I Learned Italian in 7 Days – Part I

I Learned Italian in 7 Days – Part I

August 14, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


So, this week I’m going to see if I can become fluent in Italian. Is that possible? Look, the truth is, I think the way foreign languages are taught in school is a joke. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. I’ve decided to share my experience learning a language in a short period of time, because I believe there is a more efficient, more exciting way to do things. Learning a language should be a fun process, as you’re literally opening your mind to a new way of life, and a new method of self-expression. I’ve broken up my approach into four stages that I want to share with you, as I push myself to see how far I can take things in one single week while still maintaining the rest of my life and responsibilities. At the end of the week, I plan to test my abilities with an Italian friend of mine – Giuseppe. By the way, if that’s not an Italian name, I don’t know what is. I wanna see if it’s possible to go from mediocrity to proficiency in a short amount of time. It’s not like I don’t know any Italian, okay? I know some basic words, I know how to cuss. And the best way I feel like I can describe my ability in Italian, it’s kind of like first-year high school Spanish. I know how to string together some, like, three-word sentences, but beyond that my Italian is very limited. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Very disrespectful. I apologize. I do have a respect for the Italian language. I’m not gonna.. I’ll stop with that right now. Okay! Alright, that’s it. I got it out of my system. The thing is, there’s not a whole lot that I can do with that. I’ve studied the language a little bit here and there over the last year and a half, but I’ve always kind of fallen out of the habit and then lost most of my progress. What that basically means is that my Italian remains pretty much useless. I can’t connect with people, I can’t have conversations. There are some Italian artists that I really like, but I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, so.. My goal is to see if I can change all of that this week with some seriously focused effort. I’ve got some other stuff going on, so I’m not going to be able to cram all day, every day. But I do want to put in at least a few hours of concentrated focused effort every single day. And I don’t want to spend a whole lot of money – or any money at all, if possible – doing this. Alright, so here is how I plan to do this: Stage 1 – It’s important to hit the ground running. Efficiency is key. So the place to start is with the top 1000 words. I’m actually gonna start off by telling you what I’m NOT going to do. ( And this is a mistake that I see a lot of language learners make. ) I see a lot of people download the app “Duolingo” and start, you know, learning vocabulary. Now, in the long term it makes sense to have as much vocabulary as possible. But in the short term, this is a really inefficient strategy. When you’re having a conversation with somebody, generally speaking, you don’t need a whole lot of like, kitchen vocabulary, or clothing vocabulary. These sorts of topics can come up, but they’re not the most common words in a given language. The reason why I say this is because of the 80/20 Rule. Now this is something that I suggest that you do more research on on your own, but I’ll give you the basic outline. The idea of the 80/20 rule is that everything.. in the Universe, really, everything in life is imbalanced. Now, the numbers aren’t exact, but it’s generally pretty consistent. Okay, so bear with me. I’ll give you some examples: 80% of wealth is held by 20% of people. 80% of screen time goes to 20% of actors. The top 20% of classical composers are listened to 80% of the time. Okay? You get the idea. So, check this out. This has the potential of blowing your mind. Okay? So stick with me. There are a little over 170,000 words in the English language in current use today. However only 1,000 to 3,000 words make up the majority of daily English use. So, that’s only a tiny percentage of the entire vocabulary. This is a really big deal, okay? It makes a lot more sense to learn words that are part of that 1 to 3,000 than it is to learn words like “telephone pole” or “reclining chair”, “quintessential”, “paramount”.. It really cracks me up, you know, it’s like, I don’t need to learn words like “pan” and “oven” to have a general conversation with somebody. So that is where I’m going to begin. I’m gonna start these first couple of days by learning the top 1000 Italian words. Because think about it, there’s a huge difference in the amount of usage, the amount of mileage that I can get from a useful word like “something”, versus a specific, one use word, like “cherry”. The way I’m gonna do this is by writing down the 1000 words on this notepad and reviewing the list over and over again. And I’m also going to record myself speaking the words and their translations. “Road – Strada” “Perhaps – Forse” And listen to that while I do stuff like exercise or anything else that allows me to listen while I’m doing that activity. Alright, so it is Wednesday morning and I feel like the memorization of the top 1000 words is going really, really well! I feel confident with my progress, like I said before, I’ve been using this notebook and I also recorded all the vocabulary, and I’ve been listening to it over and over again. Okay, I’m gonna jump in here again with a few things that I wanna add.. First of all; it’s okay to be a little bit obsessive. Two or three hours a day really isn’t much if you’re smart with your time. Just replace a couple of episodes of whatever it is you’re watching on Netflix, and listen to a podcast or a voice recording of vocab while on a run. Basically just be creative about how you include language learning into your life, because technology is on your side. Now, there are a few very cool and very effective methods for memorizing a lot of vocabulary at once. Techniques like visualization and association. These techniques can make a huge difference. Let’s take the word “fico” or “figo”. (A variation) Which is an Italian word for “cool”. Turns out, “fico” also means “fig”. Just kind of what that sounds like in English, honestly. I just picture a bunch of Italians partying around a fig tree. Because I guess that’s what cool people do in Italy, and boom. You better bet I’m not gonna forget that word anymore! I