I met Gosia almost a year ago on Instagram. She’d started her own Italian learning Instagram where she shares her journey learning Italian and connects with other learners. What I love about talking to her, is that she seems to be having so much fun learning. She’s always busy either reading a book, cooking up a storm or being creative in Italian and her sense of enjoyment is contagious. I invited her today on the blog to help explore the topic of a more joyful and intentional approach to learning Italian.
#1: Could you tell us something about yourself?
I’ve always liked languages – English and Latin were my favourite subjects in school. As a teenager I was also learning Russian and French. When choosing a university course, I went for something else though (applied social sciences) but at least one language was always somewhere in the background. When I fell in love with Prague in my early 20s, I started learning Czech. Then I switched to a different type of “language” – canine communication. I’m actually proud to say that I’m quite proficient in speaking “dog”!
I come from Warsaw, Poland but for the last 13 years I’ve been living in London, UK.
For many years languages other than English and my native Polish had been in the background – I was too busy to build my immigrant life to concentrate on foreign language studies (although I did an MA in Translation Studies – English to Polish – while living in England.)
At some point I tried to refresh my French and started Italian but honestly, these attempts were quite half-hearted at the time.
All changed with the first lockdown but I’ll get to it later.
#2: How did you get started learning Italian?
I honestly can’t remember what was the actual spark – probably the fact that Italian was offered as an evening course at my workplace at the time.
I visited Italy for the first time when I was 18 and I really liked the vibe of the place. By the time I started learning Italian I also knew that there was quite an interesting dog training scene there.
I was also very much disheartened with French (the pronunciation is so difficult!) but I loved Latin and wanted to try another romance language that would be easier on my ears and mouth than French! So I enrolled for evening classes – for one term at my then workplace and then at a community college.
I was learning something of course but it wasn’t really satisfying. The class at work had a lovely teacher but really unmotivated students. Basically, office workers who thought it would be cool to speak Italian but didn’t want to put any work in it.
At the community college, on the other hand, the teacher seemed burned out and unmotivated! I gave up Italian for a couple of years and then randomly came across an ad for small group classes held locally to me.
That was a much better experience – classes were fun, the teacher passionate and the group gelled together really well. I attended the class for about a year but eventually dropped out because I struggled with committing permanently to the same weekly schedule. Also, lessons lasted for almost 2 hours without a break and I realised it wasn’t ideal for me.
I can work in 45-minutes stretches at most without dozing off.
#3: How did the pandemic change how you approach language learning? What changes has it brought?
Ah, yes… and then the pandemic happened. I must say I’ve been taking it really badly – like many people around the world but not everyone (my very introverted partner, for example, seems quite happy.)
I personally feel like I’ve been under a house arrest without committing any crime and from the beginning of the first lockdown in the UK (which was in the last week of March 2020) I knew I had to do something to occupy my mind and kill time that otherwise would have been spent on travelling, going out and meeting friends.
Language learning seemed to be the most natural response. I like arts and crafts but they don’t keep my head so busy so I decided to dig out all the languages I’ve ever started and push them forward. Initially, that included Italian, French, Czech and German (the latter being a relatively new addition – I started learning German in 2019 after my Dad passed away and I needed to keep my brain busy with something; I guess the pattern has become quite clear.)
As everything rapidly moved online, it became easier to find resources, teachers and communities – then one thing led to another and the list of people and inspirations kept growing…
Yourself for example, I discovered through Silvia Perrone whom I met through a reading and writing club we both belong to. Online of course!
In June 2020 I attended a coaching session with Kerstin Cable and she helped me to see the clarity in my haphazard self-study.
I still use a lot of tricks from that coaching session, especially as far as tracking progress is concerned. The flow of languages varied throughout the year and later on I added Latin and Brazilian Portuguese (a completely new language for me) and started dabbling in Russian again with a view to get back seriously to it later this year.
I know that learning so many languages is not sustainable in the long run (at least for me) so my current task is to sort my priorities by the end of March. I will write about it at some point on my blog once I know what I’m doing! Italian is staying put though, this I know for sure.
#4: You belong to many language learning communities. Why is it important to belong to one and how do you recommend finding one to join? Please give some examples.
A community will help you stay accountable and inspire you to discover something new every day.
Also, it’s good to have friends who share the same passion and not everyone is lucky to have language geeks as IRL friends 🙂
I very much like the language community on Instagram – there are so many people who just love to share and interact with others.
