One month check-in: Moving from novice to intermediate

I started this project a little over a month ago (February 4th).  It’s now March 9th (33 days in, to be exact), and I’d like to take stock of what I can do at this point.

  • I am familiar with around 2000 words.  I “know” (i.e., I don’t have to think to hard to use them in a very simple sentence) over 1000 of them with confidence and I’m reviewing the next 1000.
  • I can pretty confidently conjugate regular verbs in all 4 conjugations (-ARE, -ERE, -IRE, -IRE->ISC) in the simple present tense.
  • I can recognize regular verbs when I read in all 4 conjugations in the Imperfetto, Passato Remoto, Futuro Semplice, and Condizionale Presente.
  • I can read a passage from In Other Words that I listened to a week ago and so vaguely remember what the general topic is and am used to the author’s style in not-complex Italian at about 130 words per minute, which is fairly typical of a low-intermediate foreign language reader.
  • I can listen to a passage from In Other Words for the first time and not struggle to understand the main ideas and most of the details.  I can listen to an unfamiliar audiobook sample on Audible and, if the reader speaks slowly and clearly and if the writer isn’t Italo Calvino, I can understand the main idea and a few random details.
  • I don’t really know what I can do in speaking and writing because I don’t speak or write very much.  Topics in my Quizlet sets include: alphabet, numbers, occupations, colors & sizes, countries & nationalities, clothing, greetings & introducing people, food, household objects, places around town, family, random adjectives & adverbs, and relationships.

I made really good progress for the first 3 weeks or so, and then life butted in and I needed to take a pause from studying for the past week to A) go on a nice little trip to the Coast and have no screen time and B) put some serious effort into a work project that I’d been ignoring for a while because I’d rather spend time studying Italian.

So, most of the progress that I’ve made was in the first 3 weeks of frenzied activity, and now it’s time to think about next steps.

It’s really, really easy to get past a total novice stage by yourself in a language as widely taught as Italian.  All I need is a good internet connection and some time & patience, and I can give myself a fairly good basis.  (If I wanted to learn Malagasy, on the other hand, it would be a different story.)  So, if we resort to the ACTFL scale, novice low –> novice high = acquisition of lots of vocabulary & repetition of set phrases.  Although I can’t diagnose my language level with precision, I’d bet I’m probably around novice-high by now.

However, what to do to bump up to an intermediate level?

As a reminder, here’s what an ACTFL intermediate-low speaker can do:

Speakers at the Intermediate Low sublevel are able to handle successfully a limited number of uncomplicated communicative tasks by creating with the language in straightforward social situations. Conversation is restricted to some of the concrete exchanges and predictable topics necessary for survival in the target-language culture. These topics relate to basic personal information; for example, self and family, some daily activities and personal preferences, and some immediate needs, such as ordering food and making simple purchases. At the Intermediate Low sublevel, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. Intermediate Low speakers manage to sustain the functions of the Intermediate level, although just barely.

Intermediate Low speakers express personal meaning by combining and recombining what they know and what they hear from their interlocutors into short statements and discrete sentences. Their responses are often filled with hesitancy and inaccuracies as they search for appropriate linguistic forms and vocabulary while attempting to give form to the message.  Their speech is characterized by frequent pauses, ineffective reformulations and self-corrections. Their pronunciation, vocabulary, and syntax are strongly influenced by their first language. In spite of frequent misunderstandings that may require repetition or rephrasing, Intermediate Low speakers can generally be understood by sympathetic interlocutors, particularly by those accustomed to dealing with non-natives.

Here’s a fabulous list from CalicoSpanish on what language teachers can do to help their kids move from novice to intermediate in a language classroom.  The two things from their list that I can do immediately to help myself move up are “1. Challenge them out of their comfort zones.” and “9. Start Reading, Right Now.”  Reading is easy at the moment.  I am about three-quarters of the way through In Other Words and I definitely notice an improvement in my reading speed and comprehension each time I pick up the book.  Getting out of my comfort zone is hard.  (By definition, I guess.)  I really should start a Youtube channel or try to join an Italian conversation group.  But the thought of it makes me cringe.  Maybe in a few weeks…?

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