One of the first languages I tackled, and one that as of late, was long neglected. It is also one that I worked on when I had absolutely no idea how to study a language.
Italian is one that I thought a course and a certification meant I knew it. One that I continued to study for a few short months after school in language exchanges that were mostly in English.
But I’ve learnt a lot since then.
I haven’t looked at Italian in several years. Okay, yes, I did the first Language Hacking mission as a part of Benny’s book launch, but aside from that, I put Italian (along with German) aside as I pursued Croatian, then Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Spanish.
There’s a lot of time and a lot of new languages that rest between Italian and I.
Why Am I Giving Italian a Refresh?
Holly, one of my friends over at Fluent in 3 Months, asked me to chat with her in Italian to give her the chance to gauge her level after using a product.
I decided to take things further and do more than just prepare for the conversation.
How Did I Refresh My Italian Language Ability?
First, let’s talk about the tools.
As I mentioned, I only like to work with a limited number of tools at a time. It helps me stay focused and go deep rather than broad. I had no idea what Holly and I would be discussing prior to the conversation, so it was a bit of a gamble, but I figured our discussion would not get too complex.
Preparing to Do My Italian Language Refresh
The first thing that I did, was read through my previous Italian notes and skim each of Benny’s Italian specific language hacking blog posts.
Another important part of my strategy was to create a video each day as a part of my refresh to document my progress and force myself to speak the language.
I also put together a quick cheat sheet for my actual conversation with Holly (which you can download for free by clicking the image below).
Holly emailed me around 7:30 PM asking if I’d be up to chatting with her. My music training persuaded me to say yes, so I did. And then I panicked.
My music teachers always taught me to say yes to music opportunities and then figure out what I needed to work on to be able to accomplish them. And by work, I mean dedicate every spare minute working my butt off.
This mentality stuck with me and I’ve transferred it to a lot of other things that I do. And it really works. It pushes you to stretch, grow and improve in other ways not having that pressure would permit.
Of course, I would never say yes to things that were absolutely out of my reach. If someone called and said, “hey Shannon, we need someone to play tuba in our polka band next week – do you think you could do it?” I’d definitely say no because 1. I don’t play tuba and don’t play anything closely related to be able to pick it up relatively quickly and 2. I’ve never played polka music before so I’m not familiar enough with the style or repertoire.
The same goes for languages. If someone asked me to do a presentation in Swedish in a month, my answer would be no. Picking up a language I haven’t visited in five years in three days? That’s closer to being right up my alley.
Being willing to take on a challenge, however, doesn’t mean that I won’t be nervous. The video will be seen by a lot of people and five years is a long time.
But as I said in my Day 1 video, being nervous isn’t a reason not to speak (or make an effort). In fact, it’s a great reason to get out there and speak. Because that discomfort is an incredible learning opportunity.
I decided to use two books to tackle my language refresh. Benny Lewis’ Language Hacking Italian and the Everything Italian Practice Book. Benny’s book is geared towards speaking Italian, so it offered me a lot of relatively quick ways to get conversational in the language.
The Everything Italian Practice Book, in contrast, provided me with a quick review of Italian grammar so that I could remember how to do things like change articles, use different tenses, remember conjugations, and make words plural.
On Using the Everything Italian Practice Book
I truly believe that you can make almost any language learning resource work for you. The Everything Italian book isn’t something that I would choose for myself today. But it is something that I chose back when I didn’t know what I was doing and just grabbed whatever I could at my local bookstore.
Since this was just a quick refresh, I didn’t want to invest in any new products. At least not while I already had products on hand.
This project was a great opportunity to revisit some of the resources I used to use to reevaluate them as a more experienced learner, test my theory on making what you have work for you, and finally put those unused (or barely used) resources to work!
Here’s What I Completed on Day 1:
- 4 Chapters of Language Hacking Italian
- 100+ points on Duolingo
- 34,000 points on Memrise
- 75 pages in Everything Italian Practice Book
- 481 Known Words, 174 LingQs, 1,575 read in LingQ
By Day 2, I started to once more get a little comfortable with the Italian language. A lot of what I had learnt in the past came back to me and the amount of material I moved through allowed me to have quite a few, “oh yeah, that sounds familiar” moments.
Duolingo, however, quickly became a time suck for me.
Why I stopped using Duolingo on Day 2
Duolingo could have been an excellent tool for me if I had previously unlocked the entire tree. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and I found myself spending too much time learning words that I didn’t need (clothing, etc.) in order to get to the modules that I wanted to review (prepositions, etc.).
I think that Duolingo is great for review and getting a shallow but wide overview of a language. It was exactly what I needed for my refresh. If I could have selected with lessons I reviewed (which wasn’t an option for me since I was only two levels into the tree). I just didn’t have the time to unlock everything, so I had to put it aside since it wasn’t a good use of my time.
Here’s What I Completed on Day 2:
- 6 Chapters of Language Hacking Italian
- 30 points on Duolingo
- 51,400 points on Memrise
- 150 pages in Everything Italian Practice Book
- 650 Known Words, 264 LingQs, 5 LingQs learned, 3,119 read in LingQ
Day 3 was conversation day and my chat was pretty early in the day. It was at 10am, and while that’s not super early, I didn’t have much time to prepare because most of the hours leading up to the chat were spent getting ready for work, driving to work, answering work emails, and participating in a con call.
I maybe had 20 minutes that I could use to do a quick Memrise review session. If that.
Here’s What I Completed on Day 3:
- 21,500 points on Memrise
What I Was Able to Accomplish in 3 Days of Italian Language Study
In the past, my Italian speaking ability was always low relative to my reading, writing and comprehension. I believe that I was able to get my speaking back up to the same level (if not a little better) with this refresh.
My reading and listening comprehension also skyrocketed. I don’t remember where I was at a few years ago, but by Day 3, I was able to understand 90% of what I heard and read on most topics.
My primary language the last few months was Spanish, so I was sincerely worried that it would affect my performance in the Italian language. When I was reviewing I often confused the two.
What I Wished I Had Done Differently
The conversation I had with Holly went a little bit differently than I had envisioned it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, that’s typically how conversations go. You rehearse them in your head one way and they turn out another.
It’s one of the best ways to truly learn a language.
Watching the video, I feel like I’m concentrating so hard that I’m not doing as well as I could have if I just stopped worrying about making mistakes.
But it is what it is and it can only get better from here. If I put in the work, that is.
And now that I’ve seen what I can accomplish in 3 days, I am more than willing to give my old languages another look and a whole lot of love.
I won’t be able to dedicate as much energy to refreshing my various languages in such a short period of time. But I am definitely encouraged that it’s worth doing the work after the overall results of this challenge.
That’s it for me for now. Let me know in the comments below if you’d like to see more breakdowns like this, another update on my Italian refresh in the future, or other fun language missions!
Don’t forget to download your free Italian Phrase Sheet! And if you’re learning Italian, you can take a look at my favorite resources for the language.
What about you?
What are you doing to maintain the languages you’ve learnt?
Leave me a note in the comments! I look forward to hearing from you!