I'm entering the final three months of my Italian year, so it's a good time for another update on my progress. Today, I'll talk about where I'm at, what I've been doing, and how I plan to finish up my year.
When I started my Italian project this year, I defined what it meant to be fluent, and I also laid out a number of goals regarding things I expect to be able to do once this year is over. Let’s see how things look en route to meeting those expectations.
My definition of fluency
First, let’s see how I’m doing in relation to my definition of fluency:
- I said that a fluent speaker should be able to chain words together casually. I'm still a little disappointed with my progress here. The biggest obstacle has been a lack of people with whom to speak, for which I've only recently found a proper solution. Nonetheless, I am starting to notice words coming out on their own, with less thought involved in putting them together, so there is progress happening here. And now that I've got speaking partners, I am confident that this won't be a problem.
- I said that a fluent speaker should be able to understand a casual conversation and participate without breaking the momentum. My comprehension is actually pretty good now, even when people talk at a more natural (fast) pace, but my ability to participate is still slowed down by my slower rate of speach, as mentioned above. I am actively investing time and attention into fixing this, in the form of regular conversations with my new Italian friend.
- I said that a fluent speaker should be grammatically correct, within reason. I'm actually starting to feel pretty good about grammar. I'm starting to develop a feel for what sounds right and wrong. And after getting some clarification on the use of the conditional tense, I feel pretty good about my understanding of most Italian grammar.
- Finally, I said that a fluent speaker should not be tripped up by slang. I've made a point of learning a lot of colloquial expressions and slang lately, and I'm getting a feel for what expressions people commonly say and what they mean. I'm also starting to get a feel for regional dialects.
In summary, I'm actually doing really well with everything but speaking. I had gone pretty far into my year without any Italian-speaking friends, which wasn't much of a problem early on, but as the year has progressed I've really started to feel that it is a problem.
I'm not accustomed to learning a language when I don't have someone with whom to speak it, so this has turned out to be an unforeseen challenge for me. And of all possible places, I found my solution on Craigslist.
I have arranged a convenient, low-cost (eg: the price of dinner) agreement with an Italian living here in Chicago, in order to gain a friend who will patiently sit through my slow speech, and occasionally help me with things I don't know.
The important detail here is that I don't want a teacher, I want a freind. A teacher will feed me information, but I already have the information, I just need the pressure to drag it out of myself.
And it seems to be working. After just two sessions I'm already feeling much better about my progress. It has also provided me with an opportunity to test out the conversaional connectors tip from the Language Hacking Guide, and I'm actually a bit surprised at how well it works.
My goals for the year
Now, let’s see how where I’m at in relation to my goals:
- I wanted to chat with new friends online about general subjects with little or no need for a translator or dictionary. At present, I'm not doing a lot of chatting, but my interactions on Meemi and by email have felt pretty natural. The words I want come to mind quickly enough, and spelling isn't much of a problem. In fact, at any pace slower than actual speech, I'm actually doing really well.
- I wanted to read an article from an Italian newspaper and be able to summarize it without a translator. I'm already doing this pretty well. I'm actually doing a lot of reading in Italian now, and feeling very comfortable with it.
- I wanted to read an entire book written in Italian. I've already been through an Italian Reader, and a book of Short Stories in Italian, and I'm now more than half-way through Pinocchio. This one is in the bag.
- I wanted to comfortably retell a joke in Italian. I've read and understood several jokes in Italian now, and yesterday I was able to retell two of them in conversation with my new Italian friend. Only one elicited a laugh, so I think I need a little more work on my delivery.
- I wanted to be able to express my personality through the language as I do in English (or Russian, or Spanish) through jokes, puns, wordplay, and flirting. I’m not there yet, but I'm starting to get more of the comfort level in the language where I know which words have multiple meanings and can be exploited as puns and so on. I've made a few attempts at double-meanings and innuendos, but they haven't gone over well. Still, I feel confident that this is within reach.
- I wanted to be able to watch a movie in Italian without subtitles and understand what’s happening. For the past few months I've been watching most movies in Italian, without subtitles, and recently I've started to feel that my comprehension is at an acceptable level. Last week I watched La Vita È Bella and was able to undersand the jokes and the underlying implications of subtle situational humor, so I feel like I'm already at an acceptable level of success here.
- I wanted to understand a news clip in Italian. I found a local public access channel here in Chicago that shows Notiziario RAI, an Italian news program, every night at 11:30pm. I watch as often as I can, and I find that I'm able to understand and keep up with most of what I'm hearing.
- And finally, I wanted to have a 10-minute conversation in person, without using English. While my conversation speed isn't what I want it to be (as detailed above) I have actually already managed to have conversations much longer than 10 minutes in Italian only. I'm happy to say I have already accomplished this, but I know without a doubt that I need to do it better.
All in all, I'm feeling pretty good about my expected pace. The plan has always been fluency in one year, so in spite of my disappointment with my speaking progress, I'm actually perfectly on pace.
Eight months in (remember, I started on month late), I feel like Italian is actually pretty easy. Under different circumstances, I think I could have achieved all of my goals in this language in just six months. In fact, I had already reached acceptable levels in several of the above criteria by my sixth month.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, this is the first time I have learned a language in which I had no one with whom to speak, and that added challenge has made this somewhat more difficult than it ever should have been. I won't allow that to be the case with my next language... which I now have less than 3 months to choose.
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