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Gary’s 2015 TACtivation: FR, IT

 Language Learning Forum : Language Learning Log Post Reply
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Senior Member
ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5079 days ago

1468 posts - 2413 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
Studies: Spanish

 Message 1 of 187
19 December 2014 at 12:08pm | IP Logged 
This is my fifth TAC, and as per the title, my focus is on activation. By this I mean improving my active skills, in particular speaking. I have a good knowledge and understanding of French and Italian, but I want to get better at actually using them. Speaking is my main goal in language learning, and if I speak a language I'd like to speak it well.

Languages and levels

I consider my level in both to be low-advanced. I’d say my Italian is a decent B2, and my French somewhere on the very long road between B2 and C1.

Italian is my favourite language, and in recent years there have always been a lot of Italians in my social circle and I've visited Italy several times so it's a useful one and that keeps up my enthusiasm. I have less practical use for French, but I love the language, culture, cinema and literature; I like what I've seen of France and would like to travel there more.

I don’t have clear goals as such: I've still no idea how long reaching C1 takes or if it’s even possible in my situation, life is unpredictable enough that there’s no point, and my learning is just for pleasure. I'm just aiming for noticeable improvement.


I've signed up for French, Romance Languages (to cover Italian), and the Advanced study group.

Main priorities

- Better spoken fluency and conversational ability.

- Better pronunciation and accent. It’s always been my weak point and I'll never sound native-like, but I'd like to at least have a decent accent in both and I'm very convinced of the benefits.

- More consistency in speaking ability: reducing the difference between “good days” and “bad days”.

- Become more confident using the languages with native speakers and in-country. Improving the above skills should also increase confidence, but it works the other way too, and there are plenty other psychological and situational factors unrelated to ability that affect confidence.

Secondary priorities

- Listening comprehension. Mine is already quite good in both languages, but there’s always room for improvement, particularly with very colloquial speech.

- Grammar. Again my grammar is quite good but could still be improved.

Plans, methods, resources, ideas, thoughts

- Working with tutor(s) to improve speaking skills. It took me a while to decide to take the plunge, but I've started recently. With my goals, I've become more and more convinced that having someone who challenges and corrects me is a worthwhile investment.

- Various techniques for pronunciation and accent: recording myself, reading aloud, chorusing and shadowing, phonetic analysis, etc. I've had some improvement in Italian with these methods, but French is proving a more difficult beast.

- Conversation opportunities when available: language meetups, native-speaker friends, exchanges. I don’t pursue exchanges actively, too much wasted time especially when I can just pay a tutor, but if someone contacts me I won’t say no. Meetups aren't ideal as it's mostly other learners, but it’s still good practice and I like the social aspect.

- Self-talk. Really useful way of practising on the days when speaking to another person isn't a possibility. It particularly helps with the consistency that I talked about above.

- Input: lots of films, TV, radio, books, news, websites. While I'm convinced that lots of input alone is not enough to develop good active skills, I do believe that it's an essential component. Also I love films and books so it's an end as well as a means! Like in past years, I plan to regularly write about what I've been watching and reading, and I'll contribute to the new book and film club threads.

- Subtitles. Even with advanced languages, L2 subtitles are great for improving your comprehension and L1 subs can help with translating idiomatic expressions. There are even tools to combine two subtitle files and get the benefits of both. Obviously watching without subs is also beneficial, and a lot of films don’t have decent ones anyway, so it’s a case of using them if available.

- SRS: I've found Anki cloze-deletion cards to be a helpful way of boosting active vocabulary and grammar, so I will continue to make and use them.

- Emphasising using the basics well over aiming for a very wide vocabulary. For example I think s_allard was onto something with the idea of a high-proficiency kernel of a few hundred words. Like everything there’s a balance, but I see too many learners trying to master every word and idiomatic expression yet not having a solid grip on the basic stuff that covers 80% of speaking.

