Here is a contribution I added to a debate on a local website for English speakers in Puglia in a response to a query about useful language learning materials. This is a great forum for anyone with an interest in Puglia and I thoroughly recommend it.
The extract appears on the Forum:
Learning a language is hard enough – all of those verbs, nouns, adjectives, countless exceptions to the rule to deal with, especially if we are starting at a time of life when our memories are, shall we say, busy looking after the stuff we learned years ago. To compound the difficulty, in order to derive any usefulness whatsoever from our new skill, we then have to go out and engage publicly with strangers who will surely smile condescendingly at us if not openly hoot in derision at our embarrassing attempts to communicate. Yes, it is all too easy never to start, or to just give up after a couple of unhappy failures.
And yet…. learning any skill is fraught with perceived threats and dangers. Remember your first attempts at skiing, or swimming, or playing an instrument ? And here you now all are happily performing some of those very skills and deriving great pleasure from the activity, without worrying about those initial misgivings. Speaking a language is no different. It requires time, commitment, perseverance and above all practice in order to reach the base camp which for most is the furthest we want to go. Don’t look at it as a competition, take the view that is a skill you want to acquire just for yourself.
“But why bother ?” Some may ask.” I have lived here for several years quite happily without needing to speak the language.” Have you really ? It’s like going to the market with a transparent plastic bucket over your head. Yes you can marvel at the sights and sounds and smells which surround you, but you will never be part of it, you will never be able to inter-react with that world beyond pointing and grunting.
So back to the question. Which CD, text book etc is the best. Well we all have different learning styles so there is no obvious answer. Just use what you already have (as long as it’s not Michel Thomas obviously ). They all contain the same information. Don’t be put off by grammar either. It matters not one jot that you don’t know what a transitive verb is, or a subordinate clause or the subjunctive. Just learn that a noun is the name of something, and adjective describes a noun and a verb describes an activity. There you are, you’re done with grammar for the time being. The key though is to practise in those real situations you routinely encounter as you go about your daily life. Start with just one or two practical scenarios, like going to the market or going to the restaurant where you will be involved in simple transactions. You will notice that each time there are things you can add to your growing repertoire. Soon you will be ready to take the next step into engaging in personal chit chat with friends. This is much more difficult as it goes beyond a simple, defined framework but is all the more rewarding for that.
The one great advantage you all have is that you are surrounded by thousands of willing, eager to help teachers – the Italians themselves. They want you to succeed and will give you all the encouragement you need.
Imagine you are in a bar in England and there is a group of foreigners talking together in their own language. Go on, admit it, your initial gut reaction is not positive I’ll bet. On the other side of the coin, imagine a foreigner starts to engage you in conversation about how much they enjoy being in England. Their grasp of English may not be perfect, but you will compensate for that, filling in the gaps and being generally helpful. Well, now guess what: you are that foreigner. Which way do you want it to go ?
Time for a commercial break:
One last thought: you don’t have to do this on your own. Why don’t you meet up with a friend and have an hour learning Italian together. Make sure at least half of that time is spent speaking in Italian. Better still, why not meet up as a group in a local wine bar and have a conversation evening ? You will soon be surrounded by smiling Italians who will want to join in too. Who knows ? You may soon be able to take that bucket off your head !