Grammar Lessons

Beginning Stage 3

So far in Stage 3 of my language journey, I have:

  • Read and made flashcards based on Chapters 1 – 3 of Marcel Danesi’s Practice Makes Perfect: Complete Italian Grammar, Premium Second Edition.
  • Joined italki.
  • Wrote 2 entries in the Notebook on italki in Italian.
  • Offered corrections on 3 different Notebooks by Italian people writing in English.
  • Chatted with two different people through italki’s messaging feature.
  • Scheduled a language exchange Skype call with a native-born Italian to trade my English for his Italian.
  • Asked a question about Italian usage in Italian. And, no, not about the difference between “stanza” and “camera”

All that since Friday.

I am able to do this because I have studied Italian before and I still sort of recall basic present tense and basic past tense conjugations. If I were learning Italian from scratch, I would probably have waited to join italki until I had finished Dr. Danesi’s book.

Come si dice in italiano?

I don’t like that my Italian grammar book is written in English. As I read the first chapter, I thought, “I want to learn the rules for Italian in Italian.” So, I am doing that. I am reading rules for Italian grammar in English, translating them into Italian, and using Cloze cards to study them.

Because I have studied Italian before, I am able to draft very simple sentences and put them into Anki. When I am not sure how to write an idea, I use Google Translate.

Wait! Wait! Wait! Put down the pitchforks and the torches.

Google Translate is a tool. It can be used for good or for evil. It can support learning and it can hinder learning. It all depends on how you use it.

Not that I need his permission, but Gabriel Wyner endorses limited use of machine translation software in Fluent Forever:

Try to say what you want to say, and if you don’t have the words or the grammar to say it, then use Google Translate ( to help.

— Gabriel Wyner, Fluent Forever, p. 131

My second Notebook entry on italki [Icon: Open in New Window] was some of my grammar rule sentences. At the time of writing this, one person had offered corrections and said they all looked good.

Here are some examples with the cloze codes (and translations underneath). These include examples that have been checked on italki and ones that have not.

  • Il sostantivo per {{c3::l’albero}} è spesso {{c1::maschile}}, e il sostantivo per {{c4::la frutta}} è spesso {{c2::femminile}}.
    The noun for the tree is often masculine, and the noun for the fruit is often feminine.
  • Se una parola è greca e finisce in -ema o -amma, è {{c1::maschile}}.
    If a word is Greek and ends in -ema or -amma, it is masculine.
  • Se cambia la fine di un sostantivo in {{c2::-ino/ina}}, {{c2::-etto/etta}}, o {{c2::-ello/ella}}, dice che è {{c1::piccolo}}.
    If you change the ending of a noun to -ino/ina, -etto/etta, or -ello/ella, you are saying that it is smaller version.
  • Scrivi l’articolo indeterminativo {{c1::una volta per ognuno sostantivo}} in la frase.
    Write the indefinite article one time for each noun in the sentence.

These sentences may not be perfectly correct. I am going to talk with my language exchange partner and ask for his advice on them.

You will make mistakes

They are still a valuable learning experience, even if they are wrong.

Teenagers and adults are so afraid of making mistakes. The fear of the red editor’s pen and the fear of poor grades is ingrained in people. It is real and difficult to shake. It’s also terrible for learning. Somewhere along the way we began to equate our value as people with being right.

Don’t get me wrong, being right is necessary in a lot of the time. You should drink H2O (water) but not H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide). You should operate on the correct body part or organ. And yet…

As a culture we pay lip service to the idea that “you learn more from failure than you do from success” but we are so reticent to practice that. Mistakes take up more space in our minds than successes. From all our years of school, we internalize the critic. We not only internalize it but we project it outward onto others, some of us to the point of denying the possibility that anyone will treat us charitably.

If we were afraid of making mistakes when we learned to speak our first language, we never would have acquired it. We need to remember that we may be adults in life but we are as children in our foreign language. (Feel free to substitute any skill you are beginning to learn for “foreign language.”)

Don’t you (forget about me) [Icon: Open in New Window]

(with apologies to Simple Minds)

Between being busy with traveling last week and my excitement at starting Stage 3 in Italian, I have been neglecting my German. I have reviewed my flashcards every day but I haven’t added a new word in about a week.

This is one of the perils of learning two languages at the same time. My Italian is stronger and I am able to communicate in it and so using it is much, much more attractive. Creating and learning flashcards by rote is less fun than reading my textbook, translating the rules written in English into Italian, and finding example sentences, and writing short blog posts and messaging people in Italian.

In fact, this is a symptom of a larger problem. Most people enjoy practicing to improve their strengths rather than practicing to eliminate their weaknesses. Think of the amateur guitarist who knows three chords and a couple of songs (who probably practices mostly to improve their strengths) and the professional, classical guitarist who knows scales, a ton of chords, many songs, and music theory (who definitely practices to eliminate their weaknesses).

I have an appointment!

One way I have overcome this inclination is to set schedules for myself. I have written before that I am a big fan of Cal Newport’s Time Blocking method [Icon: Open in New Window] of scheduling. Anything smaller than a 30 minute block is too fine a distinction to make for me. Intentionally writing down on a schedule, “Make German flashcards” from 6:00pm to 6:30pm makes me accountable to myself.

I have to admit that I do not always abide by my own appointments. There have been times that I have let myself stop creating cards after 25 minutes, or even 20 minutes. This has been detrimental to my German learning habit. I would advise against this allowing yourself to cut a time block short — except in the case of an emergency, obviously — if you adopt this method. You undercut your language learning habit by rewarding yourself, in a sense, by quitting the chore of flashcard creation.

It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the hard thing. Wait… where have I heard that before?

What about you?

How is your language journey going?

Do you use italki? Do you use other apps?

Do you practice to improve your strengths or practice to eliminate your weaknesses?

How do you remind yourself that you will make mistakes as you learn?

What strategies do you have for balancing multiple competing goals?

I want to hear from you in the comments below.

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