https://www.duolingo.com/MABBY

What I’ve actually learned on Duolingo (click on this if you're new to the course)

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On June 19th of this year, I will have been doing Duolingo lessons, pretty much daily, for six years.
That’s right; 2012. I was part of the original beta launch of Italian on Duolingo. I once had a four-year long consecutive days “streak” (1460 days) that I used just one streak freeze to maintain. Honestly! A day or two later, I took the day off and let my streak go. I am not “fluent”. Far from it. I still make mistakes, even after six years. Sorry for the reality check, but it’s true. Learning a new language is hard work.

I had never learned any Italian previously, and my mother tongue is English. I was more than 50 years old at that time (I still am!) and the only other language lessons I had taken in my life was during high school French, in the 1970s. Like most high school students I came out of that memorizing a few phrases and words, but not much else of any practical use. You lack dedication at a young age (in general) and you fight change at an older age.

So what have I actually learned on Duolingo Italian?

  • Vocabulary. I know a ton of Italian words now. I can bring them to mind almost instantly. A basket? Una cesta. The shark? Lo squalo. And the other way around: Vorresti? “Would you like...?” Faremo “We will make (or do).” But can I put everything together in a sentence at the same rate that I can say words out loud? Can I create a sentence on the go, in Italian, that would make sense to a native speaker? Well I’m certainly getting better at it, but I still have to stop and think and conjugate a lot of the time. So vocabulary; yes. Sentence creation; not so much.

  • Pronunciation and spelling. I’m really quite good now, actually. The key is to use that microphone option and say the sentences out loud. Even if your computer lets you say different words and still accepts it—you’re only cheating yourself. Saying things silently in your head isn’t one-quarter as effective as saying them aloud. You may hate the sound of your own voice, and you might not ever be able to roll your Rs, or say “gli” convincingly but, until you try it—out loud—you’re never going to know for sure and you’re never going to improve. If you can’t speak what you learn then you’re wasting your time, really.

  • I studied English grammar in school but I obviously retained almost none of it. And you need that to understand Italian grammar. English is what I call a “lazy” language. We look for patterns and shortcuts, and grammar (and sometimes spelling, unfortunately) does not really matter. Well it does in Italian. I have (re-) learned so much about English grammar that I’d actually recommend the course to people who want to understand English better.

  • The Duolingo Italian lesson, known as Clitics is easily the most difficult concept that I had to get my head wrapped around. Back in the early days I passed Clitics by writing down all of the sentences in a notebook and then just typed them in when asked for them. It was at that point that I knew that even though the unit was passed, I didn’t understand it. So I re-did every lesson in it, and then I “strengthened” Clitics every day (even when it was ‘gold’) before strengthening other units, before attempting anything else new. And then I started the entire course over again, right from Basics 1. Because I knew that I didn’t understand it, yet. So don’t be afraid to start over. Anyone can race through the entire tree in 4 months if you keep enough notes on hand.

Now, for fun:

  • People do not search for previous answers to topics on the discussion pages. They seem to think that they are the first person to ever have a problem like that. Obviously the “Search” function on Duolingo is pretty darned awful, which certainly doesn’t help. So stop hanging around the discussion pages if you can’t bear to see the same questions repeated over and over again. Instead of “down-voting” someone, type in a positive and helpful answer. Or ignore them, at least. You can learn a lot in the discussion pages if you can find the right discussions.

  • Practically everyone wants to hook up with someone who will speak Italian to them, instead of just doing the lessons on their own, and learning some very basic rules first. It may be a nice thought, but it won’t likely last long. Everyone wants to be fluent in a month, or three months, or a year, by the end of it all. It’s not going to happen. I will guarantee that. I’d put money on it. I could come up with 20 verbs that you’ve never encountered, that you have no idea how they work in every tense and mood. The best that you can hope for is for competence during slowly spoken conversations. And you’re going to have to really apply yourself and use all kinds of other resources to get there. Also, percentages of fluency are a complete joke. They should be removed from view on your profile, but otherwise they should always be ignored.

  • If you can’t just accept that a different language “doesn’t make sense” sometimes, then you’re going to struggle. I wanted things to always be black and white. Is “un” one or a? Is “molto” very or a lot? Why the hell are there four ways to say “what”, but the most common one is also the word for “which”? “Qualche” is just stupid if you have to always use a singular noun after it. And so on. There are very few word-for-word translations that make sense in both languages, so stop trying to make Italian behave more like English. The sooner that you accept Italian as quirky, the better off you’re going to be.

