Memrise News & Events

Announcing the Memprize winners!

We’re very happy to announce the conclusion of the Memrise Prize competition, which was organised in collaboration with UCL to find the world’s most efficient and effective vocabulary learning technique.

The winning solution was developed by a team from Radboud University and Radboud University Medical Centre, based in Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and tested on over 10,000 Memrise learners that volunteered to take part in the experiments.

Memrise-prize

Memprize Winners – Credit: Radboud University

The Memprize challenged the world’s top brain scientists to create their vision of the ultimate system for learning 80 foreign vocabulary items in an hour, with a test one week later. Participants included teams from MIT, the University of Oxford, Washington University in St. Louis, and Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

The winning learning method, which overall more than doubled memory performance compared to the standard technique of repeated study, was based on a clever combination of adaptive, repeated spaced retrieval and mental imagery. Volunteers were trained to use the concept of memory palaces to visualise words in certain rooms for later retrieval practice that was adaptive to their forgetting rate. Participants also found this method to be the most enjoyable of all submissions.

The Memprize winners are a research team who carried out their experiment at the Donders Institute for Brain and Cognition and the Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University. The team was led by Gesa van den Broek, PhD Candidate and included Anke Marit Albers, Ruud Berkers, Paul Konstantin Gerke, Marlieke van Kesteren, Boris Konrad and Nils Müller.

The Memprize finalists were judged by a panel of distinguished cognitive scientists including: Prof. Robert Bjork, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at UCLA and Dr. Yana Weinstein, Assistant Professor of Psychology at UMass Lowell.

Guest Post

The Benefit of Being an Open-minded Language Learner

It seems to me that when people first start learning a language, they believe that they must focus on specific dialects and regions.  For example, they will say, “I want to learn Mexican Spanish” or “I want to learn American English”.  It is totally fine if someone has preferences, however, it seems like a lot of people are closed-minded and will ONLY want to hear and study a certain Spanish, Portuguese, English and so on.

We simply cannot control how natives speak.  As soon as we open our mouths to speak the language we are learning, natives will respond to us as if we were born and raised speaking their mother tongue.


The language that we hear in many programs is great to start off with, but we must keep in mind that the majority of natives will not speak the so-called ‘classroom language’. This is reality.

Think about it, we do the same when speaking our native tongue, even when the person we are speaking to is clearly speaking broken English (for instance). We will answer them like anyone else, as if they were to understand us perfectly.

There is no better way to illustrate my point, then by telling you a story about a language encounter I had when I first visited Cartagena, Colombia a few years back.

I was on a beach enjoying a meal with a Colombian friend, who didn’t know A SINGLE word of English.  She was a Spanish native of course. We understood each other well.

After about an hour as the sun went down, the waiter came by and asked if we wanted anything else.  I was full, but had some drinks left so I asked if he would like to have a seat and chat while we finish up.

The funny thing about this gentleman was, he spoke Spanish, but to me, it was almost as if he were speaking another language.  It was drastically different from my friend’s Spanish.

He sat with us for about a half hour or so.  When he spoke, I didn’t understand much at all.  He wasn’t as clear as the woman and his accent was very strong.  He also didn’t understand me too well. When I spoke, he would give me a weird, confused look and then would look to her for clarification.   

So while chatting with him, my friend ended up being my Spanish translator even though she didn’t understand ANY English. How is this possible?   When he spoke, she would tell me what he said IN SPANISH.   It went on like this the entire time he was with us.  

It was the weirdest thing ever.  I’ve always heard that Colombians are the “clearest”, they are the most understandable etc, but boy, when this guy spoke; it was a different ball game.

Using a listening resource such as Gritty Spanish, you will understand why people all sound different.   Just like in real life, you’ll listen and understand one person better than the next.  This is what we face constantly when we listen to music.  For example, you may understand Romeo Santos very well, but have a really tough time understanding Shakira.  Watching TV or movies you will understand one actor very well and have difficulty with the next.  Watching the news in a foreign language, you’ll understand the anchor extremely well and then they will do an interview with someone on the street and…. you know the rest.

