Olly Learns Italian – Week 3 Update | Finding Your Dream Content

When I was a kid, I remember doing something silly (but rather fun) on sunny days.

I would go outside with a magnifying glass and hold it in direct sunlight over a leaf.

The aim is to get the leaf to catch light.

Of course, the trick to getting the leaf to burst into flames is to move the magnifying glass up and down until you find just the right distance from the leaf.

When you find that perfect distance, the sun's rays are focused into a powerful “laser” that contains enough heat to cause combustion.

Did you ever try something similar as a kid?

In case you're wondering where I'm going with this, week three of my Italian project has felt exactly like this magnifying glass experiment.

Let me tell you why…

The Power Of Compelling Input

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4073469817

As I talked about in my last update, I spent week two of the project experimenting with a huge amount of different content, from podcasts, to movies, to news.

But during week three, I've cut most of that out and spent most of my Italian time focused on only 2-3 resources.


Well, here's the thing…

I didn't choose these 2-3 resources because they're “the most useful”.

Nor because they're at “just the right level”.


The reason I've been using these materials so heavily is that I'm genuinely addicted to them! 

…and the fact that they're authentic (intended for native Italian speakers) is a bonus!

These resources are:

You might look at this list an think… “Eh?”

And, of course, it doesn't really matter what these materials are, and whether they sound interesting to you or anyone else…

They point is that this material represents stuff that I wake up in the morning and think: “You know what? I really fancy reading/listening to that right now…”

(The key word in the last sentence being “I”!)

When I go to the gym in the morning, instead of my favourite English-language podcasts that I tend to listen to (…and I can tell you what they are if you're interested), I now want to turn on the Italian material… giving me an extra hour of listening time right there.

I really can't put into words what it feels like to have found material that really excites me in Italian… and so soon into my project.

In just the same way that moving the magnifying glass to the correct height focuses the rays of the sun and causes the leaf to burst into flames, finding the right combination of material that is both comprehensible and compelling, causes a chain reaction in my life that leads me to consume many more hours of Italian content than I otherwise would, and do it with a degree of fascination and motivation that makes learning Italian more fun, rewarding, educational, and – not least – effective.

If there's one lesson I draw from this week, it's this:

Olly material quote

Returning To The “Opera” Angle

In my conversation with Gabe Wyner a few weeks back, we discussed the potential for using opera to learn Italian.

Truth be told, I've kind of avoided opera since this project began, I think because I didn't really see it as efficient content, in terms of the volume and usefulness of language (singing just one sentence can take over a minute in opera).

However, as the initial excitement of my project has started to die down, I've found myself craving to spend my “study” time with stuff I really like.

And so I decided to reconnect with opera this week, in a meaningful a way as I could…

So I went to see La Boheme at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Italian Opera in London

Check out the video for more about that, but suffice it to say that it was the best possible way to spend a Saturday afternoon, while getting in a few hours' listening to Italian!

I suspect I'm opening up a new chapter in my Italian here, but I'll save that for another day.

Strategy Change – More Reading!

A silly question of course…

But something I've been thinking about in relation to my own progress this week.

I mentioned it last week, in fact, as the seed had been planted in my mind.

I'd been wondering whether all the listening I'd been doing had been preventing me from focusing enough on the detail of the language:

…my concern being that I'm getting quite good at understanding Italian, but not so good at using Italian.

To be expected, perhaps, since the focus of this month has been on input.

But as an experiment, I decided to spend my core study time in the morning only reading — with no listening.

And wow… does it make a difference!!!

Italian reading material

At least for where my Italian is at right now, it's been super-beneficial. Which is to say… reading is far harder than listening! (For me, at this stage in my Italian.)

Without the audio playing, leading you automatically by the hand to the end of the sentence, you're left to decipher every word on the page by yourself, responsible for reading to the end of the sentence under your own steam.

The temptation is to examine the grammar being used more than you might otherwise, if audio was playing, because you're responsible for your own pace in the reading.

To put it simply: You have to force yourself to keep reading – and not re-read ad infinitum – in spite of ambiguity, whereas with listening you simply have to keep your hand away from the pause button and you effortlessly progress through the material.

What this comes down to, I think, is a question of balance.

I've been doing a lot of listening. (And I mean a LOT… 12+ hs per week.)

So it's only reasonable that I should balance that out with some reading.

Week Three Conclusion

An unexpected week, but a very happy turn of events.

I feel more connected to and involved in Italian than in previous weeks and I'm excited to see where it leads.

Here are my stats from LingQ from the last week, for what they're worth.

Since I've been doing less listening in the mornings, “hours of listening” are down from last week, but still pretty good at 10.4.

1,400 new “known words” a week is consistent with the previous week, so that seems to be an emerging pattern.

The big point I'd make here, though, is that reading is much, much slower than listening, so that's going to affect the stats accordingly.

Alright… that's it for now…

My first speaking session is on the horizon, and I must say… I can't wait for it!

I'm going crazy over here – not being able to speak.

But I asked for it… 🙂

Do you have any questions about how I’ve been learning Italian? Let me know in a comment below. Want Italian-specific tips and resources that I don’t share in these posts? Sign up for my Italian newsletter below.

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