’ll call  “mini e-books” because it sounds fancy. And I’m in love with lernu.net.

4. Concerning my main targets, Italian and French, I dedicated less time to them than I wanted. I had a language exchange in French and wrote some posts on an Italian Facebook community concerning travelling. I listened to some YouTube videos and Netflix films in both languages. I even watched an American film dubbed in Italian (in Portugal doing this is highly unpopular. Everyone prefers subtitles and looks down on countries where films are dubbed!). I finished reading La femme rompue (Simone de Beauvoir).

5. I’ve decided to make some sort of flashcards for new vocabulary I come across. First I do the flashcards in canva.com. Then I share them on Pinterest  a few days later and I regularly share “flashcards” on my Instagram account. This way I end up looking at the same words several times at regular intervals and it boosts memorisation. While (hopefully) being useful for others as well.

Now let’s talk about my goals for August!!

On August 8th I’ll fly to Italy and will stay there until August 28th. It’ll be a solo-travel and it’s kind of exciting and though it’s not the first time I travel all alone, my mum is really scared (“I’d rather not have had children because I’m always worried”).

Now I’ve been planning the whole trip! I still want to improve my Italian before going because right now I can communicate but with more mistakes than I’d like.

Although my main goal for this month is Italian, for obvious reasons, I’ll keep my commitment to revising two non-target languages on a weekly basis (reading a bit or watching some YouTube videos). I’ll drop French a bit unless I come across French-speaking travellers.

As to Italian, I’ll talk to strangers, do guided tours in Italian (maybe) and buy second-hand books in Italian!! I’m soooo excited!!

This is my current Italian level, completely uncensored and without any preparation. Let’s see how much I’ll improve after three weeks 🙂

  1. There are several mistakes in the video. I’ve found these ones but I’m sure there are more:

GLI altre lingue che ho già imparato
LO svedezze
LO spagnolo
con L’italiano
QUASI (“casi” is Spanish)
E (I pronounce this conjunction twice as in Portuguese and Spanish, but is should be pronounced more like “e” in “vero”)
per questa raggionE (I don’t know why I pronounced it wrong here…).

Ci vediamo presto!



(Crazy) Language learning goals – July 2017

Since for now one of the purposes of this blog is to make me post texts in different languages, I was searching in my attic for texts that I had written in several languages (probably several years ago) and that had been corrected by a native speaker or a teacher, so that I could have right away something to post.

I really loved seeing all my old notebooks and reading my texts, but I also felt somewhat disappointed because I noticed how much I have forgotten in many languages. Dutch is the worst case, followed by Mandarin. But even in Spanish, which is a language that I use on a frequent basis, I think I might have lost some of the grammar accuracy I had in the past (though I have definitely improved my fluency).

This made me realise that I really don’t want to forget the languages that I’ve learnt so far and that I need to do something about that. I’m not sure what the best approach is, but I’m going to explain below what I’ll try to do (do e-mail me if you have further ideas, the comments below are still not working, I need to find a way to fix this grrr).

1. Main target language: Italianooo!

I’m deeply in love with Italian right now, I’ll spend my holidays in Italy, I have made Italian language buddies and I have found the right resources. My goal is to do or listen to something in Italian at least 30 minutes per day, write a text once a week and have a weekly language exchange.

I threw a coin to the Trevi Fountain, and only four months later I’ll be back. Well, it worked really fast!

2. Second target language: Français

French was one of my targets this year and I wanted to reach B2. I’m now thinking of doing DELF B2 but I won’t think too seriously about it until after coming back from Italy. Until then, some YouTube videos a few times per week, regular language exchanges (between 2 to 4 times in July) and finishing La femme rompue – now I’m really enjoying the book.

3. Third target language: all the languages 😛

I don’t want to forget the other languages that I’ve started. So my plan is besides Italian and French, pick two other languages weekly and either listen to a YouTube video or pick some grammar detail and revise it for about half an hour. I have no idea if this is enough or if I’ll be spreading myself across too many languages… My point is not to learn new things here (except for English), but not to forget.

Side languages by week

So for instance this week I’ll do something in German and Japanese, and next week in Mandarin and Swedish.

[week 1] Spanish: I listened to some videos on Sunday (yes, it’s “listened”, not “watched”, I’m usually doing other things at the same time)

[week 1] Dutch: well I read some of my old notes on Sunday…  and copied this text in Dutch to post it on the blog.

[week 2] German: maybe just listening to some videos or podcasts. I can’t come up with something specific that I’d like to review in German.

[week 2] Japanese: revising numbers and writing down some hiragana.

[week 3] Swedish: listening to videos and posting some of my old texts on the blog (like these ones here and here).

[week 3] Mandarin: writing down some words in a semi-artistic way and post them with simple illustrations on Instagram. I’m afraid of how many characters I might have forgotten.

[week 4] Esperanto: though I’ve only studies it for two days in total, I loved it. I’m going to re-read my notes and practise pronunciation.

[week 4] English: I used it every day and I don’t think I’ll forget it. Still, I think that I can improve it. I write a lot of academic papers in English, but I’m far from being an expert in idioms, for instance. There’s definitely room for improvement.

I’m afraid that this plan might be unrealistic once September arrives… but maybe I’ll find a way to squeeze all of this into my schedule and still get to sleep, eat, and have a life 😀



Set your language learning goals as a part of the Clear the List Link Up hosted by Shannon Kennedy of Eurolinguiste, Lindsay Dow of Lindsay Does Languages, Angel Pretot of French Lover, and Kris Broholm of Actual Fluency