If everyone were to speak using the same tone, people would lose their personalities. Dialects from specific regions would no longer have their signature feel. In the real world everyone sounds different, which is what makes languages so unique and fun!


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Eldon Mirjah is the creator of Gritty Spanish, a course that’s entirely based on informal learning – where students get to grips with the language through urban stories – featuring the eccentric, the bizarre and the real-life. This is a form of learning that is defined by storytelling.

 

 

Memory Science & Magic

The Brains behind the Mind-boggling Memprize Competition

Who doesn’t ask themselves the question; how can I accelerate my learning? How can I learn more in less time and actually retain this information later? For this precise reason we decided to create the Memprize competition to find the world’s most efficient and effective vocabulary learning technique.

The winning learning method, not only doubled the memory performance compared to standard repetitive techniques, but was also the most enjoyable. It is based on a combination of adaptive, repeated spaced retrieval and mental imagery. The team from Radboud University and Radboud University Medical Centre based in the Netherlands are responsible for this victorious scientific outcome!

 

 

The team was led by Gesa van den Broek, a PhD candidate whose work is closely related to vocabulary learning and included Anke Marit Albers, Ruud Berkers, Paul Konstantin Gerke, Marlieke van Kesteren, Boris Konrad, and Nils Müller.

“We didn’t really have specific roles in the team, it was more of a collective effort through brainstorming and discussions, where each of us had our own background and specific experience to bring to the table,” Ruud Berkers explains.

 

Memrise-prize

Memprize Winners – Credit: Radboud University

Just to introduce some of the team members;

Boris Nikolai Konad is a multiple time World Memory Team Champion and Guinness Book World Record Holder for memory.  

In her current research in educational neuroscience, Marlieke van Kesteren tries to convince teachers and students that there are several ways to learn and we shouldn’t stay focused on ‘old-fashioned’ methods primarily.

Ruud Berkers’ PHD research “ investigated learning and memory, specifically the influence of prior knowledge on novel learning and how these influence learning processes in the brain…..The Memprize for me was a great exercise in trying to translate cognitive and neuroscientific insights into practical applications.”

Gesa van den Broek explained the technique they developed for learning languages more efficiently;

“We used repeated, spaced retrieval and mental imagery with keyword mnemonics. These are techniques that have long been known to enhance the retention of factual knowledge. We tried to use these principles as optimally as possible: We made the spacing of the retrieval trials adaptive with a computational model that predicts how quickly an individual learner forgets and which words are difficult and must be presented more often. We used images and step-wise presentations of the words to stimulate users to form effective mental images.  As a bit of an experiment we also included images to quickly get people to use the method of loci, a spatially oriented mnemonic technique where people would for example imagine words in a kitchen or bathroom. And we had two interim recall moments based on those locations. These were meant to enhance the chance that users could later think back to the experiment and go through the words they had practiced. For example, we were hoping that users would think back to practice and ask themselves which words they imagined in the kitchen. In addition, we added some features that we found motivating or helpful ourselves: feedback that showed words that learners mixed up, for example, and a very brief high score animation to motivate people to keep going.”

 

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Ruud Berkers goes on to explaining; “Our specific program helps for initial vocabulary acquisition, but it is not a panacea of language learning, and at some point it needs to be supplemented with other approaches and software implementations that allow to track people’s existing knowledge and gaps in knowledge in a smart way, informing what further information needs to be learned next. If we, as a community, succeed in helping students all the way into reaching language fluency using fun and intelligent software based on scientific insights, it would greatly help students in making learning easily accessible.”

Incorporating behaviouristic principles was Mario de Jonge’s idea. “To be specific, if an item was correctly answered, the participant would hear a rewarding sound. This was done to increase motivation and make the whole experience a little bit more game-like….I think motivation is a crucial factor. Basically, you can have the best learning intervention in the world, if nobody likes using it then it is still useless.”

