Category Archives: Uncategorized

Language learning for tortoises

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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 ūüôā
Ciao !

the meaning of ‘zagara’ : a book about lemons

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I have a thing about Italian words that start with the letter Z. Who knows why, they are just very pleasing. Here are some favourites. Zaino (backpack), zigomo (cheekbone), zenzero (ginger), ¬†zanzara (mosquito , love that word!), zampa (paw, as in animal’s foot – i remember it by thinking as quattro zampe).

Today I found another Z word – zagara (DZA-ga-ra) which means citrus blossom. It is a Sicilian word derived from Arabic which has subsequently been adopted by the whole of Italy, used to name blossoms of lemons and oranges and a variety of other exotic citrus trees.

hubby came back from a visit to the big city and presented me with this book “the land where lemons grow”. I was very excited to receive a present, especially as it was a book, but I was also slow to realise it was not just a book about lemons – ¬†it was a book about Italy!!

I’ve only had chance so far to read a few chapters but as the author sets the scene for how abundant various types of citrus tree are in Italy, it got me to thinking about wild foraging. In the opening chapter she describes her first visit to Italy, arriving by train and seeing lemon trees growing by the side of the station platform and the impression that this made upon her. Imagine lemons growing the same way apple trees do in the UK! Wild foraging is a fun occupation for our family. Last week hubby and older son came back with a bagful of apples from a tree on our local Common ( They had to climb for them, all the ones within easy reach had been picked already). We also make nettle soup in spring, and eat wild garlic leaves in omelettes when they’re in season. summer is foraging time for bilberries, coming home with hands and knees stained purple. So as I read about the lemons I wondered if it is usual in Italy just to forage outside for a lemon when you need one in your cooking? Maybe one day I will be fortunate enough to stay there long enough to find out!!

I’d love to hear what other people forage for. please comment and let me know! Or share your favourite Z words too!

Going clockwise

Looking at the instructions on my beautiful new Swiss can opener I amused myself today by learning how to say “Twist the knob clockwise” in 4 different languages!
Italian was predictably elegant “Girare la manovella in senso orario”. German was brief “Kurbel im Uhrzeigersinn drehen”. The one that surprised me was the French – how’s this for a long-winded and awkward way to say clockwise —- “Commencez a tourner la poignee dans le sens des aiguilles d’une montre”. For the sake of completeness Spanish does the same “Girar la perilla en direccion de las agujas del reloj.” SO now you know.

In senso orario / in senso antiorario (anti-clockwise, or as the Americans say ‘COunterclockwise’…………..)

The Wrong Plums

Correct etiquette for buying frutta e verdura in Italia( fruit & veg)¬†– yes you might like to know this when you go on your holidays – soooo before arriving at the checkout¬†YOU need to weigh your chosen produce on the scales and get a price label for it. I have committed this faux pas myself at the Coop supermarket in Volterra¬† – arriving there without the apples being labelled and being sent back to do it in front of the long queue, quite embarrassing. It’s a steep learning curve, great for improving your vocab because you need to know the name of the fruit or vegetable in order to be able to choose the label – for example – you decide to buy some artichokes but you have no idea of the Italian word so you have to guess wildly.(Carciofi FYI). ¬†they do not provide pictures of the produce¬†for hapless foreigners, noooo that would be giving it away.

I had an issue with plums – spent a while guessing and went for ‘Susine’ which fortunately was correct. otherwise I would have had to say ‘Mi dispiace, ho sbagliato!’ to the lady at the checkout.

well that was delightfully incoherent, can you tell I am rather sleep deprived thanks to my 4 month old bambino???!