Finally (getting back to something helpful!):

  • The reverse tree (“learning” English for for speakers of Italian) is, by far, the most useful activity that I do to keep my Italian vocabulary and phrasing at the front of my mind. You just have to remember to turn off the microphone option in your DL settings (otherwise you mainly “learn” to say English phrases in English). Do that and you’ll get a lot of English sentences that you need to translate into Italian. Yes, you do get some “hear the English sentence and type it” exercises, but usually you do more translation typing into Italian than anything else. However; you should finish your original tree, in Italian, first.

Keep practicing, everyone!

10 months ago

34 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/MABBY
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Once you've mastered (understood) Clitics-- and it is not going to go away, or not be useful later on; they get used constantly-- then you'll feel such a sense of accomplishment that when you get to the "subjunctive mood" or the "remote past" tense, then you'll be in the right frame of mind to tackle them.
Clitics is a major hurdle. But even though it gets easier as you go along, and so do the subsequent verb and other tense units, there are still some other ornery lessons awaiting you.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MABBY
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One other thought that I just had-- "Lingots" (gems) are overrated.
You need them when you don't have any, to buy streak freezes and eventual "optional" units like Flirting, Idioms (and Christmas).
But then you have so many and there is nothing to spend them on. I have 10,720 of them right now. But they are useless, really.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/poche112
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I have 10446 :-) I remember waiting until I got my first 100 before buying a streak freeze and for 200 before buying a bonus course :-)

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/drevokocur

Timed Practice is great. as it allows you to do every exercise for twice the useless points if you're fast enough. TBH it motivates me.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/poche112
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Yes... I still use it sometimes.. like if I am less than 1000 points from a new level and the tree is all golden.. just do timed practice on the easy lessons over and over again. I think my max points in a single day was 1600.. I went over a year making myself do at least 250 a day. i don't do that anymore... Some days I might do 200.. but if I get over 50 in a day that is good enough. Two new grandbabies might have something to do with it though.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/drevokocur

if my tree is golden and I feel like it, I pick a topic I feel I am weak at and do it at double points with Timed Practice. but more than 5 topics a day seems to be too much to me. when your tree is gold, you can watch Italian movies with subs, take part in a MOOC that can move you further, read a book, find a conversation partner etc... with solely Duo it is too one-sided, isn't it?

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/poche112
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YEs.. I really need to find a place to actually talk to people.. I converse online in Italian quite a bit.. but there I have the luxury to think about my words and get them right... Faced with actually talking in real time I can't do it. I learned all the answers to the DUO lessons long ago, but I am still amazed that by continuing to practice I am still learning. Sure, I know the answer but now when I do the lessons I frequently think ' oh, now I understand WHY it is that way'

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/El_Gusano
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Quite a long, but interesting and useful post. My thoughts concerning your post:

You talk about being 50+ while learning Italian. People say children learn languages better and usually don't give it much thought beyond just accepting that. When it comes to learning a language adults have the advantage of staying on task. If you plan to study for two hours, then you will. But the advantage children have is that they aren't afraid of making mistakes. They boldly talk and hardly miss a beat when they receive a correction. Yet most adults really aren't willing to speak until they think they won't make mistakes, so pretty much never. Study like an adult, speak like a child, and you'll learn quickly.

I find that learning another language required that I learn the grammatical concepts of English better as well. Why? To ask for help or to offer help one must be able to use the correct terminology to explain. Is that a direct or indirect object? Definite or indefinite article? These things matter!

As a concept, clitics are hard the first time. Once you wrap your head around a concept, it is often useful in related languages. I learned and mastered clitics in Spanish. It only differed in word order in French. When I got to Italian it wasn't even difficult to learn. New concepts can be frustrating but nice once learned.

It's nice to have an answer to MY OWN question, not just see what has been asked previously. I think this is another reason why the search function isn't used as often. It is annoying to have someone answer your question by suggesting you should have just done a search instead.

I agree, we often want a new language to fit in the same box as the one(s) our native language(s) came in, and this represents a difficult adjustment in our minds. But it is often said that the first secondary language you learn is the hardest. I think this is definitely why. When you learn a second foreign language, you have already accepted that a new languages require new boxes.

I have found speaking the new language to be far and away the best way to learn a new language. I attend meetup groups in Spanish, Italian, and French and I cannot stress how useful this is! If you haven't taken language learning beyond duo, you need to. Try HelloTalk, Tandem, Meetup.com...

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MABBY
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"Study like an adult, speak like a child"-- I like it!

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Corinnebelle
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Me too with questions. Sometimes I need a question answered in a way that is understandable to me. I read a lot of the discussions in different languages I am studying, and learn a lot that way without having to ask questions too.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/hoomau

Wholeheartedly agree with the study like an adult . . .

However, as a neuropsychologist (and over 50), I'll just point out that the brain of a child is different than the brain of an adult -- particularly an older adult. Children absorb language material much much more efficiently than even an older teenager. And new learning efficiency steadily declines during the normal aging process.