“In the current digital age, where smartphones and tablets come to dominate our everyday lives, we can really develop software that can interact more directly with people, and as such boost learning in a highly personalised, smart and fun way.” Ruud Berkers claims.

Mario de Jonge goes on to saying; Joshua Foer once argued, in his excellent book on mnemonics called “Moonwalking with Einstein”, that it might be a good idea to start teaching kids at school how to use mnemonic strategies….Mnemonic strategies have been around for centuries, and they seem very effective for remembering information. So, why not teach kids how to use these kind of strategies from an early age on?”

The Memprize is bridging the gap between science and practice. We’re writing education technology history together for sure! Only time will tell what sort of an impact we’re making….

 

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Culture around the world

How to live like a German when learning the language

A Step-by-Step Guide to German Immersion

Would you like to learn German? Come to Germany! There is no better place to learn German than in good ol’ sunny Germany. Right?!

Are you shaking your head and saying “Nah, man, Germany is too far”, “I don’t have time” or something along those lines?

No problem at all! You don’t actually need to be in Germany to learn the language. Bring Germany to you!

Intrigued? Read on!

Before we go into the nitty gritty of the process, head over to Sprachheld for an extensive article that includes the best resources for learning German around the web. It goes step by step with videos covering topics from your very first words to grammar, pronunciation, conversations, expressions and much more!

Now let’s have a look at how to become like a German, while living outside of Germany!

The “immersion bubble”

In many cities around the world I see so-called ‘language enclaves’. In these enclaves people from other countries succeed in continuing to speak their native language without having to learn the language of their host country. They do this by surrounding themselves with people with the same native tongue, usually inhabiting a certain area of town. They live almost as if they never left home. I have seen this all over the world, people living in Odessa without speaking any Russian or Ukrainian, same as in my hometown of Hannover. It’s always the same process.

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While Chinatowns all around the globe are probably the most conspicuous type of foreign enclaves, you surely can also find some German ones close to you.

So how can you use this to your advantage?

All you have to do is reverse engineer the process and join the immersion bubble of the language / country that you want to learn.

In our case with German you are quite lucky. Germans love to travel and stay in different countries around the world! According to the passport index of 2017 they hold the most valuable passport worldwide, which means they can travel to a whopping 158 countries visa free, more than any other country in the world. This is great for you, because you will find Germans everywhere, which makes seeking out people to practice speaking German with easy.

How can you find Germans in your city?

Your job is first to find these Germans in your city, then hang out with them. There are many ways to do this. There are various online platforms where people of similar interests or backgrounds can meet up. These are a great way to start:

  • Obviously Facebook: With the function of Facebook groups you can find people that share similar interests. Search for the name of your city and type in the word German, either in English or to make it easier for you, anything that has “Deutsch” in it basically.
  • Meetup is a platform where people can organise groups to do activities together like Yoga or speak a specific language. Search for German!

By far the best method is to find a German and ask them. People of a specific ethnic group usually know where to find more of the same.

So now you have found Germans, what do you do next?

It depends on your level of German.

If you speak fluently enough you can just access their immersion bubble and hang out with them and join the fun. Obviously, in small towns there will be less Germans than in big cities, but even one German is enough to do this!

If your German isn’t at that level just yet, you can meet up with a native individually for a language tandem. What is that you ask? A tandem is when you split your time in half and speak both languages, you practice German, while they practice your mother tongue. Win-win!

Changing your daily habits to the German way of life

 

Your next step is to learn how to live outside of Germany like a true German. This means full immersion of the language.

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In the following steps I´m going to explain to you how to be super-german.

In Germany all movies and shows are dubbed, basically everything on TV is in German. You are in luck again! You can watch Hollywood movies in German. Therefore, instead of watching TV in your native language, just watch it in German!

Here are the most popular German channels:

  • The public channels: ARD & ZDF
  • The most popular private ones: Pro7, RTL, RTL 2 and Sat1

If you don’t understand German that well, keep the subtitles switched on, at first in your native language and later in German. Eventually, you can get rid of them completely.

