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A Year of Language Learning in Lockdown

By Sophie Doherty, Bachelor of Psychology

“Non avrai mai fallito finché continuerai a provare”

- “You will never fail as long as you continue to try”

Studying verb conjugations with a 'caffè' in hand!

Mid-July 2020, six months into the pandemic, I submitted the paperwork to become an Italian citizen. I always identified as an Italian-Australian yet never really understood much about what it meant to be Italian until after the paperwork was submitted. After thinking it over, I realised that if I was going to identify as an Italian-Australian, I should make an effort to learn the language. In September 2020 I enrolled in a weekly online Italian course where you work in small groups with an Italian teacher and… I hated it. I was always working at someone else’s pace and for me, it just didn’t work. So I did some research and enrolled in an online self-paced Italian course and I finally started to make some progress! Over the past year, my Italian has improved immensely. I also learnt that to succeed in language learning in lockdown I needed to find 1. my motivation and 2. the right resources.

An important part of language learning is finding your motivation. For me, it was being able to communicate with my nonna (grandmother) and other Italian relatives. However, your motivation can be anything! I understand that learning a language can be hard, but if you can find what motivates you then it makes it 100 times easier. Have a good think about what drives you to learn a language. Is it work? Travel? Family? Figuring this out will help you remind yourself why you started learning the language in the first place.

Currently, we aren’t able to travel overseas to where our target language is spoken, but setting goals that are achievable and can be easily tracked will set us on the right path. After all “sognare non costa niente”, meaning “to dream costs nothing”. Always circle back to why you started learning the language in the first place and what your specific goal is in your target language. I set a goal to have an intermediate level of Italian within a year of starting my course and I received my intermediate certificate in late June!

There are plenty of resources out there for learning a language and not all of them will work for you. Often paid language courses can be expensive and not always feasible for students on a budget. However, there are thousands of free resources for language learners online including free websites that outline the requirements to achieve each level and have comprehensive grammar summaries.

There are also free resources on Youtube for active and passive listening. I used Youtube channels such as ‘Italy Made Easy’, ‘Coffee Break Italian’, and ‘Learn Italian with Lucrezia’ to get short language lessons from native speakers. But there are resources out there for all languages, from Arabic to Zulu. For passive listening, there is so much online content you can consume such as cartoons, advertisements, and podcasts in your target language. Listening to the language passively is a good way to learn the intonation and pronunciation of the language. For active listening, there are many different Youtube channels on various topics and you are bound to find someone in your target language that talks about something you’re interested in. Active listening helps improve comprehension and can help you find vocabulary related to topics that interest you.

In lockdown, it might seem harder to communicate with native speakers and other language learners. However, there are several ways to communicate with others in your target language even without leaving your bedroom. You can connect with other language learners on social platforms such as Facebook and Reddit. There are websites such as Italki and Preply where you can speak to native speakers online at low cost. There are also messaging apps such as Tandem and HelloTalk where you can exchange languages with native speakers trying to learn your native language. This means that you can still communicate with native speakers even when you aren’t able to travel.

There are plenty of different strategies when learning a language but as long as you find your motivation and the right resources you will be able to do it. In one year of language learning in lockdown, I went from being a complete beginner to being able to hold extended conversations; and now, I love speaking in Italian with my nonna!

Good luck!

In bocca al lupo!


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