Moving to a new city or country can be challenging! Not speaking the local language further increases this challenge.
Marco, from Italy, came to Lisbon to do his Master’s in Psychology. For almost two years, he has been taking part in the language exchange meetups that I organize. Meanwhile, we have become good friends! After defending his Master’s dissertation, he wrote this text to let other people know how taking part in the language exchange meetups has helped him make new friends, and feel integrated in a new country. Besides, I have always seen him actively practicing Portuguese, English and Spanish at these events.
I challenged Marco to write a testimonial in a foreign language about his experience… Marco chose to write in English (I guess Portuguese is now too easy for him!) and here it is:
“First of all, I want to write down these lines in order to thank Inês for her initiative and her willingness to provide this opportunity to every expat living in Lisbon, and her enthusiasm every day we met. I say this, because I have met here most of my friends in Lisbon, who have been sharing their days with me.
It was so nice to be surrounded by people from all over the world, every two weekends, with a special “carinho” [let’s translate is as “affection”] for all the Brazilians that made my days so beautiful. I used to be, since the first Language Exchange in Intendente (I CANNOT forget it !!), wondering every day to live again this event and merge into it.
This event has a special power. It makes you feel connected to everybody, and it lets you feel the others as a mirror of the parts of your Self that you have yet to discover.
Opportunities like this should be provided by schools and by society for children and teenagers, in order to make us appreciate the beauty of human diversity from a young age, as a kind of pleasant vaccination against hate and racist speeches promoted by dominant classes, in order to manipulate the class conflict from the bottom and not from the top.
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:
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):
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.
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.
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 🙂
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:
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.
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).
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??
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.
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!
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.
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?”).
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).
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: firstname.lastname@example.org (or message me on Facebook).
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.
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 🙂
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
HO BISOGNO DA
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…).
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.
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.
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 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 😀
This person here has always been a grammar addict.
Someone who has always wanted to know all grammar details when learning a language, and someone who was utterly convinced that her favourite way of learning a language involved quite a lot of rationalisation and methodical grammar study. This did not involve learning grammar per se, but learning and then trying to apply this new structure when speaking or writing. This was not a bad method, and the said person managed to learn quite a few languages following it. Of course, this person is me, and notice that I wrote the last sentences in the past.
I had always been suspicious about those methods that claim to make you learn a language without making you learn grammar (e.g. Duolingo and Memrise), because I have always felt that rationalisation only improves the learning process. While I haven’t totally discarded my previous theories and beliefs, I have recently started to think somewhat differently (though I’m still not a fan of either Memrise or Duolingo).
I started learning Italian two years ago (a short course of about 20 hours), but I had never been really able to say more than a couple of sentences. However, it was my New Year’s decision to reach B1 level in Italian in 2017, and at the beginning of April I decided to spend Easter in Rome. So about ten days before travelling, I started to learn Italian. First, I used a YouTube channel that I found really useful (One World Italiano) and I must have carefully watched about 15 lessons before going to Italy. I took some notes, but not too many.
To my surprise, I could communicate in Italian from the beginning. Of course, with some Spanish words whenever I didn’t know how to say something in Italian, but I was really happy that I could have a conversation with elderly ladies on the bus stop! Check the video to see how I was speaking right after I came back.
When I got back, I decided that I would return to Italy for an extended period in August, and I continued watching videos on YouTube. This time I found Alberto from Learn Italian with Italiano Automatico. He emanates a very positive vibe, but at first I wasn’t quite buying into his theory that you can learn a language practically only by listening to the same text repeatedly, without studying any grammar. I had serious doubts about it, but I liked his videos, so I kept on watching and listening to them. I was so tired at the time, that I was too lazy for studying grammar at the end of a working day, but it was quite pleasant to listen/watch his videos at least 30 minutes every day, while cleaning, eating, or right before going to bed. I didn’t follow Alberto’s advice of listening to the same audio file several times, because I liked his videos so much, that I was curious to watch the next one. He talks about interesting and varied topics and, on top of that, he is a solar, positive and inspiring person. He practically never talks about grammar, but he does explain some typical Italian expressions (“porco cane”, “essere fuori come un balcone” or “oca giuliva” :-D).
At the end of May I found someone who I could practise Italian with (my dear Valentina!), and although I make a lot of mistakes and still have so much to learn, I was impressed that I could actually say a lot in Italian! I think that it’s quite interesting that, to some extent, I could use verb tenses that I had never formally learnt. By listening to Alberto using them naturally in his videos, I was able to develop a feel for them.
In the meanwhile, I’ve started to learn grammar, although I don’t do any grammar exercises. I go to the website One World Italiano, and they have a lot of information on grammar. I copy the rules to a notebook, and sometimes I have a look at them, especially when I feel that I’m failing to correctly use a certain structure. Besides, now that I’m aware of grammar, I pay so much more attention to linguistic structures when someone is speaking Italian! It has improved the learning process for me.
To conclude, I had never thought that simply listening could have such an impact on fluency. Still, I think that learning some grammar can be quite useful for a lot of people. I think that a good amount of listening coupled with some grammar-awareness may be the ideal approach for me.
– ItalyGuides.it on YouTube (since I’ll be travelling in Italy in the summer, I get to know more about what I’ll be visiting while improving my Italian at the same time. I found it a couple of hours ago, so I’m not sure how good the channel is linguisic purposes)
– A nice Italian with whom I can practise the language on a weekly basis (Valentinaaaa <3).