- Grammar books. Low-priority but worthwhile for learning to speak more correctly, drill and activate things like verb forms, and getting example sentences for Anki. I've been very slowly working through a couple of Italian ones.

- Writing. Again low-priority as I don’t have any real need to write well, but it’s useful for active skills in general. I’ll try to write French or Italian log posts sometimes.

- As always I'm open to experimentation and new ideas. Having never yet reached a highly advanced level in a foreign language, I'm still learning how to learn.


No definite plans yet, but I'd like to spend at least a few days in France and/or Italy! They're near and cheap enough that it would be silly not to.

Other languages

I don't intend to study anything else seriously this year. I tried to add in Spanish last year but realised that making satisfactory progress in three languages wasn't possible and I'd rather reach a level I'm happy with in French and Italian first. I'd like to maintain the basic Spanish I have learned; I'm in a city full of Spanish people so I'm sure I'll hear and speak it a bit, and I still have my Anki cards from last year.

I'm planning on travelling to a few other places so I’d like to learn some basic phrases in the languages. Iceland, Poland and Germany are high on my travel list.

Good luck to everyone else participating, I hope it's a good year!

End of last year's log

Edited by garyb on 03 January 2015 at 5:07pm

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Senior Member
Joined 4507 days ago

217 posts - 335 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Italian
Studies: German, Norwegian

 Message 2 of 187
19 December 2014 at 5:10pm | IP Logged 
Good luck to you on this new journey towards activation!
We won't be team mates this year, since I chose to activate long- neglected languages of mine, namely
German and Norwegian, but I'll keep an eye on your log for inspiration and motivation (Italian still being a
priority with the super challenge ).

If you need help with your French, feel free to ask. In real life, I teach English, so I don't mind helping learners
at all :)

Edited by agantik on 19 December 2014 at 5:15pm

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Senior Member
Joined 4476 days ago

269 posts - 397 votes 
Speaks: English*

 Message 3 of 187
20 December 2014 at 11:50am | IP Logged 
The very best of luck, Gary. I followed your log last year and found it very interesting.
You have nice clear objectives, I wish you the best of luck with them!
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5079 days ago

1468 posts - 2413 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
Studies: Spanish

 Message 4 of 187
20 December 2014 at 8:43pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for the interest and wishes of good luck so far! I'm optimistic about next year, I like to think that my plans are realistic and achievable for once.

I'm now on holiday from work for a couple of weeks, which means more language time! My winter holidays are generally the time I either start a new language or put in a bit of extra effort with existing ones.

I've been quite active on iTalki recently, so as well as lessons I've had a few messages from Italians who want to do Skype exchanges. I've also found a few people who do "informal tutoring" for around £3 an hour. £3 an hour. That's what you'd probably spend on a coffee or beer if you met up with someone for a language exchange, plus you don't even need to leave the house. I might try a couple of them out. They're maybe not great teachers, but if you just want conversation with a native it seems like a great deal. My current tutor doesn't work at weekends, which is when I usually have most time, so that might be an option for some extra practice.

(That price is for Italian; for French the cheapest seems to be around £5 an hour, still not bad.)

I've finally watched a couple of episodes of La piovra. The Italian in it is very clear and standard, which is a surprise for a crime show. It would be a good choice for intermediate learners, with much less regional speech and dialect than the likes of Commissario Montalbano or Romanzo criminale.

For French, there was a French film festival in my city a month ago, and I've been checking out some of the titles that I missed at the cinema. I just saw Mariage à Mendoza which was a good comedy set in Argentina (so with lots of Spanish as well as French).
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5079 days ago

1468 posts - 2413 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
Studies: Spanish

 Message 5 of 187
28 December 2014 at 8:44pm | IP Logged 
I'm off work and not going on the forum much at the moment. But some stuff I've done recently:

Books: I read Extension du domaine de la lutte by Houellebecq; it was a quick and easy read and I liked it. Quite Camus-ish. In Italian I'm still working through Il gattopardo, which is difficult, lots of unusual vocabulary.

