“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.”
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:
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…).
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
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!
All photography by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2015 madlyinlovewithlife