Bringing German Culture to your home

 

With music this will be slightly harder since most music in the charts is in English. This isn’t only thanks to American music dominating, but also many German artists sing in English. Nevertheless, there is still quite a lot of German music. Just check out the German charts and find a few artists that you like, for instance MTV Top 100 for Germany (not many German songs, I know).

Now comes the fun part! Find a song on YouTube or Spotify and let the platform find similar songs. For YouTube you just use the “50+ mix” button. Here is an example with one of my favourite songs “Superheld” by Rob & Chris.

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Aaand now you have a mix with great music that fits your taste.Now that you have music, how do you proceed?

Easy!

Books, newspapers, radio, podcasts, the list goes on and on. Anything you do in your native language try to do it in German. It would be rude to leave you without further resources right? So keep on reading!

What do Germans use every day?

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Who doesn´t appreciate a good stack of old newspapers in his home, to give it that refined touch.

Let’s start with newspapers. Why is the best newspaper the “BILD” if you’re learning German? It’s by far the most popular tabloid in German. While the quality may not be the highest, it boasts with easy German. Therefore, it is super simple to understand. Once you feel you’re more advanced, check these out too:

  • Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • Frankfurter Allgemeine
  • Die Welt

Since we are already on the topic of reading, let’s continue with books. Basically, you could read any book in its German translation. Here is the SPIEGEL bestseller list. You will find the current bestsellers in Germany sorted by several categories (children books, novels, non-fiction and so on).

What’s SPIEGEL? I’m glad you asked. It’s one of the most popular German magazines. But you might also enjoy Stern and Focus.

Alright, so we are through with reading. We covered TV. We covered music. I guess we’re set?!

Feeling German yet?


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Gabriel, the guru of German and proud blogger of Sprachheld, describes himself as a:

#languagelover #entrepreneur #frequentflyer

He launched his blog in the fall of 2014 due to his love of languages. He is passionate about helping others reach their goal of learning a foreign language. His aim is to give the most useful and actionable advice language learners can implement right away.

Gabriel speaks German, English, Russian, French, Spanish and Hebrew. As a sun-lover his challenge for this year is to spend as many days in sunny countries as possible.

Culture around the world

Love in Translation

There has never been more of a need to translate things accurately, to translate things truthfully, and this has to coexist with the fact that languages are growing, changing, and dying all the time—shaped by humanity as it races forwards. It can be difficult to keep up with something that is always moving, but it is important to at least try. Translation at its best gives people the opportunity to acutely understand, to experience how another human being far removed from their daily life feels about something. It means we can empathise with problems we would have otherwise never known existed, and begin to comprehend the emotions of the cultures and nations which lie across oceans.

Even with the aforementioned best intentions, it can still be nigh on impossible to convey the specifically vague yet deeply-rooted emotions or thoughts of a culture or language, and therein lies the ‘untranslatable’ word. It is perhaps easiest and also most futile to try and begin to demonstrate this with love, as even within the boundaries our native tongues, we still struggle to articulate the inexhaustible facets of this word and what it ultimately means. Part of the reason for this is that love is excruciatingly subjective—we cannot study it effectively from neatly laid-out textbooks, and it is never experienced in the same way by two people. With this in mind, I’m sharing with you some examples of translated love from my two books, Lost in Translation and Speaking in Tongues.

First up is the Norwegian word forelsket, which for them pinpoints the euphoria we feel when we first begin to fall in love. The idea behind ‘untranslatable’ words is that we don’t have a direct, word-for-word translation for them, and have to grapple a little—try and explain using sentences, paragraphs, and in my case, illustrations.

 

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From my first book of untranslatable words, grew another about unusual and beautiful sayings, proverbs and unique expressions, and among them are some amazing ones relating to love and relationships. This idiom from Colombian Spanish actually means to be madly, head-over-heels in love.

