Thursday, December 27, 2007

How I became multi-lingual... super fast.

Ah, yes. This is why vacations are so nice. Christmas eve was small, warm and cozy. Whereas after our Christmas day mass, we indulged in never ending plates of food surrounded by dozens upon dozens of relatives… followed by today's complete quiet.

So, having an entire day just to myself, I unpacked my old boxes of books. Opening my Italian literature books brought back memories that made me giggle.

You see, I grew up bilingual, and I've always been exposed to many languages, but I felt I could never learn a 3rd - much less a 4th - language. Believing it couldn't be done, I put it off. In college, a multi-lingual professor convinced me otherwise. Believing I could lean more languages changed my entire outlook.

It now seemed so natural! If she can do it, I can do it.

Going for something because you want it, and believing you can have it, gives you the mental clarity to find a way to get there... fast. So, I studied my 3rd and 4th language simultaneously. I was determined to make things easier and fun, and I advanced well ahead of the class thanks to a couple tricks I tried. A few of them worked well, others didn't.

Yes, learning a new language is very mathematical to me. Grammar rules are formulas. But I can handle them with a fun attitude. How?

If anyone wants to learn a new language (fast), I recommend translating scenes from movies you love, and new songs that move you. Turn on the Italian subtitles to the Italian movie and translate w.o.r.d - f.o.r - w.o.r.d. Pause every second to write the lyrics or dialogue in your own handwriting, translate them with a different pen color. What does the word mean? Why is it written this way? How is it placed compared to other words? Prepositions. Pay attention to the prepositions, they are crucial.

At first, it seems like a slow process, but you will actually save months leaning over textbooks. Many questions will arise, and you will need to refer to your grammar books and dictionaries for answers. Discovering each answer will set off internal sirens and blinking lights. Those "a-ha" moments will make a new language stick. Grammar is still a must, but it can be learned passively. This helps reinforce the rules.

Anyone who has tried to learn a new language will quickly find that there are 3 very different areas that must be learned:

  • Spoken language (pronunciation and flow)
  • Hearing comprehension (understanding what others say to you)
  • Written language (being able to read and write a new language)

Once you understand a movie scene or a song, watch or listen to it over and over and over while you read your notes. Repetition will reinforce: vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation, and hearing comprehension of super fast speech.


When you enjoy something, it becomes easy to dive into it for many hours a day, every day. I call it "controlled immersion", because I felt immersed in the new language, but I chose and knew the words that were bombarding me, over and over.

This technique helped me skip a year and a half of lessons. From college level 1 I skipped straight to level 9 and then transferred to an Italian university. Oh, it did wonders for me. I should have stuck with this for a bit longer before jumping into literature.

Hmm, I could never have imagined that 6 years later I would be earning a living translating Italian into English. I could have done this earlier, too. But, again, I didn't think this was possible.

Eugene Ware says it best: "All glory comes from daring to begin." …and knowing it can be done.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.

19 comments:

erin said...

thanks! I always really enjoy reading about your language tips! :) I hope you have a great rest of the holidays...

La delirante said...

Hi! Very interesting post. I especially like the message that when you are willing to obtain something you have taken the first step. It gives you clarity that determination. Very true.

I was worried that perhaps I shouldn't start learning Maltese because I would mix it with English. Spanish is my native language and I though I learned English at school (3 hours a week perhaps) it is something totally different when you are living in a country where you need English to live, work, etc. But now I have taken the plunge and am learning Maltese. As you said, if one is determined to do something, it is possible :)

Happy New Year!

Maddie said...

I am working on Spanish so
now I will go search out some
Spanish films:)

Hope you had a lovely Christmas
butterfly girl!

Devil Mood said...

That was nice :)
My english skills were adquired in different contexts too. Most of the grammar was learnt in school; the way people talk mostly through television (drama and news); and more developed vocabulary reading lots of books and novels.
And always music - the really fun way of learning languages.
Oh and Shakespeare is still hard for me, as it's a completely new english that I still haven't explored. ;)

Tina said...