I studied German in college -- and promptly forgot most of it because I never used it. But when I compare the effort/time/attention required to commit new vocab to memory now with college years . . . *sigh. There's just no comparison.

Best ways to slow down the loss of efficiency? 1. Be physically active. No kidding. It is the most effective brain age defier presently known. 2. Be socially and intellectually active. Learning a new language is an excellent means of the latter. But variety is key (which is also true for cognitive development of children, btw). Read -- fiction and nonfiction are both good. Learn to play an instrument. Pick up a new hobby or skill. Travel. Etc.

And, for the love of all that is good: Whenever possible, let's encourage children to learn multiple languages, shall we? While they are still children! Let's be the example. Let's take them with us when we travel. Let's value language learning and then clearly demonstrate that value to them.

1 month ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Heike333145
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I agree, but I would like to add that I see three advantages in my learning today:

1) I have a broader view because I have already learned several things. I have developed my strategies, and I am able to adapt my strategies if they don't work in a particular case because I've tried a lot in my life. For example, in languages like French or Spanish I'm happy with database-supported learning using spaced repetition, but in Korean I need a paper flashcard system because otherwise I can't learn how to write. I know how I worked with paper flashcards back then in French and Spanish, so I can connect my new requirement with knowledge I obtained long ago.

2) I know how to deal with plateaus and failures; I even expect them. I'm not as easily discouraged as I was in my youth.

3) I no longer need the things I'm learning to earn my living. When I was young, I was very worried whether what I learned was the right thing to learn, whether it was enough ... Today I have the luxury of just learning for the sake of it, and I enjoy this feeling of liberty. I think this is a boost to efficiency. It would be good if this relaxed attitude could also be had by young people who learn. It would make things so much easier and less anxiety-driven, I think.

1 month ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ignatznkrazy
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Great insight. I agree with everything you said except

English is what I call a “lazy” language. We look for patterns and shortcuts, and grammar (and sometimes spelling, unfortunately) does not really matter.

It seems that way to native speakers, but ask an English learner. What makes English tough is there often is no pattern. Think of the number of verbs that are irregular in the past tense. I struggle to come up with regular ones as examples for my English class. Freeze--no. Drive--no. Eat--no. Come, go, have, do--GAH. And each is irregular in a completely random way.

But great advice. I hope the noobs heed it.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Darkwaters32

Consider the words heeded.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/drevokocur

he may have meant heated :-)

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HelenDaisy
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Mabby, thank you. Your helpful advice encouraged me in my early Duolingo days, so I am delighted to know how you did it. I wondered if I would ever 'get there'. I still find it almost impossible to get an original sentence out of my mouth. However, last week I wrote a thank you letter to an Italian lady who speaks no English, and found myself using a past tense and a subjunctive. I love the friendship shown by all the Italian learners, I wonder if other languages have the same. You have added so much to that with your help, humour and enthusiasm.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Corinnebelle
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Thanks for the insightful read. I'm new here. Just completed my first year on Duolingo not long ago. I'm only a quarter of the way through my first tree. Just taking it slow and learning and immersing myself in other languages too.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/albaduine
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Thanks for this great post, Mabby. I can relate to so much of what you have written. Last month I passed the four year mark of studying here on Duolingo. I added the Italian course very early on, having no previous exposure to Italian at all. It seemed strange at first, with words like "gli" and "uomo," but soon after that I started listening to audio courses such as those from Teach Yourself, and practicing speaking Italian out loud, and it wasn’t long before I started falling in love with the sound of the Italian language.

The Clitics unit was hard for me too, and it was quite a while before I felt like I understood it. Whenever I've been confused by a concept, searching online has usually been helpful.

A book that has been incredibly helpful to me is Barron’s 501 Italian Verbs. It shows the conjugations of seven simple tenses and seven compound tenses for each verb, and shows which ones use avere and which ones use essere for the compound tenses. This book has made it much easier for me to see the patterns in the various tenses.

The reverse tree for Italian is one of the most useful things I do as well, and I practice with it almost every day. I almost always use the timed lessons, which force you to think quickly as you would in a real conversation... another thing to spend your lingots on, and well worth it.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/poche112
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I agree with everything that said MABBY... you and are are very similar... age, little French in High School etc. I am at 1158 days (what is that a little over 3 years) and I have incorporated Italian into my everyday routines. I read Italian news, listen to Italian radio and youtube. I now even read product reviews and watch product review youtube channels in Italian without a second thought. I have not had the opportunity to do much speaking so coming up with my own words is more of a struggle so that means that I am not 'fluent' and never will be. But for the flip side, listening and comprehending, I am pretty close. I think the key is that on top of DUO I have done all these other things. I even completed the Spanish courses on DUO just so that I could take the Italian for Spanish speakers course. I have not incorporated Spanish outside of DUO so I do not have nearly the knowledge of that language that I do of Italian. I practice Italian on DUO every day even though I have enough points on those trees to have level 25 several times over. I can't understand when people say that they are bored with the tree after they finish it. There is no way that they have learned all that they can learn here by simply finishing the lessons once.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GiorgioYianni

As always your comments are thoughtful and to the point! You are absolutely right there are no shortcuts to learning a foreign language.

