One year of Italian on Lingq - and plans for next year

ONE YEAR OF ITALIAN

@nfera wrote up a great case study of his work with Italian, and I think progress reports are useful, so I decided to write one as well. Today is my 365th day using Lingq to learn Italian.

BACKGROUND WITH ITALIAN

I took six years of Italian in middle school and high school. My university had a four-semester language requirement, and I was able to place into the fourth semester of the sequence my freshmen year, completing the requirement. This was 25 years ago.

Ten years ago I took interest in Italian again and based on my experience with other languages I decided to use my college textbook and make an Anki deck of the grammar of Italian. It was a deck of about 1100 cards. I maintained it for about a year. The next phase was supposed to be reading. I bought a novel, along with its audiobook, and started to work on it about four months into the grammar study, but for various reasons the project didn’t stick then.

One year ago I decided to try again. I started reading that very same book I bought ten years ago, looking up words online and making glosses in a text file. But in ten years the content available for listening had radically improved and so I started listening to Youtube podcasts instead of just my audiobook, and through that I found Lingq a day or two into the project. I’ve been here for a year.

BACKGROUND WITH OTHER LANGUAGES.

I can read Ancient Greek with a dictionary. I know enough about the language to look up what I need to and to be able to recognize the function of a word when I look up its core meaning.

I’ve never studied Latin systematically, but I get a lot of exposure through Gregorian Chant and the Mass, so I have a stumbling familiarity with it.

I studied German on my own in the gap between university and getting inspired to learn Italian properly. I did this by memorizing the patterns of the language and then jumping straight to reading what I wanted to read. I would guess that I got to somewhere around B2 because I can still crack open a German book and read it, and I opened a random German-learning podcast a few weeks ago and was surprised to see how much I could understand.

NOT A BEGINNER

All this is by way of saying I was not a beginner in Italian when I started using Lingq. I think that nfera’s trajectory is a much better model for someone starting from scratch.

That said, if “knowing about” a language was truly useless for “acquiring” a language, and therefore the only valid mark of progress in a language is time spent with comprehensible input, I would’ve been darn near a beginner a year ago. I had never read a book, magazine, or newspaper article, aside from some children’s books to my kids. I had hardly listened to any input. I remember watching one film in high school with English subtitles on.

But even a skill as abstract as being able to recite the language reasonably well, in the sense of turning marks on the computer screen into the production of the sound of the language, is helpful. And knowing a lot about the language, being able to recognize morphological or grammatical patterns in the language, is extremely useful when you are in the intermediate phase and need to sometimes drop out of direct processing and into down-and-dirty translation to puzzle out a difficult sentence (which you then surely read over a few times to get the “feel” of that sentence).

At the risk of digressing too much into @PeterBormann’s bugaboo of amateur hour subjectivity… when I read I find that my target language is not just coming into contact with the space of {acquired target language}, it is coming into contact with the space of {entire accumulated linguistic experience}. And as someone well read in English, and with at least some familiarity with historically important languages (for Western European languages), I have a pretty big spider web to catch meaning with when I am learning Italian. I have come across words in Italian that I can understand in context because I recognize a borrowing from Greek, even though that same borrowing does not exist in English.

At this point, I doubt I can be a true from-scratch-beginner in any Romance or Germanic language.

Incidentally, when I first found Lingq a year ago I thought about running the experiment of learning Russian with a pure input approach, since in Russian I truly am a from-scratch-beginner. Obviously Russian needs its own seriously dedicated time, but I found that when getting 30-60 minutes a day of Russian exposure I was driven crazy by not having more basic modules of the learning process available to me. When I try Russian again (in ten years!), I will absolutely spend the initial phases studying the script and the phonetic system systematically and memorizing the morphology. Only then will I start inputting. That’s how I like to do it, in my limited experience.

YEAR ONE ITALIAN STATS - READING

Words read: 4,734,000 (this includes podcast transcripts, subtitles studied, and re-reading of books)
Corpus of words read (books): 2,638,261
Books read: 29
Types of books read:

  • Children’s fiction: 5
  • Light adult fiction: 10
  • Literary Fiction: 5
  • Light History: 7
  • Academic History: 2

My subjective assessment is that I can read children’s literature without a dictionary, that I can “get by” without a dictionary with light fiction and light history - though I still prefer to read within Lingq for now, and that reading literary and academic work requires a major expenditure of energy. It is still “work.”

YEAR ONE ITALIAN STATS - LISTENING

Hours listening: 505.31
Corpus of TV/Movies studied: 8.5 hrs

I did a lot of listening at the beginning of the year, mostly to pedagogical podcasts. During the middle of the year my listening dropped off. I was mostly listening to audiobooks of books I had already read and for which I completed the vocabulary study. Towards the end of the year I ramped up listening, mostly to materials directed at natives. I found some podcasts and documentary films I liked, mostly just one person talking, and then decided that I needed to start tackling television to work on more conversational listening.

My subjective assessment is that listening to one person podcasts, official news broadcasts, and documentary films I experience a comprehension of close to 100%. Not “I get the jist,” but “I know what they said.” And I have a word-for-word parsing, that is, a self-conscious awareness that I am actually hearing each and every word, something like 98% of the time.

Listening to television programs, movies, and conversational podcasts in a more colloquial register it’s more like I get the jist 90%, really grasp what is being said 80% of the time, and have a crystal clear word-for-word auditory parsing about 65% of the time.

SAMPLE TESTS (B2 and C1)

nfera posted a link to where he found sample tests for his case study. I used the same source and took the reading and listening tests for the B2 and C1 level. The results support my subjective assessment.

I scored 39.5/40 on the B2 test. I also felt that it was easy. I was not “test-taking,” making intelligent guesses, or anything like that. I completely understood what I read/heard, and I knew I was right. One question I didn’t word my answer clearly enough.

I scored 34/40 on the C1 test. One of the audio samples here was subjectively closer to that 80% comprehension, 65% word for word level. My comprehension wasn’t clear enough to prevent me from psyching myself out of an answer or two on the re-listen. And I did miss some subtext and nuance in the reading. I got three wrong on each section, so the result was balanced.

YEAR ONE - KNOWN WORDS.

My known words are probably a little high, both because of prior linguistic experience, but also because of how I read. I view using the dictionary as a last resort. I will not hestitate to leave my interpretation of a sentence 20% unresolved until I read the next sentence. My reading processes in English are pretty thorough and analytical, and so transposing this to foreign language reading comes naturally. Having a very high threshold before going to the dictionary means a higher percentage of blue words becoming known on the first reading.

My known words might also be a little inflated because I only allow lingqs to transition to known words by vocabulary review. I have never manually adjusted a lingq. What I do is run the vocabulary review on all lingqs from a book and then listen to and/or re-read the book to solidify the learned vocab. So there are some known words in my tally that I will have to demote when I see them again… if I see them again.

That said, if you look at my learned lingqs as a percentage of known words, they do not represent such a high percentage that learned-but-ready-to-be-demoted words are wildly distorting my stats.

Known words: 83,951
Lingqs: 16,720
Lings learned: 8,622

GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR - BROADLY DEFINED

My speaking and writing is way behind my reading and listening. I’ve done 24 hours of speaking lessons, but with no real process, just rambling conversations. I’ve messaged with tutors a bit, but not written any essays or extended material. My pronunciation is decent, but very quickly deteriorates if I’m working hard to figure out what to say. My intonation is pretty bad. I didn’t plan it this way, but I see that I basically did an Input First - Fluent Second approach. While I’ve done plenty of Input First work in other languages - mostly focused on reading - this will be the first time I structure out some output work. I want my listening to be mostly focused on conversational listening, and to set up deliberate practice routines for output. I’m pulling the ideas straight from what I’ve learned lurking on Lingq forums.

GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR - SPECIFIC, PRONUNCIATION

  1. Listen to Davide Gemello’s course on Italian Phonetics. I’ve already done the vowels section, recorded and edited down all the sample words with dead air space for me to practice individual phonemes in the context of individual words. Drill one of those files 6 days a week. [~5 minutes/day until I don’t need it any more]

  2. Complete the Italian Glossika course. I tried Glossika for two days, and while I don’t think I need it from a language acquisition point of few, and I’m not sure how effectively the sentences studied will translate to output, from a pronunciation point of view it looks quite good to me. I started right at the beginning and within the first 20 sentences there were already aspects of intonation being drilled. I liked recording myself and being able to get a really tight feedback loop between listening to a native - speaking - listening to my recording. I think doing something like this is what I would need to do to get the groundwork built on pronunciation, so why not let Glossika do the organizational work for me? [~30 minutes/day]

  3. Bring at least one passage that I have studied and practiced reciting to each tutoring session for feedback. I’ve already identified both academic and conversational passages to start with. Once I get into a pattern of writing I’d like to use my own writing, once it’s edited by a tutor, as a pronunciation exercise.

GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR - SPECIFIC, OUTPUT

  1. 100 hours of output focused tutoring sessions.

  2. 1000 words of writing per week [hopefully my tutors can help me generate some prompts]

  3. Record a 10-15 minute free conversation each tutoring session. Make a transcript of the conversation, get feedback from the tutors on how to make my responses more “italianate” and then re-run those conversations with my side re-memorized.

