Torna a Scuola! Back to School and Lifelong Learning


“Non puoi insegnare niente a un uomo.
Puoi solo aiutarlo a scoprire ciò che ha dentro di sé.”

(“You cannot teach a man anything,
you can only help him to discover it within himself.”)

~ Galileo Galilei

September: Back to School

Ah… I love September. Remember the excitement of getting ready to go back to school? New school clothes, new crayons, a new school bag, new books, a new supply of your favourite pens and the fun of sharpening that whole box of brand new pencils? I loved returning to school every autumn, so much so that, even though it’s been many years since I finished my formal schooling, I still get a strong desire every September to join the throngs of young and eager minds heading off to a campus somewhere. The smell of cracking open a brand new book is my favourite September scent and setting the point of a newly sharpened pencil to the first clean page of a new notebook still gives me a secret thrill. While today’s students are much more likely to be excited about a new iPad or laptop than they are about their new pens and pencils, just the same, I feel their anticipation and I enjoy tapping into the heightened energy that fills the air this time of year.

Many equate the month of January with new beginnings, but for me, new beginnings have always been associated with September. One way I’ve satisfied the serious itch to go back to school every fall is to begin some sort of informal study in an area of personal interest. This September, it’s learning a new language.


“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

– Goethe

Self-Directed Study: Learning a New Language

I first began studying Italian many years ago, but I’ve been away from it for a long while and I miss it. So this year, I’ve decided to make Italian my back to school project. I’ve been puttering away at learning Italian in an on-again-off-again way for years. And I own that I’m still terrible at it—I speak slowly and only in the most rudimentary way, my Italian grammar is deplorable, and I regularly butcher their lovely language. But I love it and every few years I pick it up and continue to dabble away at it.



“I have no particular talent. I am merely inquisitive.”

~ Albert Einstein

Fun Ways to Augment Language Learning:

There has never been a better time for self-directed study. One click of my mouse and I can find resources on any subject at all—from learning Italian, to reading about Wood Ducks, to learning how to make French macarons. Whatever you may be interested in, the internet abounds with endless resources. Learning has never been easier nor more fun. Here are a few things I’ve discovered to make learning a new language more interesting:

Language Apps

Learning a language from audio CDs and textbooks alone is not easy and sticking with it can be a bit of a challenge. So, for me, the myriad of new language learning apps available for computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones makes learning so much more fun, inspiring me to want to continue on. All sorts of fun apps are now available, from verb conjugation training apps and vocabulary builders all the way up to more sophisticated and comprehensive language programs. Check out your favourite app store to see what’s available in your language of interest.


If you’ve ever wanted to try learning a new language but felt daunted by the thought of it, or you weren’t sure whether you would like it enough to invest in an expensive language program like Rosetta Stone or Berlitz, check out Duolingo. It’s a free, multi-award winning program that’s so fun, it’s positively addicting. You can use it online on your desktop or laptop, or you can download the app and play with it on your tablet or smartphone. I love using it on my iPad. It’s available in a number of languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German and many others. Duolingo is also great for brushing up on a language you might have studied in the past. I highly recommend trying it if you have any interest whatsoever in the languages they offer. And did I mention that it’s absolutely free?


Find one of your favourite childhood books in audiobook format in the language you are learning and just listen. Even if you don’t understand much, listening starts to train your ear to hear the sound, rhythm and musicality of the new language. You’d be surprised at how quickly you can begin to recognize the odd word here and there. Many public domain books in various languages are available for free on iTunes. Loyal Books also has many public domain audiobooks available for free in various languages. You can also track down a print copy of the book you have chosen (in the language you are studying) and follow along with the audiobook.


I like to watch Italian movies as a supplement to my studies, both with and without sub-titles. Its great training for the ear. You can find foreign movies in your language of choice at your local library, from Amazon or on Netflix.


Another fun way to immerse yourself in a new language is through music. Get some tunes you like in the language you are studying—check out your public library for music or listen to some real radio stations from your country of study. TuneIn Radio is an excellent app which allows you to listen to radio stations from all around the world. To augment my Italian studies, I enjoy tuning into RTL 102.5, a contemporary music station in Rome. And, of course, there’s always YouTube. It’s full of excellent music from all over the world. Also, you can often find the lyrics to the songs you like online, both in the original language and in the English translation. Once you’ve learned the words to your favourite songs, you can sing your heart out in the shower (my apologies to your loved ones…).



Cartoon Strips

Try to get your hands on some of your favourite cartoon strips in the language you are studying. I love trying to read Charlie Brown in Italian. It’s slow going, but the illustrations help and it’s a fun way to learn lots of different idioms.

Find a Language Buddy

If you are lucky enough to find a friend who speaks the language, bribe them with a cup of coffee or lunch to get some one-on-one practice time. If, like me, you don’t have that luxury, have some fun trying to speak your new language into Google Translate. I have the Google Translate App downloaded onto my iPad and I use the microphone to speak Italian (using the two-way automatic speech translation function) to check my sentence structure and pronunciation. Sometimes, I also like to speak English into Google Translate and it talks back to me in Italian! I guarantee you’ll have a good time. You will laugh a lot, both at your own mistakes and the mistakes that Google Translate makes.

Have Fun And Keep It Light

Cultivate an open attitude by not needing to understand everything right away. Believe that, in time, everything you don’t quite understand at the moment will gradually click into place as you keep plugging along.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is an important part of learning, so embrace them. Keep it light and laugh at yourself a lot!

Have fun with it. If you’re not having fun, you won’t learn nearly as much.


“Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

~ Albert Einstein

Happy September!

