Since I got back from my trip to Italy I have been super-charged with enthusiasm for learning Italian, in fact I would go so far as to say I have been quite obsessed with how to make progress. On a recent road trip to the Lake District I listened to the one CD of Italian music that I possess all the way there and all the way back. This worked out at seven – yes seven!- hours of Marco Mengoni’s songs, from his album Le Cose che non ho , by which time you can imagine I was getting pretty familiar with the lyrics but wasn’t feeling entirely certain how this might help improve me.
A week or so later I took an Italian lesson on Skype and I was really struggling. The nouns were coming back to me but every verb I ever learned seemed to have disappeared out of my cervello. Or the required verbs were only in the INFINITIVE which was next to useless in the midst of the flow of conversation. Until a great thing happened : I needed the word dicono ( they say) and I remembered one of Marco’s lyrics dicono,dicono,dicono parole in circolo. The right word was ready and waiting for me. I swear this was the only time in the entire hour of my lesson that I knew a verb.😂
This led me to thinking why singing the language helps so much, the words just stick in your head better with the music, and the repetition, and before you know it the words seem to belong to you. It’s a short cut to really owning those words !
This past weekend I went to Wales – another long road trip where this time I wasn’t the one who was driving. I spent the journey trying to remedy my lack of verbs by chanting all the imperfect verbs that had eluded me in my lesson. Andavamo, andavamo, andavamo a fare la spesa la mattina. Eravamo, dicevamo, facevamo,dovevamo, potevamo.And so on. All in the first person plural for some reason. Time will tell if this will improve my conversation. Yes indeed and there were times when I wondered at what point this obsession with Italian might be considered an actual problem for me.
In amongst the imperfect verbs on my grammar book, I was also reading a book called Micromastery by Robert Twigger. Now I was finding this book really interesting because although I hadn’t bought it to help my language learning, it turned out that it was directly applicable.
THe following is the quote from inside the book because it explains the premise of the book better than I could :
“We are often told that we must be passionate about only one thing : that 10000 hours of hard practice is needed to achieve mastery, but in fact most highly successful people including Nobel Prize winners spend their free time learning new skills and activities. Whether it’s making a perfect souffle, painting a door or lighting a fire, when we take the time to cultivate small areas of expertise we change everything. We become more fearless learners, spot more creative opportunities, improve our brain health and boost our well-being. We see knowledge itself completely differently.”
Robert Twigger defines a ‘micromastery’ as ‘a self contained unit of doing, complete in itself but connected to a greater field’. For example, learning to make the perfect omelette. Once you have mastered the skill, you could get hooked and use this as a springboard to go on to become an amazing chef. Or, you might decide to stop there, but every time you make an omelette in future it will be An Incredible Omelette, and that will give you great satisfaction, as well as impressing anybody else who eats your omelettes.
The book gives about forty diverse examples of micromasteries including Make a Perfect cube of wood, Do an Eskimo Roll (in a kayak), Mix a Delightful Daquiri and Walk the Tango Walk. Micromasteries for language learning that he mentioned were for example, learning a simple set of greetings in Chinese, so that you could greet anyone from a child to an emperor; learning to read Japanese in three hours by learning the katakana; And learning a song in another language. The song he suggested learning was “La Marseillaise”( by singing along to the Youtube clip from Casablanca. )
For any complete beginners who are planning to visit Italy I would recommend learning to order specific things such as coffee or gelato (details such as which flavour , how many flavours, and if you want it in a cone or a little coppetta) as micromasteries since you are guaranteed to need these phrases when you are there, and you will get a real kick out of being able to do this perfectly! And you will immediately impress your travelling companions. You might decide this is as far as you want to go with learning Italian…. OR you may decide to devote yourself to achieving fluency, however long it may take.
Anyway I highly recommend his book, it’s pretty short but gives you some cool ideas to think about.
And I’m off to browse for more Italian music , I might need a little change from Marco, Please do share in the comments any Italian songs that you enjoy and that have helped you learn, and I will give them a listen!