Films: Watched Cash and L'esquive. The latter is basically two hours of arguments between teenagers in a Parisian suburb, and is extremely difficult to follow without subtitles (and no French ones are available unfortunately). I suppose that's the sort of thing I should be looking for to improve my listening comprehension.

I spoke some Spanish last night, with an Argentinian I met at a club. It seems that I speak it pretty well when I'm drunk! It was fairly simple conversation, but I was conversing pretty quickly and dare I say fluently. The nice thing about Spanish is that the phonetics are so simple that you can just reel it off without having to think much if you know what you want to say. Quite different from French where, for me at least, a lot of mental energy is required just to pronounce it correctly (and so alcohol often just makes it worse!). I'm looking forward to whenever I pick Spanish up again, even if it's not for another year or two. It's my most useful language, despite my level being much lower than in my others, and it's fun to speak.

Edited by garyb on 28 December 2014 at 8:48pm

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United States
Joined 3505 days ago

44 posts - 72 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Dutch, French

 Message 6 of 187
28 December 2014 at 9:56pm | IP Logged 
garyb wrote:

- More consistency in speaking ability: reducing the difference between “good days” and “bad days”.

Boy do I hear you on that one!

May we both find ourselves on the French teal this year.

I also recenty took the italki plunge and have found a really good French tutor that is really affordable. His username is "Pascal"

If you would like to practice some French on skype my ID is 'plumbem'
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Senior Member
United Kingdom
Joined 4781 days ago

2151 posts - 3960 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Hindi, Ancient Greek, French, Sanskrit, German

 Message 7 of 187
03 January 2015 at 4:43pm | IP Logged 
Hey Gary, welcome to the French team! I'm looking forward to seeing more of the things you read and watch, and stealing ideas for myself.

You mentioned working on your pronunciation. Have you heard of La pronunciation française pour de vrai? It is a 3 DVD set of video lessons entirely in French. I bought a set, but havent't watched it yet. Although the instructor is English, I've seen nothing but good reviews about it. There's a newer edition, French Pronunciation - Your Key to Success, which is shorter (2 DVDs) and has instruction in English. That's probably better for beginners, but I figured the fully French version would be useful for learning the language as well as the pronunciation.
1 person has voted this message useful

Senior Member
ScotlandRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 5079 days ago

1468 posts - 2413 votes 
Speaks: English*, Italian, French
Studies: Spanish

 Message 8 of 187
03 January 2015 at 4:54pm | IP Logged 
Thanks for the tutor recommendation! The lessons so far have been with an Italian who
has lived and studied in France and speaks near-native French, as I thought it would
be handy having one person who teaches both languages. But I was considering
supplementing that with a native French tutor, preferably who is available at times
when the current one isn't (weekends). Also I'm trying to get on Skype a bit more
these days.

Yeah, consistency is hard and there are so many variables that affect your ability at
any given time. Tiredness, how comfortable you are with the situation/people, other
things on your mind, and probably a million other things. Even my English sometimes
suffers if I'm particularly tired or anxious. I don't think it ever goes away, but it
can be improved.

I'm now almost at the end of my holidays, which have been even less productive than
anticipated, although I got a bit of much-needed relaxation. I've had a few lessons
and Skype chats, done a tiny bit of reading, and yesterday I spoke Italian with some

The magic number

I used to have a lot of Italian friends who I spoke Italian with, but I don't see most
of them any more, and the ones I know now all speak English very well so we usually
just end up speaking English. But I've discovered that three Italians seems to be the
critical mass for them to be willing to speak Italian to me and not switch to English
for my "benefit". If it's just one person then it'll be English, and even with two
they usually tend to insist on it as soon as I come into the room, but three appears
to be the magic number where putting up with my imperfect Italian becomes easier for
them than speaking English.

When I'm with three or more Italians I do feel under pressure, which makes my Italian
even more imperfect, but as I improve and hopefully get more exposure like that I
should start to feel more confident in these situations.

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