Author Archives: jtaylor395

Chicchirichi fa il gallo : exercises in phonetics

After a month or so of regular Italian lessons with my brilliant teacher on italki, I am taking a couple of weeks’ holiday break, and trying to spend it profitably by attempting to improve my bad pronunciation. I have no doubt that my Italian has been greatly improved by the lessons, (though still painfully slow at times with frequent lapses back into English!!) but feel increasingly aware of my English accent. I thought I would share with you yesterday’s phonetics exercise, which is at first glance a little kids’ verse about animal noises, but it combines lots of different tricky letter combinations ( tricky for the English speaker at any rate!).

Chicchirichi fa il gallo,

Squittisce lo scoiattolo,

la cinciallegra cinguetta,

Facendo cip, cip, cip,

l’asino raglia,

il maiale grugnisce.

If I was clever I would be able to link to a Youtube video of this verse being pronounced, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet, however if you search you should easily be able to find it like I did! 🙂

I really struggled with the word ‘scoiattolo’ (squirrel) and am still not sure I can pronounce it properly. It is also very difficult for English-speakers generally to pronounce words containing the ‘gli’ sound properly, such as ‘raglia’. In my opinion it’s definitely worth spending some time focussing on phonetics if you are feeling pretty serious about improving!! I may add some more exercises through the week as I work my way through them. the other essential element in improving speech is to LISTEN as much as possible. So obvious, so true. I recommend watching Youtube videos on any subject where the person is speaking Italian and imitating them as closely as possible!! Those are all my words of wisdom for the day. Good luck fellow Italian learners. And thanks to my Mum for letting my use her photo of the Red Arrows flying over York, just because I like it 🙂

 

 

Micromastery and Italian songs

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!

 

 

Best way to see Lucca

Cycling around the Mura storiche, the historic medieval walls of the city of Lucca in Tuscany, is absolutely the most fun way to view the city for all the family – €18 rental charge per hour for the small size family bike. Kids sit in front pretending to steer the bike 🙂

 

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View of Vinci

Walking from  the town of Vinci in Tuscany on the path to Anchiano, following the “Strada Verde”, through olive groves where the trees are still flowering, and the land is on the cusp of summer, you are rewarded with this view . There is an abundance of wildflowers and a redstart is singing from his perch on the top of a post. Through the olive trees we can hear the purring of a turtle dove. At our destination in Anchiano, 3 km from Vinci, is the ‘Casa natale’ of Leonardo Da Vinci, his family home, now a museum.  This walk is the perfect antidote after touring around cities with overheated kids!!

When vassoio doesn’t sound like a tray

The other day I learned the Italian word for tray, il vassoio, and had one of those moments of incredulity when I looked at the dictionary. Vassoio? Tray? Really? naah, that can’t be right. Vassoio does not seem like it would mean tray. I could believe it meant vase, or some other kind of vessel, that would be fine with me; For example annaffiatoio means watering can, and I am happy with that. However, a translation of a word is not something you can argue with, it just is ! This internal struggle made me smile as I could have ended up thinking I’m the only one to have issues like this with vocabulary, had I not recently read a book by Rachel Cusk, called The Last Supper : A summer in Italy. 

Towards the beginning of the book she talks about her approach to learning Italian, and how she likes learning vocabulary:

“It is in the area of vocabulary that I feel my resources can be most securely invested. An identifiable object has a kind of neutrality, like Switzerland : It is a place that seems to offer the possibility of agreement. I have no difficulty with an armchair being una poltrona or a rug il tappeto : indeed I almost prefer calling a mirror uno specchio , for it seems to suit it better.”

This is all fine until she reaches the word scarpa 

“But sometimes I cannot escape the feeling that the word in my hand is counterfeit money, for there are other words that have no ring of truth about them at all. They are false somehow, I can’t believe they’ll work. How could a scarpa for instance be the same thing as a shoe? If i went into a shop and asked for a pair of scarpe, I would surely be handed a brace of woodland fowl, or two fish with particularly bony spines..”

I think this is my problem too in this case, for some reason I am unwilling to relinquish the reliable tray-ness of my native word.. although I have no problem with accepting the translation for the majority of other Italian words I have so far come across.

I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced a similar problem with learning a particular word, an Italian word, or in fact a word in any other language, especially Latin 😉