Learning Italian for 100 Days

Today I hit somewhat of a milestone in my attempt to learn a second language, as I hit a one hundred day streak on everyone’s favourite language app, Duolingo.

We could wax lyrical on whether this constitutes a milestone - time spent on a language doesn’t equal fluency in a language and a hundred days worth of learning will yield different results from person to person anyway. Success shouldn’t be measured by time spent learning a language (least of all on an app) over actual proficiency, but still, I’m pretty happy to have hit one hundred days.

Really I’ve been learning it for a little over one hundred days as I started using the app towards the beginning of the year but broke my ‘streak’ (consecutive number of days spent learning) in the first month, which was surprisingly frustrating at the time. Since that broken streak I have diligently logged into Duolingo every day to complete at least one lesson and I have to say, that level of consistency feels pretty satisfying.

There is gratification in knowing that I have not given up. While I can’t boast about my Italian skills just yet - the extent currently being ‘la ragazza ha un delfino‘ (‘the girl has a dolphin’ - a crucial phrase for all conversations) - I can feel that I am making some headway. It is fair to say my vocabulary has grown, I feel more comfortable now with basic sentence structure and most importantly, I remember what I am learning. Which is, you know, kind of crucial for learning a language, no?

Most importantly, I am still very much interested in learning Italian - even though there have been times when it would have been very easy and far more enjoyable to give up. I go through each module the maximum amount of times before I move on to the next one, which can get mind-numbingly repetitive when you are typing, speaking and listening to the same five phrases for fifty lessons - but that reiteration has now seared such phrases into my brain (how could I ever forget ‘i gatti bevono latte‘?). And it means that when, weeks after having started the module, I finally finish and move onto the next one, it is so exciting to learn something new.

In reality, one hundred days is nothing. I will not be having a decent conversation in Italian anytime soon, and I know that eventually I’ll have to diversify my learning (there is only so much one app can do) but for now, I feel pretty proud of this very small accomplishment.

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A Ramble After a Run

If you had asked me a couple of years ago to go running, outside, in cold, wet, windy weather, my answer would have been a resounding no. And yet, here I am, just returned from a run along the front, from running in the damp and the mist and the cold. And I loved it. Last week I even went running just as Storm Gareth was hitting our shores, barely able to catch my breath and freezing my ears off. I was even on the precipice of a cold and I still went out, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t do me any good, because I needed to get out and run. One foot in front of the other. Over, and over.

I shouldn’t have gone really, subsequently, the cold hit me with its full force and I am still recovering now, a week later. I shouldn’t have gone out today, as it still hasn’t fully subsided, and physically I do feel worse than before. I took it easy though – my friend and I are doing what is essentially the ‘Couch to 5k’, although we not consciously, we only found out about it after we had already started running together. We run for a minute and then walk for a minute, only last week and today we walked a little more often and ran a little less so that I didn’t run out of breath entirely.

And I know none of the above sounds very fun. When I went out I felt pretty bad, and I returned feeling worse. So what was the point? Why put myself through that, especially when we weren’t even improving on previous runs in terms of length of time running, the ground covered or speed? Especially when I knew I would be nagged by both my mum and step-mum for going while unwell? It’s because, quite simply, running is no longer just about my physical health.

Being outside, by the sea, wind in my hair and even with the rain in my face, feels so incredibly refreshing and calming. If I don’t go out for a couple of weeks then I can feel that my mood is affected. Obviously exercising releases endorphins – it is supposed to make you feel good – but just being in the elements, even just for half an hour, focusing on your feet, is so soothing. It is as if I can breathe in the icy sea air and feel it cleanse my insides. It almost feels spiritual.

Apart from, you know, all the sweating and heavy breathing.

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Accidentally Making (and Keeping) Resolutions

When we ring in the new year, I, like a lot of people I know, never consciously make any resolutions. It’s for the same reason I always take issue with the idea of dieting, the pressure you can put on yourself to rigidly stick to it seems unreasonable and immediately sets you up for failure. The moment you utter ‘I’m going to eat clean and green this year‘ you will always be flooded with guilt the moment you succumb to chocolate or fast food. We are fallible beings, prone to slip-ups and mishaps and ‘cheat days’, and we shouldn’t feel like failures for those things, but we always do. So I’ve never put the pressure of a resolution on myself, always thinking ‘it would be nice to…’ but without ever actually committing to whatever that might be. Until now. Sort of.

As the months have progressed I began to realise I had made a start on some of the more common resolutions, despite never intending to make them. For starters, I began exercising regularly. I know that isn’t a revolutionary idea to most people, but exercise has never come naturally to me. I went running with a friend every now and again last year, but we went pretty sporadically and so struggled to improve on our distance and time as we essentially had to start over each time we went. But we decided to give it another go this year, and with the days finally starting to get longer again we can go out in the evenings rather than trying to fit a run in during the day. It was surprisingly easy to get back in to, we still are nowhere near 5k ready, but we have our own goals set and any ground gained feels like an achievement each time we go out. We run by the beach and even though it can be bitterly cold, it is so calming and refreshing to be running there in the evenings that it definitely feels good for my mental health as well.

