How to teach yourself Italian… Step 01: GOALS

How to teach yourself Italian… Step 01: Goals How to choose the right ones for language success, Via Optimae,

If your goal is...

“I want people to mistake me for a native speaker because I speak fluently without searching for words, I never make grammatical mistakes and I have no accent."

...then you’re like me. Or rather, how I used to be before I realized how unattainable, (and silly) it was as a goal.

In truth, nobody really meets those requirements, even in their own native language. 

Think about it

I've personally heard people say:

libary instead of library 

People say things like:

 “Who did you talk to?"  instead of “Whom did you talk to?” 

And we’ve all been at a loss for words at one point or another:

“You know, that thing… what’s it called?— Oh right, short term memory loss!”

Despite all of these “errors” we still manage to get along just fine the majority of the time…. 

Why is that?

Because perfect pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are not goals, they are just tools— Tools that hopefully facilitate our ultimate goal:COMMUNICATION.

The only reason we ever say anything is because we have a thought and we’d like to share that thought with someone else. So when formulating your foreign language goals, focus more on what you would like to communicate and that will help you identify the specific grammar and vocabulary that you will need to accomplish that goal.

It's similar to the advice given when starting a new fitness regimen— Instead of your goal being:

“I am going to get in spectacular shape” 

Experts suggest:

“I would like to improve my cardiovascular health so I am going to do 30 minutes of cardio each day.” 

The second resolution is much stronger because it it is specific and gives you a clear action plan— the steps needed to achieve it are included in it. “Get in spectacular shape” sounds great, but what do I need to achieve it? How do I even define “spectacular shape” really? What seems ambitious and inspiring at first can quickly turn into something discouraging… and the same is true for your language goals.

Alex from Via Optimae imagines her language goals,
Imagine yourself speaking Italian…
Where are you? What are you saying?  Who are you talking to?

Again, start with WHAT you want to communicate, and that will help you determine HOW to go about it… 

For example, one possible goal is:

Goal, How to Teach Yourself Italian,
I would like to be able to order food in a restaurant. 

This goal sets up some clear and obvious skills right from the get-go: You’ll need to learn food and restaurant related vocabulary like:

la prenotazione


as well as some specific grammatical constructions:

Per me...
For me...

I would like...

It also points you in the direction of food and restaurant related content: maybe you could visit the website of an Italian restaurant in Italy or you could look for videos that take place in restaurants.

It is also possible to have a goal without a specific “situation”.. so for example:

Goal, How to Teach Yourself Italian,
I would like to talk about what I did yesterday.

A little research and you would find that Italian uses the passato prossimo to talk about events in the recent past. So your action step could be: I’m going to read and study the passato prossimo and then I'm going to make a point to use this verb tense in my next online conversation class.

So, think about what you would like to communicate. You can still have your ultimate goal be: “communicate with a broad range of people in a variety of situations” but make sure that you break that goal down into manageable bits— think of possible scenarios or possible ideas you would like to communicate and then do the research to determine what you’d need to know in those circumstances.

Further on in this series, I’ll be providing some possible study plans that can aid you in determining what you might want to know and what you’d need to get there but it's important that you determine what matters most to you. So if I suggest working on your writing skills by learning how to compose a formal business letter, but you care more about casual interactions with friends, then by all means, skip it! You’re more likely to learn and retain the things that matter to you most anyway, so figure out what YOU want to communicate, and then focus on that!

Sharing language goals with others, Via Optimae,

They say that declaring our goals to others helps us be more accountable, so pick a manageable goal and share it on Facebook, in the comments section or on Twitter.  

Not only does it create a nice sense of support and community when we all share, but it helps me provide the most useful content!

Buono studio!
Alex on

Next up: Step 02— Assessment because to know where you want to go, you need to know where you’re starting from.

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1 comment:

  1. This is insightful...I never thought of approaching it that way. - Thanks, Alex! Looking forward to the next part of the series to assess the level I am. :) Thanks again. Love the fun cartoons. xo~L Oh - you asked us to submit our language goals...mine is to be able to whisper sweet nothings -(somethings)- to my Italian lover. lol. (No, really. Let's talk about this later.)


See also:

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae

Frasi celebri su Via Optimae
Acque del sud (To Have and Have Not) original: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow."