The Beep Beep Boop of my Skype call ring was happening and I began to sweat. I was about to have a video call with a new Italian friend who didn’t know enough English to help me understand. And, all the questions I’d practiced in her language that day vanished. Throat dry. I sat forward feeling tense but excited. She picked up her end. “Ciao, Barbara!”
There were connectivity issues. She could see me but I couldn’t see her. We both laughed nervously. The call lasted all of 15 minutes and I thought I must sound like a complete idiot to this woman. But somehow it was a game changer for me in learning the Italian language. Learning Italian had become an adventure.
I actually don’t remember how many Spanish classes I took in high school. That’s how long ago it was. And French I only took for one semester because I had a crush on the teacher. These languages didn’t stick with me. No languages in college. Fast forward to seminary. I enjoyed Greek but wasn’t disciplined. Hebrew was a complete bomb. I’m about as average a language learner as one can be. Actually, in America, I’m in the majority for once (people who can only speak one language, read this article). Someone once jokingly called me a polyglot and I had to look it up so as not to be offended.
I have to be honest: I have cheated alot using Google Translate in my playful and meaningful interactions with people in other nations. One of my Brazilian friend’s mother is impressed that I am so proficient in Portugese (thanks, Google, wink). But this cheating has only helped me on the writing front. What of real life conversations when I’m standing or sitting before an actual Italian who wants to engage? Will I have to carry my smartphone with me and ask them to speak into the microphone? Can you impact people this way? I want more.
So does Amy. She and I are looking ahead to a required year of language training in Bologna where we hope to emerge with at least an elementary school level of communication, which is what most Bibles are written in these days. Maybe naive but we are hopeful. She says she’s nervous about it, but I know she will crush it. She’s way more organized than me. More studious than me. More disciplined than me. She may become my new Google Translate.
At this stage we can’t be much help to someone ready to seriously tackle a new language as we are on the ground level, too. Far be it from me to carry myself as an authority on the subject. But, it’s interesting. We are both having alot of fun learning where we thought we might be scared. And, we aren’t ready to quit. We are bringing the kids into it and even they are enjoying it. In fact, they are walking around the house saying Italian words. And, it makes me smile.
I will drop a short list of ways that we are taking the Italian language with us just in case you are interested. If you are average like me you can still enrich your life by learning another language. And, you don’t have to be a missionary like me or move to another country like me. You can do this! Here’s how….
1. You can download Duolingo. I can’t remember how I discovered this gem of a language tool. But, I am so very glad I did! I’m a visual learner and if it’s packaged as a game, I’m in. You earn lingots for reaching new levels of learning (Yay). It’s accessed through an mobile app or through a website. It takes you through a comprehensive set of modules where you translate, speak Italian, and do multiple choice. You can challenge or be challenged by others. And, like I said, it’s fun.
2. You can purchase Rosetta Stone. I didn’t want to do this because it’s so expensive. But, Christmas came and Santa (my father-in-law) bought Level One for us. Now I know why everyone kept going on and on about this tool. It’s interactive and much like Duolingo hits on the visual side of learning. It’s repetitive too. The cool thing about it is we were able to create learner accounts for each of the kids and they are on it now.
3.You can try WeSpeke. This is a social application designed to help you connect with people who speak the language you want to learn. They also can connect with you if they want to learn your language. Then, you meet on Skype like I did with my friend Barbara. You practice on each other. You coach each other. You make a friend in the meantime. Magic! I think it’s powerful because it focuses on the immersion that is required to become comfortable with a language.
4. Use the voice feature on Google Translate. I drive a lot so to drive safely I have to focus on the road. If I text it has to be voice to text. This is surprisingly reliable, though I have to make corrections at times. This is how the voice feature on Google Translate works. You can set the language you want to translate from. I set it on Italian, and I practice my diction. I know I’m doing it right when it translates to English correctly.
That’s just a few ideas for you. Keep us in your prayers as our family will attend a language acquisition course sometime this year before going on the field. This training is designed to help prepare us to train full time in the Italian language. And, we will pray for you too. That you will consider being courageous enough to learn a new language. We will pray that you become a student of culture.