I’m also lucky to have our secret group of 7 Italian learners (well, 6 learners and 1 very patient Italian!) – we’ve been meeting on Skype almost every week since the spring 2020. The levels of our spoken Italian vary but we genuinely like each other and are interested in each other’s lives so the conversation is never boring. We met through the 30 Day Speaking Challenge which is a nice community in itself.
At some point I also got invited to a women-only language learning group on Slack which is growing organically through invites. I think it was set up as female-only because some women were tired of unwanted attention on language exchange apps. I can’t comment on that because I never joined any!
Finding a right community takes time, I guess.
I would say this: if you are on social media, check where you like to spend time the most, regardless of language learning.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have a lively language learning scene. I feel particularly at home on IG so that’s where I hang out the most.
If you are not on social media at all, consider joining just for languages. It’s easy to set up an account and follow only language-related accounts to cut out all the noise.
You can have a nickname instead of your real name and not disclose any personal details if that’s something that bothers you.
Think about what you are interested in and see if you can pursue it in your target language. After some time you’re bound to find fellow learners clustered around this teacher / challenge / YouTube channel etc. and the relationship will grow organically.
Good example of such an activity is yours and Barbara’s Cook&Chat – a monthly cooking meetup on Zoom with a dedicated Telegram channel if people want to interact with each other.
#5: You read books in Italian, you watch tv series, you cook with me and Barbara from Time to be Italian during our Cook&Chat events. What are the benefits of learning Italian by doing things you enjoy in your opinion?
It brings Italy to your home!
Especially now, when we can’t really travel, it’s good to have this connection with a place we love.
Also, it helps to retain words and phrases that would be easily lost in more traditional learning. For example, I don’t think I would remember lo schiacciapatate if I didn’t spend so much time looking for the right one!
Watching TV and reading books and then discussing them with a teacher or a group is my discovery of 2020 – the best pastime ever.
It started with the book club I mentioned earlier, run by an English teacher who focuses on helping non-native speakers write in English.
I just realised I loved talking about books and also films. So I decided to give it a go in a language I’m not fluent in and I enrolled for the Coffee Break with Montalbano with you and then joined the Language TV Club in January this year where for 4 Sundays we’d been talking about the Italian series “Il Processo”.
Now I’m watching another episode of “Montalbano” for the next Coffee Break and the series “Curon” – I’ve written a review of it for the Read and Learn Italian blog. It doesn’t feel like studying at all and I think that’s the beauty of it because I can see that I’m learning a lot at the same time.
#6:What suggestions would you give to people who are feeling uninspired by more traditional language learning methods ? How should they get started at being more intentional? Please give some examples.
As I mentioned before – think what you like doing anyway and look for it in your target language.
- Try watching Netflix with audio and subtitles in this language or without subtitles altogether.
- Find books you genuinely like or if they are too difficult, read them first in a language you are fluent in and then again in your target one.
Admittedly, that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people hate reading the same thing twice but I really dislike graded books so now I’m reading in Italian a true crime book which I previously read in English and a dog training manual by an Italian behaviourist whose approach I know very well.
Find a blogger, a vlogger or a podcaster you like – depending on your level, their content can be aimed at learners or native speakers. For example, I like reading this guy – his writing is poetic, challenging but still accessible to me and I’m learning a lot of new vocab.
The Insight Timer app is really good for meditation and relaxation in various languages, including Italian. The choice is almost infinite (especially in “bigger” languages, so no excuse, Italian learners!).
Thanks Gosia for sharing your story with us! Here’s where you can find her online.
Language geek, dog person, word catcher, book hoarder. A Pole in the UK.
You can find Gosia’s work and connect with her here:
My language learning journey on IG: @il.mio.cammino
My writing IG account: @gosiawrites
My language learning blog: https://medium.com/il-mio-cammino
My Etsy shop with poetry in English: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GosiaWrites
I love Insight Timer, but it never occurred to me to listen to the meditations in Italian! Thank you for the brilliant suggestion.
Yes, there’s a whole lot of research that shows that meditating in another language is really helpful and soothing. Let me know how it goes when you try it!
This is really great! I love how you turned the challenge of learning a language into a positive activity during the pandemic, thanks for sharing:-)
I love Gosia’s attitude too! So inspiring!