Impressing myself

I’ve slowly been trying to learn Italian for many years now. I’ve done it in fits and starts, with long breaks in between during which I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff. It’s all just self-teaching, with the help of Duolingo, a couple of books on Italian grammar that I bought, and some easy reading material (the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in Italian). I had a long break after returning from our last overseas trip, having gotten out of the habit of practising every day, but now I’m up to over 300 consecutive days of practice – just 10-15 minutes a day, but every day, to make sure I stay in the habit.

Sometimes doing the exercises on Duolingo I amaze myself with what sentences I can manage to translate. Going from Italian to English is the easy direction, because I just have to get the gist of the meaning, and then I can write it out in English, and I don’t have to think about the grammar. Going from English to Italian is more difficult, because I have to translate the root words, then get the grammatical inflections right, and then put the words in the right order.

And sometimes there are ways of phrasing or constructing the sentence that have no direct analogue in English – for example in Italian you don’t just sit, you sit yourself. In English you say: “He sits.” In Italian: “Lui si siede.” Which is literally: “He himself sits.” The si is “himself” and you can’t leave it out.

I’m impressed that my brain can take this:

Who wants to follow us?

and turn it into this:

Chi ci vuole seguire?

Or this:

I would not have done it.

into this:

Non l’avrei fatto.

These were two actual exercises in today’s practice, which I got right on the first attempt. It’s incredibly pleasing to get a translation correct when you’re not 100% sure of it. And I’m finding that the more I learn, the more second nature a lot of the older material is becoming. I can translate stuff like “I want to eat an apple” (“Voglio mangiare una mela.”) pretty much instantly without thinking. It’s only the more complex stuff that I have to think about now.

I know I’m going on about this, but it’s honestly something that I impress myself with on an almost daily basis. As someone who never really learnt any languages when I was younger, the fact that I can progress myself to this stage is simply amazing when I stop to think about it.

What else did I do today? Hmm. Mostly I worked on a lesson plan for tomorrow’s online ethics class. The topic tomorrow is “Lying”. And I have a third student who enrolled during the week! So that should be good.

I also walked up the street to get some take-away sushi for lunch and sit in the square to eat, and then run some shopping errands for a few things I needed to get. I picked up Scully on the way home, and then took her out to the park later in the afternoon for some exercise.

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One thought on “Impressing myself”

  1. I think at least some of the thought that languages are more easily learned as children is because at least here in school there should be a concentrated effort to learn the language. I think it’s also different for small children, like under school age, and children in school. The sweet spot of learning new languages is probably earlier than 7-9 years when most schools start teching foreign languages here.

    At least for me, long since out of school, it was relatively easy to learn a language when I had 2-4 hours of lessons, and then homework, every week during school time, for years. Now I need to make an effort to have that kind of exercise, and there is a lot more things to take up my time. You seem to have made the effor, which sounds absolutely brilliant!

    Last year I took up Japanese in the community college, and I think I’ve advanced well. (I did some in the upper secondary and in the university, and then taught myself some, but for me it’s easier to motivate myself if I have a class every week.)

    Also I’ve noticed that new languages become easier to learn the more languages I know. This is obvious with related languages, like I’ve learned some Italian for touris purposes, and French and Spanish helps there, but when I did some Mandarin ten years ago it was easier than I thought explicitly because I knew how languages work.

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