Italian may seem easy at first (especially spelling which is much easier than English) but as you progress you realize that it is a very rich language which has a great depth (un'immensa profondità).

I have to admit that being a native Greek speaker gives me an "unfair" advantage: There are many expressions that can be translated word-for-word and make perfect sense in Italian and Greek. However, having genders that are different in Italian is an absolute hell, you have to un-learn what is ingrained. So different native languages have different challenges when learning Italian, this is inescapable; we all must learn to be patient and persistent and enjoy the odyssey of learning Italian.

P.S. I am also over 50, maybe we should create a group of Italian learners 50 plus years young.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CrissyJw.org

Any suggestions for starting Duolingo? I started just a day or two ago in Italian and am on level 4 or 5 in basics

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/MABBY
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My biggest recommendation is don't try to go too fast. That is easy to do in the early lessons because you want to learn something of substance, and you will get tired of simple sentences like The apple is red and I drink coffee.
But you are learning spelling, pronunciation (hopefully), and some basic rules about gender and quantity of nouns that will occur in every lesson that follows.

When you start to think that you'll never learn anything useful, and "why don't we do different verbs?", then you'll hit the Present 1 section and they will throw almost 40 of them at you in one unit.

My final advice is to be true to yourself-- are you actually learning the rules of spelling and grammar, or are you just memorizing sentences and words because you've done them so many times?
Only you will know the answer, and if your goal is just to finish the Italian tree as some sort of accomplishment then that is fine. But if you're trying to understand what is going on, why you choose certain words and endings, and you hope to really learn something along the way, then make your mistakes and start looking for answers to your questions.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Muss403695

I agree with every word. Finishing quickly does not give bragging rights if you cant remember 80% of what you learned, imao.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/HelenDaisy
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Welcome CrissyJw. Enjoy learning Italian, and ask if you have a problem. I have had the benefit of the friendship and help from the Italian learners. Hope to see you here again.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/acassavant

Thank you for such a detailed post. I enjoyed reading what we can expect, and I found your tips to be very helpful!

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/john585666

Mabby, thanks for your post. I started some ten months ago and recently finished the tree and reversed tree. If you want to improve speaking and reading abilities just listen to radio or watch TV for ten minutes a day and start with children programmes. Same for reading comprehension, read children stories ten minutes a day and you will see how much fluency will improve in a couple of months. Here is a link with nice fairy tales.

https://www.didagiochi.com/favole-per-bambini/

Good luck, regards, John

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lady_Alcinia

Thank you for that link! I will definitely make good use of that. How does one go about doing a "reverse" tree? Just inputting in different things for a new language so to speak?

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/poche112
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Simply choose the course to learn English for someone who speaks Italian . It is very helpful.

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lady_Alcinia

Grazie!

6 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/EileenAlle2

Thank you very much for the helpful advice, and for the reality check. I have been doing Italian Duolingo for a couple of weeks now and was beginning to realise that it is going to take the rest of my life (I am 70, so I doubt I will get anywhere near fluent). I am enjoying it - on the whole, however, I don't think I will ever get my head around Beve, bevo, bevi, mangi, mangio etc. At my English primary and secondary school we didn't learn very much formal grammar, so I am struggling with the plurals etc. And because I did very little grammar I don't understand the "note explanations" which is very difficult. However, I am keeping my aging brain active so it is all good. Your post was very helpful.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Muss403695

I can relate to your story, but only done a little over a year. It was my aim to spend a full week on each subject. before moving on, but I slipped further and further behind during the summer, ( holidays, and general stuff ) You are absolutely correct about not fighting the Italian language, and accepting that lots of words have several meanings. Hopefully I will be where you are in about 4.5 years, But I think i will have moved away from DL by then. Already I have memorised lots of correct answers but dont understand the lesson fully, so im fearful that by then I will be able to write them backwards due to familiarity. I would give you a Gemgott for such a good post, but one more for you, and one less for me ...... Well you know what im trying to say.

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Barbarajane6
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Thank you for your really useful comments. After reading them, I started the reverse tree, learning English from Chinese! It’s much harder than l thought it would be!

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/shaneroman3

nice pick for language bravo

10 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Heike333145
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Cool. :-) Thanks for sharing your insights!

10 months ago
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