Category Archives: new vocabulary

Errori, errori dappertutto !

Mistakes, mistakes! When learning a language it is impossible to avoid making mistakes once you start speaking this language to real people. And if you are like me and you hate making mistakes then this can be a real barrier to progress. I have noticed that my teacher, who is very sympathetic and encouraging with all my mistakes, doesn’t point out every single one but mostly those that are most important, and also tellingly does not correct my accent. (This is not because my Italian accent is that fantastic I assure you, but because if adult learners of a second language have their accent criticised too much this can be the final straw leading to them giving up completely!) Grammar mistakes are not too personally upsetting though. Using the wrong tense isn’t cause for too much acute embarrassment, whereas having your accent dissected would be rather more demoralising to most people.

However I have started ALMOST  to love my mistakes because, if I allow them to be, they are the most incredibly effective way of improving. The key thing is to learn from them. Here’s the rub – Unfortunately this does necessitate more work!!! During my lesson my teacher takes notes for me of sentences or phrases that I have struggled with. She types them into a notepad to which we both have access. Afterwards i try to review these phrases and repeat them until they stick in my head.

as a result i have a load of random sentences in my head such as :

Mio figlio grande non voleva tornare a scuola. (My oldest son didn’t want to go back to school).

My initial mistake with this sentence was to say : Mio figlio grande non ha voluto tornare a scuola.  (ie. I used the perfect tense instead of the imperfect). I suppose this conveyed the meaning but just sounded wrong!

Another mistake that I made was more annoying to me because I have made it far too many times.  Which means I am not learning from it at all and that is frustrating. Whilst discussing Denmark (la Danimarca) I was attempting to say that our family visited Denmark 5 years ago. I seem to have a total block over expressing that I STAYED somewhere or VISITED a place.

Siamo stati in Danimarca 5 anni fa. ( we visited Denmark 5 years ago)

Non sono mai stata in Germania ( I have never been to Germany)

Do I have any useful advice on learning from your mistakes ? Re-reading Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever, he suggests making flash cards of the corrected versions of your mistakes and reviewing these flash cards regularly. I write down words or phrases and stick them up in my kitchen where I can’t help seeing them! The key is in the repetition. Obviously this is in conjunction with listening to the language at every opportunity to hear the words and phrases used in context, which helps you realise how unnatural your mistakes sound.

I will leave you with a useful little expression that I have struggled with remembering many times

Non pensavo!  (I didn’t realise that!)

 

 

 

 

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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 😉

 

 

 

The cat purrs

I thought it might be nice to share my discovery, my favourite new phrase that I learned yesterday in my Italian lesson – at least for any cat-lovers out there who might like to talk about their cat purring. My teacher recommended that I should listen to a canzone carina “La Gatta” by Gino Paoli, after I had confessed to her that I didn’t know that la gatta existed in Italian, and had thought cats were always referred to as il gatto, whether male or female. She shared the lyrics with me ( il testo ), and the song is about a cat who has a macchia nera sul muso, just like my cat 🙂

The song continues like this:

Se la chitarra suonava, la gatta faceva le fusa, ed una stellina scendeva vicina, vicina, poi mi sorrideva e se ne tornava su.

When I translated faceva le fusa, I realised that listening to the guitar made the cat purr…. so my new phrase of the day is Il mio gatto fa le fusa (my cat purrs) because my cat is a boy cat!

After having spent a while this week studying pronominal verbs – farcela, andarsene, cavarsela, avercela – I also discovered that hidden in this song is another such pronominal verb – tornarsene –  which was a new one for me. The little star smiled and returned back up.

