Monoglot Anxiety

Monoglot Anxiety

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The Lazy Italian Self-Study Experiment: Month 1

Or: putting German on hold was harder than I thought it would be

Elise Cutts

6-Minute Read

Banner for the lazy Italian self-study experiment: a sleepy cat hugging a book with a speech bubble containing an Italian flag

The 1st month of the Lazy Italian Experiment is over… and it was definitely a bit more “lazy” than “Italian.” Thanks to a last-minute vacation with my boyfriend’s germanophone family, I got very very excited about German again and pretty much let Italian fall away for 2 weeks.

If it weren’t for this challenge, I’d probably have abandoned Italian altogether to focus on German. So I guess it’s good I publicly committed. The threat of public shame is a really great motivator.

Status update

  • Time learning: 1 month
  • Level estimate: lol sub-A1
  • Motivation: low (because motivation for German is high)
  • Most complicated comprehensible media: Example dialogues in Coffee Break Italian.
  • Most complicated enjoyable media: The Dragon Prince (dubbed in Italian)
  • Duolingo crowns: 51
  • Ability summary: Thanks to tons of Italian cognates in English (and a good awareness of what English words came in through romance languages thanks to the contrast with German), I can understand far more than I feel I have any right to at this stage. Watching TV, I can usually figure out the *things people are talking about, though not usually what they’re saying about those things. The most complicated thing I’ve started watching is Luna Nera on Netflix, which is a show about witches. Fun stuff. I can construct some basic phrases to introcuce myself, count, or order a limited number of food items and drinks—so, pizza or pasta, anyone?. I still hate rolling my Rs (German R, I miss you!)
The Lazy Italian Self-Study Experiment Rules
  1. No traditional resources: No textbooks, grammar books, or traditional courses allowed
  2. No sit-down study time: Quickly looking up grammar questions is ok, but there will be no workbook pages, no vocab drills, and definitely no reading textbooks. Meeting with tutors is ok.
  3. No Anki: This is about being lazy, not making 1000 flashcards.
  4. Limited, cheap tutors: I can meet with an online tutor 1/wk for an hour, but the tutor must cost below $20/hr and I can only start meeting with a tutor after I can understand most of what I hear on kids TV.
  5. Only free resources: The rule says it all. Exception for tutors under the $20/hr limit.

Strategy assessment

I’m making three adjustments to my strategy for this month: cutting my Duolingo xp limit, allowing all Italian TV shows instead of only childrens shows, and (almost) completly banning German.

The Duolingo xp limit needs to go because Duolingo xp is annoying and inconsistent. If I get an xp boost randomly, then I can meet my 200 xp limit in far fewer than 20 lessons. I don’t see a reason to limit Duolingo—I’m not using it enough to qualify as “non-lazy” anyways. If I start going bonkers and doing 20+ lessons a day consistently then it might be time to talk about some kind of handicap. But I’m lazy enough on my own for now.

I’m also opening up my “kids shows” plan to include shows for adults since I’m finding that I can understand enough of what’s happening in normal TV shows to follow along, and I just don’t enjoy kids shows that much. And while dubs are great, I’m interested in watching Italian-made content because I want to build that feeling of connection to and affinity for Italian things—that’s ultimately what will keep me motivated to keep studying.

Juggling two languages at once hurt motivation

The most important change for next month is making a real commitment to “connecting” with Italian—which for me means learning about the culture and really investing in finding media that I enjoy. Looking back, one of the reasons I had so much fun with German at the beginning was discovering that a weird niche genre of music I enjoy (neo-medieval folk, anyone?) is relatively popular in Germany. Looking for new German-language music became something like a game, and it really got me “attached” to the language. The TV show “Dark” did something similar. It showed me that there was content out there that I really did want to consume in German.

Lagging motivation for Italian was my biggest struggle this month. ATo get that motivation, I need to find similar ways to build a personal interest in and affinity for the language. And unfortunately, German is getting in the way. I just keep defaulting to my German favorites, and spending a week speaking German with my boyfriend’s family in Austria did not help motivate me for Italian. I need to make space in my media diet—and a hunger for—for Italian content. So for this month, I’m instituting a new rule:

No German!!!*

*Ok, not no German. But I’m only allowed to do 15 min of flashcards and read/watch the news since I want news and I’m not ready to understand it well in Italian.

Month 2 strategy

  1. Use Duolingo every day for exposure to new vocabulary and grammar. I’ll mainly be doing this during in-between moments like while resting between attempts at the bouldering gym or sitting on the subway. Binging is allowed. My daily goal is about 5 lessons.
  2. Watch TV in Italian with Italian subtitles every night—even if I don’t understand much. Thanks to tons of cognates, it’s possible to kinda-almost follow many shows, even shows for adults, as a very low-level Italian learner. TV is how I’ll learn to map spelling to sounds, get an ear for pronunciation, and hopefully it’ll somehow feed the unknowable language machine in my brain and get it to start understanding Italian. I tend to repeat after sentences I hear on TV, too. This sounds silly (especially the not understanding much bit), but worked for me with German.
  3. Don’t meet with tutors yet. I want to be able to speak a little before I spend money on a tutor.
  4. Listen to Coffee Break Italian while doing chores, commuting, or other boring tasks that require hands. I like this series a lot for its grammar explanations and as a way to train my ear. I do find the content boring and travel-focused, like most beginner stuff. But it’s so easy to access that the low activation energy barrier overwhelms my distaste for resources like this.
  5. More aggressively try to fall in love with Italian stuff I need to find Italian music I like, read about the canon of Italian literature, classical music, art, food, and culture there is for me to discover if I get better, crawl around on Italian subreddits, and read about Italy. I need to have a reason to care. And I’ve been slacking on this! Making a playlist of Italian music is one way I plan to come at this issue.
  6. German ban. I just like German too much… and it’s taking attention and media-consumption bandwidth away from Italian. To motivate myself to find more Italian media, I am banning German. I’m allowed to do 15 minutes of flashcards and watch/read the news for maintenence, but that’s it.

How to follow the experiment

New posts related to the challenge will appear here at the beginning of each month. And as mentioned above, anyone interested in following along as I learn Italian should head over to my Buy Me a Coffee page. I’m also trying (god it’s hard) to be a human on Twitter and have exhumed the corpse of my old #langtwt account so you can follow and say hi @monoglotanxiety.

You can also leave a comment or, as always, email me at hello@monoglotanxiety.com.

Ciao for now!


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This isn't another polyglot blog — it's a monoglot blog! Well, it used to be. At this point, I'm probably somewhere around a 1.75-glot, maybe a 1.80-glot on a good day. This site is all about learning to learn languages, written through the lense of my experience overcoming the intermediate plateau with German and starting from scratch with Italian as a self-taught former monoglot. If you're teaching yourself a language, this is for you!

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Everything on this site is free — I'm as tired of language bloggers trying to sell me miracle language hacks as you are. But if you want to support the site, I wouldn't say no to a coffee ☕. Monthly supporters keep this blog free of affiliate links, ads, and other crud, and they get some fun perks too.


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