I love learning. For me, September will forever be associated with learning new things. You may not want to learn a language, but maybe the Back-to-School bug has bitten you and you have a burning desire inside to learn something new—maybe it’s photography, or writing, or cooking, or perhaps it’s something obscure and esoteric. Don’t wait! Sign up for a class, or search the internet for resources to learn at home and have fun learning something new this fall. It’s good for the mind and the soul! Remember: you don’t have to go to a formal school or take a ready-made course to keep on being an inquisitive student of life. Here’s to lifelong learning!


Image Credits:

All photography by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2015 madlyinlovewithlife

14 thoughts on “Torna a Scuola! Back to School and Lifelong Learning

  1. Your enthusiasm for learning is infectious, Jeannie — and your information for learning a new language is comprehensive. Thank you~ I just watched an Italian film last night that might be helpful for learning Italian: Viaggo in Italia. 1953 w.Ingrid Bergman, directed by Rossellini. It’s not a very exciting film, but it is a wonderful tool for the language and has superb footage of Italy and Pompeii. Have a great weekend! :)

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Jet! I shall check out Viaggio in Italia for sure! When I’m in the mood for them, I quite enjoy those old films. And with my poor comprehension of Italian, slow-moving is exactly the right speed for me! Thanks again, for stopping by! Wishing you a very happy week! :))

  2. Like you, the coming of Autumn brings this great feeling of newness and adventures coming my way…and it may be related directly to that feeling of a kid and the start of another school year. This makes it a perfect time to learn something new, and your thoughts of that being a language is perfect. Very cool and 祝你健康,开心! Nothing quite as nice as lifelong learning Jeannie ~ wish you the best. Take care.

    • You strike me as someone who enjoys the challenge of new things, no matter what time of year it is. Thanks so much for stopping by. E grazie per i vostri auguri in cinese! (I enjoyed checking out what you wrote in Google Translate (don’t you just love that program? Very fun). Have a great week ahead, Randall! :))

  3. Wonderfully said and presented Jeannie..I to enjoy the arrival of autumn and learning new things; although I must admit I perhaps didn’t quite share your enthusiasm for back to school time! :)) Hope your having a great weekend thus far :) Raining here today :(

    • Well, I can certainly imagine that you would much rather have been outdoors enjoying that beautiful land you live on. There are so many ways to learn lots of valuable things in life that have nothing to do with books! It seems to me that life experience is the best teacher of all. Thanks, as always for taking the time to stop by. Have a great week ahead, Sam. :))

  4. LOL, Jeannie! You are the happy optimist! September a fun time because of back-to-school! To me, it is a nightmare… And now that my little girl is fashion conscious, we went to EIGHT stores to look for “fashionable” gym shorts. Arrgghh.

    Your thoughts on language were interesting to read. The “modern” ways to learn a language you pointed out were enlightening to an old pencil and eraser guy like me. I’m not a classroom learner like you are; I need to just live in it which I did when I went to Japan as a young adult. Unfortunately, I immersed myself in a all-male dormitory/school – I walked away with learning “not polite” Japanese. :-) I also peeked at Duolingo; as with many such programs, Japanese is always left off! :-)

    • Hello Kojji! Yes, I acknowledge that formal schooling is not a happy memory for everyone and I totally agree that life experience is really the best teacher of all. While I did love school, I actually do my best learning outside of a classroom, as I’m one who likes to learn at my own pace. Also, all the language programs in Duolingo are done by volunteers. I know there have been requests from English speakers who want to learn Japanese, so hopefully, there will be Japanese Duolingo program in the future. They keep adding new languages every year, so I expect that will happen. :))

  5. Hi Jeannie! I often fondly remember your enthusiasm (and all the help and mentoring) from my first year at UofA. I share that thirst for learning too – but have been finding all sorts of different ways to fill my brain with knowledge. Who knew I’d end up being a hydrographic surveyor’s tech support (or even that there was such a thing as hydrographic surveying) back when I finished university? I’m finding it to be great fun and am learning so much about so many different things!
    I’ve also been supplementing my learning this past year with online courses – some for interest, some for shaping up my skills. Duolingo was great fun to see how well I’d retained my French (more than I had expected) and other massive online open courses such as Future Learn and edx. I have been relearning calculus through Kahn Academy, which has to be one of the coolest online learning sites I’ve visited – it’s addictive and fun!
    For your friend who might want to check out a Japanese app, I found these two helpful: Hirigana Learn Japanese (for android by Legendarya / Imaginactiva) which teaches you to write, and, which helps build vocabulary and phrases. The app even had a section where you could play common phrases if you were trying to communicate with a Japanese speaker! Very clever!

    And, in case you wanted any more inspiration about how to become fluent in any language, check out this TED talk: – I’m sure it will motivate you even more!

    • Hello dear Steph! What a wonderful surprise to see you here! We loved reading your thoughtful, interesting and very informative comment. You were always so bright and such a fast learner—I’m not surprised to hear about your new and what sounds to be a very interesting and challenging career. It’s so fun to challenge yourself to learn something you never thought you could do, isn’t it? I never really started to enjoy learning simply for the joy of learning until after I graduated from school. And it’s never been more fun than it is now with all the great new resources available. Thank you so much for contributing more valuable links to even more great learning resources. Some I’ve heard of but some are completely new to me and I look forward to checking them all out. I’m especially interested in seeing the TED talk you mention. I’ve already seen a TED talk on how to become fluent in 6 months, so I’m really interested in how this speaker proposes one can do it in 3 months! It was such a pleasure to read your excellent comment, dear Steph! Wishing you and yours a very happy September! xx ~ Jeannie :))

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