Then there's me, trying to translate Tango songs which has pumped up my Lunfardo quite a bit! ;-) LOL

It is true what you say - especially translating songs, I did that a lot when I was learning Italian.

Another friend of mine picked up French really well, partly by reading bilingual texts just before falling asleep. Something about the sleep...

katerinafiore said...

I love how you explained how you learned a new language. You are truly helpful and sincere in graciously giving out these fabulous tips. Thanks for writing...love every minute of it!
Buon Anno!!

sognatrice said...

Excellent advice as always. I can't tell you how much Italian television (crappy as it is) has helped my Italian. Of course full immersion in a relationship doesn't hurt either ;)

Buone feste :)

Chris said...

My first time posting on someone elses blog... came across yours. Don't have the words for how interesting it is. I think it's great learning new languages and your methods are just as intriguing. Love the fact that you're translating and doing what you want...

Ms. Violetta said...

Thanks for the helpful language hints!

Happy New Year!

Roam2Rome said...

Ciao Erin,
Prego, and hope your holidays in Florence are going great...they sound like they are :)

Hola Delirante,
Maltese seems complicated! Though if you're staying there for a while... it should be worth it. Suerte!

Hi Maddie!
Spanish? Really? Well, if you ever get stuck on something and have a question, let me know :)

Hi Devlish,
So true! Different sources are needed to develop the different jargons within a language. It's tricky, isn't it?

Ciao Tina :)
That's right! I had forgotten about the bi-lingual texts! Many years ago I had bilingual short story books which helped a lot, also...

Buon Anno Katerina!
Spero che tu stia bene :)

Ciao Sognatrice!
Ah, yes, well... having a lovely, handsome, sweet, private tutor next to you sure beats books, films, and songs, any time! :) Buone Feste!

Ciao Chris!
Boy your blog came as a surprise! Another blog from Rome! Well, soon enough :) Congrats on your acceptance to Grad School in Rome!

Ciao Ms. Violetta,
Prego e Happy New Year!

mental mosaic said...

Ciao Farfallina! Thanks for sharing your techniques for diving into Italian. It's encouraging. Thanks. :)

Eryn said...

very interesting. your tips make a lot of sense.

what other language do you know besides, spanish, english and italian???

oh and i love that movie....the little boy is so adorable in his little overalls :-)

Maryann said...

I'm so grateful for this post. Although I had 3 years of Italian in high school, I really don't speak the language very well. My grandparents only wanted me to speak English so I lost a great resource there. I want to start again and your tips are very helpful. Thank you :)

daisies said...

great advice honey ... i may just have to elevate my own language skills with some of your tips :)

hope you had a beautiful christmas, xoxox

Sonya said...

Excellent tips Farfallina! It is pretty much the same approach I took when I was studying Italian as a foreign language (mind you I was never too keen on Dante and Petrarca :-))
I also found it very helpful to maintain a voabulary notebook - in this I would write down any new vocabulary I encountered and I would make an effort to use the vocabulary.
If you really want to learn a language, make it your passion and spend some time each day getting to know all its loveliness and peculiarities!
Delirante please persist in learning Maltese. You will find that it will have a positive influence on your experiences in Malta.
If anyone is interested in obtaining more free language learning tips you are more than welcome to visit my site www.auroratutoringservices.com and contact me via email.

Carla said...

Wonderful post! I envy people who can speak multiple languages. When I lived in Prague for a year I learned to speak Czech pretty well, and I agree 100% about watching movies with subtitles. I also learned a LOT from children! Little 3 year-olds speak plain and simple, and are wonderfully natural communicators. Happy New Year to you!

Amy said...

Wow, makes me want to change careers!!

glaukopis said...

happy new year pretty lady!

baci ;)

La delirante said...

Hi! Just to wish you a Happy 2008! May it be full of happiness for you and your family!