 

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Idioms are peculiar expressions that cannot be understood from the individual meanings of the words that comprise them—they are more than the sum of their parts. This, combined with the cultural differences afforded when discussing love, means that there are some extraordinary examples, like this Farsi expression. Actually a term of endearment for native speakers, jeegaretō bokhoram is a way of expressing deep affection and love and would usually be used only when speaking to close loved ones, like family members or dear friends. Its meaning is along the lines of ‘I would do anything for you’, ‘You are my heart’, or ‘I love you so much, I could just eat you up’.

 

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You will know exactly what this Tagalog (an Austronesian language with over 17 million speakers) word is. Once kilig has taken hold there’s no stopping that can’t-think-straight, smiling-for-no-reason, spine-tingling feeling that starts somewhere deep inside the walls of your stomach.

 

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This next word, meaning ‘you bury me’, is a beautifully morbid declaration from Arabic, a declaration of one’s hope that they will die before another person, as it would be too difficult to live without them. Probably lying somewhere between romantic and catastrophic, and is perhaps the most uncomfortable yet beautiful way of letting somebody know that you’d quite like them to stick around for a while.

 

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Lastly, a Spanish expression that leaves a sweet aftertaste of citrus. To call someone your orange half is to refer to them as your soul mate, the love of your life (in an informal, affectionate way), and it’s a widely used term of endearment. In ancient Greek literature, Aristophanes had a notion that humans were originally man-man, man-woman or woman-woman and that one day, Zeus split these doubles in half, leaving us with an ongoing (sometimes fruitful) search for our other half ever since. If that isn’t romantic, then I don’t know what is.

 

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To me, the fact that these words and sayings exist (whether love-related or not) is a great comfort, and I’m definitely not alone in feeling reassured by their effectiveness as a tangible reminder of our rich cultural and emotional variations. While we all have very different ideas of precisely what love is, and hold close the power to decide how it may or may not directly affect us, I think that to have a chance of leaving this place with even a little understanding of it, we need to not only get better at recognising love in all its everyday disguises, but also learn about its untranslatability.

Although we are restricted to some extent by the words we know, in the languages we speak, it feels astonishing to learn or stumble across the right turn of phrase in a foreign tongue. We can feel better understood, more able to love, less likely to assume.
There are certain languages that are assumed to be the ‘romantic’ ones, but I don’t think that can possibly be true—we should feel lucky that we have the option of looking into other cultures to better understand ourselves, our relationships. There is no one language of love, because there will never be exactly the right way to say it; what is said between our hearts and our heads really is untranslatable.


Written by the lovely Ella Frances Sanders who describes herself with the following 3 hashtags…

#paintbrushes

#sunstarved

#boketto (this is an untranslatable Japanese word which means gazing vacantly into the distance without really thinking anything specific)

She is learning French, and is currently trying to decide which other language she’d like to learn alongside it. She figured that would be plenty for now, as she is definitely the sort of person who would learn much better in the corresponding country, surrounded by native speakers. When Ella was a kid and people asked the ‘what superpower would you choose’ question, her answer was that she wanted to be able to speak every single language in existence.

Ella is a published writer. Find out more by reading on! 

My first book, Lost in Translation, grew from a small blog post I created on the same topic several years ago, which went oddly viral and was subsequently noticed by a book editor. My next book, Speaking in Tongues (known as The Illustrated Book of Sayings in the US), was an expansion on a similar theme, and a desire to simply highlight links between people that they might not have otherwise seen. Both were researched and created in relatively short periods of time, but the illustrations and text developed alongside each other which for me gave the illusion of an orderly process.

Lost in Translation is a compendium of 52 untranslatable words from all over the world, and Speaking in Tongues is a kind of older sibling—it’s a collection of expressions, proverbs, and idioms from many different languages. The focus of both the books is the illustrations, because for me that is how people are best able to have a strong connection with a word or an idea, an emotional tug that they feel in their head and their heart. I suppose the target audience is anyone and everyone—I’ve had equally lovely emails from 8-year-old readers and 76-year-old readers.

More information on the books can be found here for Lost in Translation and here for Speaking in Tongues.