My particular favourite of the pronominal verbs I learned about is farcela ( to manage to do something) which is great to use in conversation at a moment of triumph – Ce l’ho fatta! I did it! I managed to do it! Remember it next time you want to celebrate something good that you have achieved in Italian 🙂 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Ruote di carro – All about wheels

I have had some difficulty remembering “ruota”, the Italian word for ‘wheel’ : for ten years this word has literally rolled away from me every time I tried to fix it in my memory.
I tried describing this photo of some “ruote di carro” ( cart wheels) which I took the other day, as when I link a word or phrase with a visual image I find I retain it much better.
Ci sono tre ruote. (There are three wheels).
Sono ruote di carro antiche (they are old cart wheels).
Along the way I discovered a couple of other wheel-related expressions,
When talking about a car’s steering wheel you use ‘volante’ not ‘ruota’ so ‘at the steering wheel’ is ‘al volante’.

A ‘spare wheel’ is ‘una ruota di scorta’.

When I learn new words these days I always listen to hear how they are pronounced on Forvo ( I am addicted to Forvo!!) which has the additional benefit of showing you a list of other phrases which include your target word.
Hence I found out today this little gem : “essere l’ultima ruota del carro” which in English means being the least important person, equivalent to being lowest in the pecking order and therefore not given much responsibility-
For example “Non chiedere a me – sono l’ultima ruota del carro”. ( Don’t ask me – I’m the least important person here / I haven’t got any responsibility).

Ways with trees

On a family hike through the woods today I was admiring the beech trees, which are my favourite kind of tree and I felt like describing them in Italian.
Beech trees are very pleasing as their bark is so grey and smooth, and reminds me of the appearance of elephant skin. I love the way the trunks gleam in the rain. The beech trees with low branches look as though they are wearing skirts, and with their sinuous trunks they seem female to me, whereas oak trees with their crinkly bark would be male.
Another great thing about beech trees is that if they sustain any injury to the trunk they smooth over the edges of the wound,and round it off. You probably would have to look at a beech tree to see what I mean, but it is really awesome.
The Italian for beech tree is il faggio – in Latin they are Fagus sylvatica.
I didn’t know the word for bark, and ended up learning two words for the price of one – la corteccia, or la scorza.
I faggi hanno la corteccia liscia, meaning beech trees have smooth bark.
I spent a while looking at some fabulous roots, Radici, pronounced ra-DI-ci, which I just listened to on Forvo (my absolute favourite language website!!) and realised I have always pronounced wrong – sigh!  I Radici is also a feminine word even though it seems it would be masculine.

 

Ramo is branch and Tronco is trunk, also new words today.

Woods in early springtime and Italian, a happy combination…. And only a couple of weeks to wait for new leaves, Foglie 🙂

Language learning for tortoises

image

In the summer of 2016 I will celebrate my 10 year anniversary of learning Italian. Honest assessments of my abilities : shaky intermediate at best.
Given that it is technically possible to learn Italian in 24 weeks of intensive study I decided it was time to reflect on my tortoise-plodding progress towards fluency, and what I could be doing differently to improve my Italian in the limited time I have available for study.
For inspiration I turned to Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever – the author is an opera singer who speaks at least 5 languages fluently. His methods for teaching himself new languages quickly involve learning correct pronounciation before anything else, never translating and using spaced repetition systems (flashcards).

instead of translating words from English to your target language it is proven much more effective to attach the new word to an image – by using the incredible super-powers of our visual memory. I tried this today to learn a bunch of Russian words attached to pictures ( I have always wanted to learn Russian, it is right there on my To Do list haha) and it really did work! I learned how to say white wolf which sounds something like Beely Volk. So awesome.
Meanwhile back to Italian….

As temperatures here in the UK have recently plunged today’s lesson has a cold theme:(freddissimo!)
Piedi congelati – frozen cold feet
I guanti.
Il cappotto (exploding) – coat
La neve
Scivoloso – slippery
I brividi
Dita fredde
il pinguino (exploding)

Masculine nouns are exploding, feminine nouns are on fire and neuter nouns are shattering like glass in his book.

Back to plodding on – lento, la tartaruga si muove piano 🙂
Ciao !