Italian 101

Back to the basics

I began my Italian learning with a proficiency test online. The test was composed of questions relating to grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. For the questions relating to grammar and vocabulary, although there were some words I recognized, I really didn’t recognize the vast majority of the vocabulary. As I was taking the test, I thought to myself, “It would be so helpful if I could just recognize I few articles in these sentences!”

It took me approximately an hour answer the 50 question test, and I was exhausted by the end of it. I recognize that I am just at the beginning of my learning journey, so as my vocabulary increases, the time it takes me translate from Italian to Spanish/French will decrease. This has already proven to be an interesting experience because as I read the reading comprehension portion, I found myself recognizing familiar words in Spanish or French, but I was making sense of the text in English. My test results are below, and although I know I only wanted this as a reference point, I was still quite disappointed with my results!

Shortly after writing the test, I downloaded the Duolingo app. The following are interesting thoughts I had while I was creating my account along with accompanying snapshots.

I was surprised to see that the daily goals only went to a maximum of 20 minutes per day, and that was considered ‘insane’! I recently read a study in which Swedish military participants learned a foreign language to fluency within 10 months . The participants acquired 300-500 new words each week and they studied from 8.00 until bedtime (Mårtensson et al., 2012). After having completed my first 20 minutes of studying, I empathized with those participants. I felt like I should stop and take a break as to not forget the few words I had learned, and I realized that my learning process will likely be much slower than anticipated. I cannot imagine how intense those 10 months would have been for the participants in the study; however, the rewarding outcome was likely worth the effort.

When choosing a path, I choose ‘New to Italian?’ as I had already taken the proficiency test. Had I not began with an alternative proficiency test, I may have chosen ‘Already know some Italian?’ as my path. There are a few words that I am able to recognize, however, the proficiency test was a good reality check and served me well as a reminder that I don’t know as much as I thought I did. This proved to be a humbling experience for me as I begin this project as a beginner.

The app immediately proceeded with questions to begin introducing new vocabulary. When I saw the app match new vocabulary with pictures, I thought, “That’s cheating! These pictures make it so much easier to get the correct answer!” After realizing that images were beneficial and used sparingly, I thought back to a chapter from the textbook we are using in EC&I 858: Theories and Research in Second Language Acquisition, Bilingualism & Multilingualism. Chapter 3 focuses on vocabulary and notes: “words that are easy to imagine seem to be more readily learnable than words that are less easy to ‘see’ mentally” (Cook & Singleton, 2014, p. 44). This is a teaching method the app has already proven to follow. I began learning basic words that are easy to imagine (woman, man, boy, girl, bread, sugar, water) in addition to articles (an, a, she, he), as oppose to words that are hard to imagine (generalize, effort, pride).

My goal for next week will be to begin a list of words that I have learned. I am also considering making sketchnotes to help document my learning. Sketchnotes is something I’ve wanted to encourage and implement in my classes, so I am hoping I can become efficient in making them to then help support students summarize their own learning.

For any readers that are tech savvy in making videos: I am imagining making a summarizing video that looks something like a screen recording of me drawing my sketchnotes. Have any idea what that type of video is called? Have any favourite programs? I’m all ears!


Cook, V. & Singleton, D. (2014). Chapter 3 of Key Topics in Second Language Acquisition. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Mårtensson, J., Eriksson, J., Bodammer, N. C., Lindgren, M., Johansson, M., Nyberg, L., & Lövdén, M. (2012). Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning. Neuroimage63(1), 240-244.

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