This is How I’m Learning Italian

I want to see if this really works. I think it does. You can learn a language this way, too. Anybody can.

I’m learning Italian through this free website called LingQ. Try it yourself, if you want. You’ll either love it or not get it. The whole idea behind it is that there’s a natural way to learn languages, free from textbooks, mean teachers, and boring grammatical instruction.

Instead, all you need to do is read and listen, using the LingQ web interface. It has a vast library in many languages, including most of the major European languages and some Asian languages as well. If you’re a beginner, you can start with simple, yet oddly engaging dialogues, that little by little introduce new vocabulary and grammar constructs, without ever telling you what you’re learning. You learn like a child learns, in essence. You choose the content and your own pace.

It comes with a pop-up dictionary, and built-in flashcards so you can review the vocabulary you save.

There are no grammar lessons whatsoever, so the developer of the site, Steve Kaufman, recommends that you get yourself a small grammar that you can thumb through at your leisure. But rule number one is that whatever you choose to read and listen to, it should be engaging. You should be interested in the subject matter, and not the grammar behind it.

Who wouldn’t enjoy this?

If you decide you need it, for a small monthly fee, you can work with a tutor, and have your writing corrected.

So, according to Kauffman, after you read and listen for a period of time, while gradually increasing your vocabulary and listening comprehension, you will be able to speak the language much better than you would had you started the old-fashioned way, you know, back when you memorized the vocabulary on page 62, and did all the drills on page 65 for homework. Come on, you know that that has not worked for a single living person on the planet. I defy anyone reading this blog to tell me you learned a language from textbooks in high school, and then were able to converse it in. Be honest!

So, Steve Kaufman himself is a living example that this method works. He speaks a buttload of languages. I want to say ten. He’s learned Russian in about two years, which you can see in his videos on YouTube.

My criticism is that his Russian, one of his most recent undertakings, is painful to me. I may be chastised for saying this. His pronunciation is Canadian and not Russian. And this is where I think that despite what anyone says, getting some guidance from a native speaker would help.

But that’s also part of the process, he says. He freely admits he doesn’t speak Russian perfectly. He exposes his flaws to all of us, so we can see that making mistakes isn’t so bad. He says that we can not only learn as children do, but even faster, because we already know so many words in our own language. Kids have to learn all that from scratch!

The process, the daily habit, is much more important. Just keep listening and reading, he says. Speaking should not even be a priority, in fact. In time, the language will settle, and the words will come out on their own. Don’t rush it.

So I’m learning five languages right now, but only Italian in this way. Learning Italian is the most enjoyable. I’m up to dialogue number eight out of fifteen, and we’re getting down to the nitty gritty. It is about a woman who is obsessed with her brother’s girlfriend, which although not quite as gripping as the Sopranos, has enough of a story line to keep me tuning in.

Its one drawback is the one thing that makes it effective: you really have to want to learn the language. If you treat it like a language class, where so-and-so teacher is obligated to make the lessons interesting, and then you do your homework and the threat of a bad grade is motivation enough to make you study, you might get an A in the class, but you’re not going to learn to speak the language.

But if you like reading about things that interest you, and you’re diligent enough to look up and review new vocabulary with the flashcards and listen along to the dialogues, a lot, there’s no reason why anyone can’t learn another language.

It seems too simple, doesn’t it?

I confess, however, that I am not following the instructions completely: I’m copying and pasting the dialogues, sound files, new vocabulary into SuperMemo (flashcard software), because it uses a time-spaced-repetition algorithm that I like. LingQ for some reason also works too slowly on my machine.

I started learning Italian on May 4th of this year. I’m listening and reading, and learning just a few new words every day, and I still can’t say squat, but that’s okay.


About katiekelly

I grew up in a parking lot.
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8 Responses to This is How I’m Learning Italian

  1. Brian Barker says:

    Can I put in a word for Esperanto as well?

    This is because Esperanto has great propraedeutic values. Esperanto helps language learning!

    You can check detail on

  2. Thanks for the nice comment abaout LingQ, Kate. I do not know why the Flash Cards are slow for you, they are fast for most people. We have also started emailing words to users for flash card review, based on a spaced repetition algorithm.

    If you are reading Собачье Сердце, М. Булгаков I suggest you get the video, which I have at home and is great. I can give you details if you want. I also have the audio book. You can find the text on the internet and import into LingQ for study, which I have done. Let me know if you need more info.

    Looking at your present and planned reading, I had been listening to an excellent audio book version of Ines del Alma Mia by Isabel Allende, interspersed with the Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin, for which I have the audio book and study on LingQ but I have now switched over to German for a week to prepare for a podcast in German. I have an audio book of Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers which I can study on LingQ.

    I tend to stay with the classics since the texts are easy to find on the Internet.


  3. chris says:

    The airline mags pimp Rosetta Stone.

    “He is a farm boy.”
    “She is an Italian Supermodel.”
    “He knew he would only have one chance to impress her.”

    Now how can you not be sold by that advert?

  4. katiekelly says:

    To Brian Barker: I once found a blog devoted to the sites and scenes of my grandfather’s hometown, Hampton, Nebraska (population 12), in Esperanto. I mean, out of all the languages.

    To Steve: Good tips, and thanks for stopping by. Update: my machine’s running better with LingQ. I’ve saved some cards in an Italian dialogue, just to compare how well it works for me to SuperMemo (I’m just addicted to SuperMemo). There are some obvious benefits. The biggest one is that creating the cards is so fast! No copying and pasting, just clicky-click, and zappo, it’s saved.

    To Chris: I once was interviewed for a Rosetta Stone commercial, but I was left on the cutting room floor. I actually used it for Spanish, and swore by it at the time. But a few years later, I have to say that my problem with it is that never in your life will you EVER say, and I don’t care where you go in life, you are NEVER going to say, “The boy is sitting under the airplane.” Although I understand it’s gone through a rehaul for version 3.

  5. Edwin says:

    I think Steve knows his Russian pronunciation is far from perfect, but I don’t think this bothers him much.

    Whenever I listen to him speaking Cantonese, my native language, he is full of foreign accent. But I am amazed how he picks up many colloquial phrases and even filler words, just like a native speaker.

    As for myself, I always consider LingQ as an learning approach rather than the implementation of it. I think Steve would agree with me that the system still needs improvement. So I don’t think there is any problem at all if you use other tools as supplements.

    BTW, ItalianPod just launched recently. Have you checked it out?

  6. Steve says:

    Just a couple of comments.

    1) Edwin, I feel that LingQ is a complete and integrated language learning system, not just an approach. I feel it is better than anything else I have seen. Some people agree (our enthusiastic users) and some don’t.
    2) However good one system is, people will always be looking for other resources to help them. Nothing is a monopoly.
    3) I do not pretend to speak with a perfect accent in any language. My Russian and Cantonese are what they are. I do not think a native speaker teacher would make any difference. Working on pronunciation is something you do on your own. I simply have not had enough time with either to do any better than what I do. On the other hand natives have no trouble understanding me and even compliment me on my accent at Youtube.
    4) I would be interested in hearing Katie’s Russian just to compare with mine.

  7. katiekelly says:

    To Edwin and Steve, I just want to say, we’re all entitled to our own opinions. 🙂

    I appreciate the LingQ system, and Steve, I also enjoy your blog. I think you’ve had more influence on my own language learning than anyone else.

    Сравнением я не интересуюсь.

  8. Steve says:

    “Сравнением я не интересуюсь”. я тоже.

    я рад что вам нравитса LingQ . спасибо за комплимент.

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