As the new year approaches I am considering setting myself some goals for the year. Don’t worry, there’s a bit more substance to what I’m thinking about than the normal new years resolution business.
I think setting goals is a great way of progressing in any endeavour and language should be no exception.
So far, my journey in the learning of Italian has made me think deeply about how languages are learnt and the whole learning process in general. I can speak English perfectly (well, almost) yet I had never thought about the English language (ironically) before learning Italian. I love to write and even did quite well in school etc, but my point is that everything that I have learnt with English has been more or less subconscious, yet with a new language, we find ourselves mainly doing the opposite and thinking about every word and sound that we learn. I guess there’s not really any other way, but the whole process does fascinate me.
At the moment, I find myself trying to balance my attention between the raw material (learning vocabulary, repetition of words, flash cards, studying grammar etc.) and a sort of simulated conversational environment (trying to talk to other Italians/Italian students, learning whole phrases, watching Italian movies etc). It is a hard balance butI think both are important processes.
When I’m getting overwhelmed I just think of it like this – every bit of practice that I do will help me somehow, and if I end up spending some serious time in Italy, the learning environment will be much more fertile because of all the seeds I’ve planted doing repetitive and often seemingly fruitless practice. Wow, that’s a lot of plant references!
Ok. Back to my original point. I think vocab is a good thing to set goals and learn in the rote fashion. Why? Well, at some stage, you have to just learn the words. of course it would have more meaning and resonance if I was learning the words out of necessity because I was in Italy and had to think on my feet. But for now, I just want to learn the words. Even if I have to think about each one before I use it, it doesn’t worry me. I can always get faster. The words will naturally feel more comfortable.
How many words should I learn. Well, I’m going to set myself the goal of learning 1000 words and 500 verbs.
I’m such a sucker for this kind of stuff. Here’s my plan.
I want to know 500 verbs. This includes verbs I already know. I want to include verbs I already know because the goal with the verbs side of things is not just to know the infinitives, but be able to conjugate them and use them in context. This goal really has a double incentive – vocab and grammar.
I want to learn 1000 non verbs that I don’t already know, or at least don’t know that well. What I plan to do is create the 2 lists on this site. I can add to it as I go and I can use this blog to practice using the words also. 1000 words is a good number to aim for. I just came across a fascinating post on how to learn spanish. I actually came across it by chance while searching for a tim ferriss article on language learning. The spanish article is quite amazing. There’s a lot of data there and I’m sure I’ll be going back to read it a few times, but basically the bit of information that interests me is this:
“Learning the first 1000 most frequently used words in the entire language will allow you to understand 76.0% of all non-fiction writing, 79.6% of all fiction writing, and an astounding 87.8% of all oral speech ”
Now the quote was referring to the Spanish language, but I’m sure it translates approximately to other languages and I would think that Italian would be quite similar. In my mind, 87.8%(roughly 80 percent) is pretty awesome. It’s good motivation for getting to that magic number. I have heard this statistic before (or a variation of it) which is why I was searching for it in the first place.
I will start in the new year. It works out to be roughly 20 regular words a week and 10 verbs a week. I think it’s achievable. But as time goes on, if it looks like I’ve set the bar to high, I can always lower it. I’m not going to pretend this is life or death and I’m not going to start deleting posts for fear of looking like I’ve failed. If I can’t absorb that much information every week (or can’t maintain the process) then Iwill have learnt a bit about how much information I can take in every week.
Wish me luck!