 

 

Memory Science & Magic

The MemPrize in a nutshell

A scientific discovery competition with the mission to uncover the most powerful way to learn

#writingedtechhistory

The MemPrize was inspired by the fact that oddly, there’s no scientific consensus on the most effective way to learn vocabulary. Scientists simply don’t know. So in collaboration with Professor David Shankd and Dr. Roslaind Potts at UCL, we decided to research this gap by creating a competition.

This open applied-psychology competition is the first of its kind, in which we crowdsourced months of work from the world’s top universities, namely MIT, Oxford, Imperial, Washington State, Cambridge, various European consortia, and Stanford. They took up the challenge of trying to invent the ultimate learning methodology.

The competition was announced over a year ago and has now come to a conclusion. The world’s top brain scientists have created wildly different new learning systems, which were put to the test in a global online learning experiment. The selected top 5 learning methods were assessed among real people in the real world. Participants learned 80 foreign words in an hour with a test a week later.

It is now time to evaluate whether the world’s top cognitive science departments are able to answer the question of Memrise’s capacity to produce the best and most effective learning technology in the world.

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Fun facts about the competition

1# This is the first experiment in the history of psychology that objectively compares the effectiveness of a multitude of independently conceived learning methodologies.

2# The MemPrize is one of the biggest experiments in the history of psychology with 50k participants.

3# Three of the methods led to a greater-than-doubling of memory performance compared to Flashcards, which is perceived as the standard learning technique.

What do the results mean to the world?

The results and data are now in and Memrise has already integrated numerous learnings into our methodology. Participants are under the impression that the results are likely to have a lasting impact on learning science.

The winners will be announced within the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for some exciting news about the world’s best brain scientists making learning more powerful.

We are writing education technology history!

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Find out more about the competition here!

Culture around the world

Embracing the inner Brad Pitt: Confessions of a language coach learning Italian

Inspired by the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin this year I decided to test my language learning skills. Having advised so many LinguaLift students, I thought it was time to employ my own tips.

I’ve learned languages in the past, and with so many handy tools and scientific knowledge about learning it should be a piece of cake for me to do it again, right? I was about to learn how it is to retreat to square one.

Goal—3.3% of fluency in a day

I’ve never  been interested in learning Italian. I knew some basic phrases, like buon giorno or arrivederci and seen a few operas, but have never felt a push for a linguistic adventure. This time however, I had an [extrinsic motivation]. I was going on holiday to Italy.

Having a trip sitting firmly in the calendar provided me with two important factors: time pressure and a precise goal.

It was scary to realise that is what I could achieve in 30 days was 100%, then missing a day would be lowering my potential “fluency” by about 3.3%—I definitely couldn’t afford that!

The goal was quite simple: learn the so called “tourist phrases” to cover situations I might encounter abroad. Simple, right?

Sure! But having a clear and simple goal doesn’t mean the learning process will be easy…

How my ideal plan worked

As the old English saying goes: ‘make hay while the sun shines’. I’ve booked my first trial italki class before departing from the Hauptbahnhof to the airport.

Booking a class required decisions that made me further specify my learning goal.

  • Do I need a professional teacher, or a community tutor?
  • What are the skills I can’t work on alone and what would I prefer to outsource to a teacher?
  • What other materials would I be using?
  • How often do I have time for a class?

The skill I wanted to focus on was speaking, and for the highest efficiency thought it would be best to have an hour class twice a week. For further learning materials I turned to Memrise and [their Basic Italian course]—after all what I needed mostly were useful phrases and vocabulary. I complimented this with [Mosa Lingua Italian], which in addition to customisable flashcards has handy dialogues for a variety of common tourist situations like booking a hotel room or getting a taxi.

How my ideal plan failed

In theory, everything would be going smoothly. So, let me tell you now how my plan failed.

Not knowing I had to adjust my timezone in italki I mistakenly booked my trial class for 4am. Thankfully my easygoing Italian tutor was understanding and allowed me to move the class to a different day. However, this delayed my learning by five days— a disaster for a planning freak.