I also finally made use of the Duolingo app that I have had sitting unused on my phone for well over a year now. After many an Italian getaway over the last few years I started to feel confident with the basics (and I mean basics) and so decided to give learning it a go. So far I have been completing a lesson each day, well almost, every day – I’ve missed two days in total, and lost my ‘streak’ of 23 days back in February, which I was far more annoyed and disappointed by than I expected to be – though I have gained it back now. I can certainly say more than before, which still isn’t much and I know that to even be conversational it will take a lot of time and effort, but I am surprised by how much I have picked up and retained just by spending five minutes on it each day. While some of the modules are so painfully repetitive, I like that I have multiple learning modules available, so I can switch it up whenever I get fed up of typing and repeating ‘ciao‘ five times in a row. And, the repetition helps, mistakes I was making frequently when I started are becoming few and far between, which makes me feel like I’m gaining some ground. I’m enjoying learning it, and can’t see myself giving up on it as I have at so many other attempts to learn another language.

Io leggo un libro (to tenuously link this paragraph to the previous one). Well, actually Io leggo more than un libro, but I haven’t got to numbers yet in my app or even just the Italian for ‘many’ or ‘some’, and I just wanted to show off my new-found language skills! All of that is to say that I have read a fair amount already this year. I’m a reader anyway, but last year I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to. It was actually a pretty pitiful reading year for me, and I knew I wanted to correct that this year. I suppose this is the only purposeful resolution I made at the beginning of the year. I’ve tried to set time aside, so far I haven’t quite managed to make sure I read every evening, which is the ideal. But I have so far read five novels, a poetry collection and some other smaller reads on my shelf, and while most of them were not stand-out reads for me, one of them has become a new favourite and I’m glad to be getting back into the habit of reading.

I’ve also applied for a Library card, which I haven’t had since I was a teenager and needed books for A-Level History (which I never properly read, resulting in disastrous essay writing attempts). I’ve decided that I want to avoid buying physical books for the first half of the year, and a library card seems like a great way to cheat my own self imposed ban. I also like that it gives me access to select audio and ebooks, something I will definitely be taking advantage of. Until recently I also never really thought too much about what a great resource a local library is, and so I want to support mine.

There are so many other inadvertent resolutions that I have started this year and been keeping too, but this is long enough as it is. So the final one I’ll mention will be quick, this blog. Ok, so I’ve only just started it, but per my first post, I’ve put off utilising this platform for so damn long, the fact that there is now an actual layout I don’t completely hate and actual posts that I am actively trying to create, feels like a pretty big deal for me. I also really wanted to write more this year and a blog seems like a great way to flex that figurative muscle. So I guess this is perhaps a more concrete resolution, two and a half months into the year, to continue to flex that muscle.

Io scrivo, tu leggi? (I’m working on it)

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The Difficult First Post

Starting a blog is hard. A lot harder than I ever expected. I’ve had this website since 2015 – a fact I only just realised. For four years I have left this space empty, saying I would fill it up with words at some point. I guess now is that point, but that isn’t the point of this opening, which is to say, I’ve ignored this for too long.

The main problem I’ve had is just that actually creating a blog layout feels so incredibly confusing. My Dad actually set this up for me all the way back in 2015, which I am grateful for (though clearly not grateful enough to actually use it – see point one) but he set it up on possibly the most confusing hosting platform known to man – wordpress. Despite multiple talk throughs where I have understood the gist and thoroughly grasped the basics (bold, italics, link etc.), I still have no idea what I’m doing.
Don’t try to code’ he says.
I wouldn’t, the last time I used HTML was when MySpace was still bigger than Facebook.
Use the Divi Builder’ he sighs for the umpteenth time.
What’s a Divi Builder?’ I ask.
He shows me and it looks more confusing than actual code.
Isn’t it simple?’ he asks hoping I’ll finally leave him alone and get on with it.
I’ll play around,’ I say, ‘and come back to you if I can’t figure it out.
I can’t figure it out. I always come back to him.
Rinse and repeat.

After deciding enough was enough, I needed to get over my Divi Builder-blog-block and just get on with it, I logged in, determined to figure it out, only to find that Divi Builder is no longer compatible with my browser. Great.

A good few hours later and here we are, Divi Builder has been banished and a new theme installed (sorry Dad). It is still incomplete, a work in progress if you will (I don’t even have pages! I still don’t know what I’m doing!) but who really cares anyway? No more stalling, four years late and finally, the space filled with words, the dreaded first post over and done with. Success? Eh, we’ll see.

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