feel like you kind of have to keep things fun and light however you can, because if you don’t, then, yeah, it becomes this endless list of words that you have to memorize, it becomes this boring task. So from here, I’m going to branch out in a few different ways from just memorizing vocabulary. Stage 2 – The Glue. Stick with me, this is where things start to get interesting. The focus here should be gathering the linguistic tools to string together complete sentences, complete thoughts. This means learning the most common verbs, the most common two or three tenses, (which is usually enough to communicate), and connecting words like “of”, “in” and “on”. The important part isn’t so much memorization, but rather proper usage of these deceptively simple words. Knowing a basic verb conjugation is a million times more important in my opinion, than having an extended vocabulary. Because again, without the verbs you can’t create the sentences. Also when you’re learning a new language, I find that I will start to notice recurring words or phrases that seem to be very important. Ok? So in this case, I’ve noticed the word “chi”.”C – I”. Like, all over the place in Italian, and I don’t really understand it. I don’t get it. So I’m also going to spend some time researching that today and trying to figure out what it means and how it’s used. Okay, um, I just spent the last few hours trying to wrap my brain around Italian verbs, Italian conjugation. Turns out there are 21 tenses, and every single tense has its own rules, and then every single tense also has its under regularities. So I basically have to learn the rules and then I have to learn how to break the rules.. I like to approach everything in life with as much confidence as possible, but I will be honest I am feeling the pressure. I am feeling a little bit overwhelmed. Because I think, more than anything, I don’t want my conversation with Giuseppe to be a failure. I want to at least be able to speak decently, you know? And looking at all these conjugations, I feel like I’ve got a mountain to climb. so if you’re learning a language and you’re struggling with it. Please know that I feel your pain. Okay? You are not alone. There’s a part of me that feels very like “Oh my god. What did I get myself into?” There’s also a part of me that is curious to see what I’m capable of. You know, I’ve never done this, I’ve never pushed myself to learn a whole language in one week! And I’m curious to see how far I can push things I’ll tell you what I’m for sure NOT going to do, and that is deprive myself of sleep. All this new information that I’m learning and absorbing right now is part of my short-term or working memory. Okay, and the brain needs a chance to turn the short-term memory into long-term memories through the hippocampus. This is done during sleep. And this is why it is incredibly ineffective to cram and pull an all-nighter before an important exam. You’re not going to keep that information for the long term. So, really it was kind of a waste of time to do in the first place. See, my goal of doing all this is not to just be able to speak Italian for a little while. I want Italian to be a part of my life from now on. So, when I’m done studying here I’m going to let myself get as much sleep as possible, and I highly recommend that you do the same. Stage 3: Create a Connection. This is probably the most underrated step in my opinion. All of us are going to hit a wall at some point from all the memorization of vocabulary and verb conjugations. The tricky thing is that when that excitement starts to fade, so does your consistency and the amount of effort that you’re going to put into learning that language. But guess what you guys, we live in an incredible time where we have access to so much at our fingertips. Discovering the art and culture of another country in another language is like stepping into another world. Netflix and other streaming websites have movies and TV shows in a variety of other languages. Throw up subtitles in the language that you’re learning (not English), and try to follow along as much as you can. And rewind if you have to. Music is another one. I took a few songs from a couple of Italian artists that I really like and I translated the lyrics with Google Translate. And, you know, this is not perfect, okay? But this is an amazing way to start to see how people speak, you know? The kinds of expressions that they use, maybe a little bit of slang. And that’s extremely useful when you’re trying to have a conversation in any given language. TuneIn Radio is an app that I use that basically allows you to access, like, radio stations and podcasts all around the world. That’s another tremendous resource. So I just spent over an hour listening to Italian podcasts as I ran, and you know, Italians speak very quickly, so most of the time I’m only able to understand about 25 – 30% of what’s going on. Fortunately, I can pick out words, I can understand, I can generally like kind of follow along with what’s going on, but there was almost like this click, something that happened while I was running and all of a sudden I felt like I was able to understand more of what they were saying. I don’t know what that was exactly, but maybe my brain was kind of connecting the dots a little bit.. I’ve been doing that every single day and today felt like I was finally seeing a difference, you know, and again, this is why I think consistency is so, so important. So yeah, that was really cool. I feel like I can potentially string together words more easily because of the fact that I’m listening to how people formulate their thoughts and create full sentences, y’know? Basically, start consuming culture and find stuff that excites you about the language and the people that speak it. I remember watching “Amélie” before moving to France, and even with subtitles I didn’t understand very much. But it was a great way to practice and it got me so excited about the language and about learning French. And so this is something that I’ve been doing a lot more of over the last few days, as I started to kind of burn out a little bit on grinding out the memorization So this video is getting pretty long, I’m gonna cut things off right there and leave the final stage, as well as my conversation with Giuseppe, for part two. If you’re interested in that and want to see my progress in Italian, it should be out in about a week. So if you’re not subscribed to this channel, consider hitting that subscribe button