I also realised that online tutors are… people too! I had to reprimand my internal 3 year old (“I want Italian and I want it now!”) and adjust to the tutor’s schedule. This meant I could only fit in five sessions before the trip.

I was so keen to learn that on the first day I probably spent 40 minutes doing flashcards on Memrise. Next day I had so much to review that even looking at that number was tiring. That’s [a prime example of binge learning]. Next time I stopped learning before I got tired— 5-10 min of flashcards a day is enough.

Embracing (my internal) Brad Pitt

Being a perfectionist I have an aversion to speaking. I would usually not open my mouth until all the case endings are in place and all the articles are mastered. It was precisely because of this mental predicament I knew I had to challenge myself and start speaking with a tutor as soon as possible.

In the past I have learned some Spanish and even though my Spanish was largely “dormant” it proved enough to understand about 60-70% of spoken Italian. It gave me a deceptive sense of confidence, because when it came to opening my own mouth … no words were coming out.

I had to get used to hearing myself butchering the language: I wrongly used “Italianised” forms of Spanish verbs, the same article for every noun, and added an “o” to English nouns. The only thing that came to my mind while doing that was the legendary scene from Inglorious Basterds where Brad Pitt “speaks Italian”.

In addition, I experienced some unexpected linguistic inferences from… Esperanto: a strong urge to use the accusative ending.

Breaking personal barriers

It’s hard to break the speech barrier. What gave me comfort was the realisation that tutors are usually used to hearing their mother tongue being slaughtered in the mouths of foreigners.

Here are a few strategies I used, which in the long run brought good results:

  • Speaking about myself and learning phrases I would be likely to use again. Thanks to this I will now forever remember full sentences like: sempre saputo che volveo lavorare con le lingue. A quite complex phrase for a beginner!
  • Composing sentences about what I or we did to practice verb forms that I would be most likely to use. Stiamo cercando per il nostro gato.
  • Speaking to my boyfriend to practice the second person: hai mai mangiato il gelato vegano?
  • Talking to myself about things what I’m doing or feeling at the moment. Molte persone mi annoiano.

This way I have amassed quite a few phrases to learn, enough to even make my own little course on Memrise. Go me!

Transforming talking into the truth

The time has come to go to Italy. You know that moment when you pass the passport control your mind goes crazy attempting to piece together the foreign reality? It’s like the opening credits from the Matrix, where random letters float around trying to form words but mostly failing to do so…

You could say my linguistic adventure was a failure. Most of my attempts at communication in Italian ended with the menace of the linguistically globalised world: Italians replying in English. Deep inside I think I expected to be “perfect” in Italian, and that didn’t happen. However, let’s see what I have achieved:

  • Confidently greeted people in shops and cafes— not a small achievement for a shy person.
  • Understood 60% of a conversation of my Italian friends.
  • Understood menus.
  • Said a whole sentence about the internet to a hotel receptionist, in order to get the wifi password.

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We found better internet than this, but it was too hilarious not to photograph.

Where did I go wrong?

A few things were lacking in my study plan. If your goal, like mine, is to learn to communicate in the language, here is some advice for the future:

  • Seek out contact with native speakers. Start the same conversations with different people—the first two times you will by shy, the third time you’ll have practiced enough to gain more confidence.
  • Don’t think too much: speak the language before doubt settles in and you switch to English. After having defined the language environment as being English speaking it’s much harder to revert to a foreign language.
  • Before going for a trip, set yourself little tasks to complete and make yourself accountable to your travel buddy. The tasks can range from simple: say hello to the waiter, to more courageous, like: come up to a street musician and say you like how they play.

What’s next?

Since returning and reflecting on my learning experience I have purposefully put Italian to the side. Once your language mission was achieved, there is no need to add working on an extra language to the long list of your daily tasks. Responsibility is knowing when to say “stop”.


Written by the lovely Guest blogger, Marta Krzeminska from LinguaLift!