** I’m hoping (2) and (3) will take me another 10-15 minutes / day on average of work outside of tutoring sessions, but we’ll see.

  1. Start collecting collocations and other Italian expressions. I’m not going to do any L1->L2 SRS drill with them until I get a sense of whether Glossika reviews are going to get out of control, but I’ll start building the bank out now and will assess whether replacing Glossika with something like this is a better use of my SRS time somewhere around the 4-6 month mark.

GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR - SPECIFIC, INPUT

  1. Drastically reduce my reading and stick with gialli and other light works that are good mines for usable conversational material. Goal: 3,000 words a day of “corpus” every day. This will expand my corpus by another 1,000,000. If the reading is mostly in my comfort zone this should be fine.

  2. 750 hours of listening. 200 hours of television/movies/conversational corpus studied.


I believe this is doable. It will require directing every minute of free time into Italian, but I did that this year and I feel good: happy to have done it and happy to keep going. All that matters is sticking to process goals, but if I can nail this and really end up improving my output I suspect I’ll be close to ready to start prepping for a C2 exam when I write a yearly progress report 365 days from now.

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Amazing progress!

I definitely agree with the point that having some familiarity (with the content and the language) helps with catching meaning; without any context, it is very difficult to understand and acquire words. When you try Russian again, I think you will find this is different. I studied Spanish/French a while ago and it was much easier to acquire words and understand, due to the similarity to English and between each other. The words are so different to English equivalents, that it takes a lot of effort to learn certain words.

What is your motivation to learn Italian?

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Solid dedication and the results show.

Gialli = good mines for usable conversation? Who do you talk to, Montalbano? :slight_smile: Although thought the Giallo section of bookstores in Italy are always huge, so maybe there’s something to that.

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Thanks, @GMelillo, for this detailed progress report!

Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the long separation between
input and output phases is a big mistake leading to a lot of inefficiency (for busy professionals - for ex.: international talent that wants to work in Germany -, it’s a huge
difference if someone can reach an advanced language level in, say, <= 1500 h in a
not too distant L2, or if >= 4000 h AJATT, etc. style, which includes a lot of low quality hours, are needed).

And this changes a lot. For instance:

  • No avoidance behavior based on a fun-first / only-attitude (à la Master Steve)
  • No aimless vagabonding in an L2 (again: Master Steve)
  • No over-reliance on fleeting operations of the mind (motivation bla bla)
  • Particular “fluency first” based on selecting the appropriate language learning material (no children books, for ex., or reading fiction on an A0-B2 level)
  • A feedback loop based on deliberate practice where input and output activities are constantly intertwined
  • Light grammar approaches right from the start - if necessary

etc. pp.

PS -
"time spent with comprehensible input, "
Important, but not sufficient, at least not from the efficiency perspective mentioned above :slight_smile:

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Well done! …

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I’m (mostly) Italian by ancestry and completed the process of acquiring dual citizenship a year ago (that’s when I was re-motivated to learn. The idea of being an Italian citizen and being awful at Italian was unacceptable to me).

I have had my children immersing in Italian (they are only allowed to watch videos in Italian and have had Italian care-takers and teachers since they were born). You would think this would mean I picked up something by osmosis. But no. I really want to be able to interact with my children in Italian when we are in Italy.

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Lol. In my experience there are frequent collocations and colloquial expressions, and not a lot of dense descriptive and philosophical passages. And they go down really smooth.

I stumbled into input first with all languages I’ve dabbled in both because reading is a major motivator for me and also because it’s much more intuitive to implement on your own, but when I get this Italian project to the major checkpoint I’m aiming for and start taking my German to the same level I won’t do it that way.

I think part of this is because of the false dichotomy between input and output that you’ve pointed out a few times. When I am reading and listening I am aware of the fact that in order to improve I need to actively engage: sub-vocalize, essentially. Or maybe put better: that is the “cue” that I use to initialize whatever is actually happening in my brain to make my learning more efficient.

Learning is interesting because even if we have an objective frame to analyze what we are doing, we manipulating things through our subjectivity. In fields as diverse as music and physical training, experienced tutors develop a repertoire of subjective “cues” that they use to bring about whatever states are conducive to learning. “Touch the piano keys more like a pillow and less like a light switch.”

So for me: “try to sub-vocalize along” is the difference between listening and reading in a way that is truly moving me forward, stretching me, and “passive” activities that are kind of treading water.

That’s part of what is motivating me now to get myself “spitting” the language faster. If I don’t do that I slip in my reading into a sort of highly visual speed-reading, which is good for acquiring vocabulary but appears to be doing little for speaking.

I also (highly) agree with the bullet points.

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