|Article Title: La Memoria Prodigiosa|
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Book about rapid learning methods translated from Italian to English
He who believes knowledge to be difficult
fails to appreciate how demanding ignorance is
I think one of the most worthy, but potentially most difficult challenges we can set ourselves is that of mastering a foreign language. But in a world that is constantly shrinking the ability to converse across the globe has become all the more important. Of course, learning a language can be a long and laborious journey. Just think about the complexity of unravelling new grammar structures, crunching vast amounts of vocabulary, let alone the time it takes to put it all together, more or less correctly and with half-decent pronunciation. Probably the process becomes so long we forget half of what we’ve learnt along the way. But it doesn’t have to be like this. As with anything else we meet in life, it’s all a question of method and motivation.
A couple of my most ambitious students agreed to an intriguing challenge; to learn both English and Spanish in the space of two months. The results were astonishing. By the end of experiment they were quite happily fluent in both English and Spanish. Thanks to the method that follows they mastered two languages simultaneously and were able to memorise up to 200 words a day. When you consider that the average person uses between 900 and 1,200 words you can appreciate the power of this method.
First of all, let’s look at the basic steps which will give you the quickest and most effective results.
What you’re reading now is a break from the norm. Some people may feel uneasy with the method as it’s particularly direct and cuts all the corners. But I strongly believe that dissecting grammar and reading and repeating the conjugation of verbs and vocabulary isn’t the best way to get results: it's much more beneficial to ‘absorb’ the language, converse at every opportunity, make the most of what we do know and push to be understood right from the start.
But to do this, we first have to lay down our fears of failure and take some risks. Throw yourself into the language! Think how children get on when they’re on holiday abroad; in the space of a week they’re laughing and chatting with their new friends, whereas their parents are still digging out that dog-eared dictionary just to acquire a loaf of bread and a litre of milk. Here you’ll find a less academic approach to learning a language but one that’s, without doubt, extremely effective.
Here are the first pointers to “getting inside” the language. Afterwards, we’ll move on to the technique of memorising words.
1. Grab a dictionary and get to grips with the phonetic rules and basic sounds of the language. But don’t get bogged down with the spelling. You’ll find it much more useful if you know how to pronounce a word rather than spell it. Imagine, for example, meeting a German and, in your best British accent saying, “Entschuldigen Sie, wie komme ich zum Supermarkt in Marienplatz?“ Of course, he’s not going to understand what on earth you’re on about. If you insist on pronouncing a foreign language according to your mother tongue rules, you’ll just speak nonsense. Furthermore, once you’ve taken the time to digest the phonetic rules and pronunciation you will be able to guess a large part of the spelling anyway. Of course, there will be some words which are written in a completely different way to their pronunciation: in this case it’ll occasionally be handy to memorise some spelling too.
2. Listen to some of your favourite music in the language you want to learn and read the lyrics while enjoying the songs. This activity will optimise your learning capacity by drawing on your pleasure in the music, and your curiosity to discover what the composer is saying.
3. Read about your interests and hobbies in magazines written in your target language.
Without realising it, you’re unravelling all those verbs and grammatical structures and picking up plenty of everyday, up-to-date vocabulary in the process. At the beginning you may well think you don’t understand anything, but remember, during this phase, your sole objective is to start “getting inside” the language.
4. Park yourself in front of the box and stick in your favourite movie, but this time change it to your target language. As you already know the plot you already know the line of conversation and you’ll be able to give the subtitles your full attention.
5. Whenever the opportunity presents itself go and meet mother-tongue speakers of your target language. Conversing with the ‘real thing’ is really the best way to learn. Don’t be shy. They’ll no doubt laugh at your blunders and so should you! Recognising your mistakes means you’re moving in the right direction and improving. If you take yourself too seriously you won’t be able to listen to the other person properly and by the time you’ve constructed your perfect phrase your foreign friend will be back in their own country. When you throw yourself into a language you make more mistakes but much more progress and the final product is greater satisfaction.
6. Look up and study the following 100 words in your target language. Why, these particular words? They make up 50% of the words used in normal, everyday conversation.