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(Thank you for all the feedback on this opinion. I am here if anyone needs help learning any of the major European languages,or finding a good course.I'm going to write about a really good Greek course when I get it categorised, which may be useful for summer holidays).
(Title to be sung to La Donna Ť Mobile).
Many people would like to learn a foreign language but are put off by various factors : that it may be too difficult, too expensive, take too long, be boring. If only there were a course which was interesting and easy to follow, which taught you things you really need to know, useful practical material for the holidaymaker and traveller. If only the course were presented in an attractive way so that you looked forward to your learning sessions. The truth is that every course on the market will have its drawbacks. The near perfect course does not exist, does it? Yes, it does. I know that this is a big claim to make, and perhaps linguists on this site are raising eyebrows, but the BBCís Italianissimo is as near perfect as you can get. Long though Iíve thought about this, I really cannot fault it in any way.
When you begin, you choose the level to which you wish to learn, and the layout makes it easy to do this. You donít have to plough through the entire contents if you donít wish to. If itís holiday conversation you need, ordering meals, finding a hotel room, buying tickets, that sort of thing, you just work through the basic chapters and play the interactive tapes. You will be astonished at how much you learn. You may want to get to grips with the grammar, and know how the language works, to widen your vocabulary, to test yourself with exercises. You can easily do that by studying the full range of material, and by the end of the book youíll be well up to GCSE standard.
The textbook is a joy. In the first place it feels good to handle, which I think can make or break your attitude to a book you use often. Though itís a softback, it has a sturdy cover. The pages are high quality, substantial paper, smooth, nice to touch. The layout is the best Iíve ever seen in any language book, or indeed in any textbook, full of colour, with good illustrations and very fine photographs of Italy. Itís a pleasure just to sit and look through it. There are ten units altogether. I think anyone with a reasonable knowledge of French and/or Spanish would have no problem covering a unit every two weeks; so say twenty weeks to be fairly fluent. People who find languages difficult could take a month on each unit, and still be speaking good Italian in less than a year. This assumes a study period every day of about fifteen totwenty minutes with the book, and as long as possible listening to the tapes. There is excellent continuity. In chapter one you meet Anna Mazzotti, who is your guide. She takes you to cafťs, to vineyards, flower growing regions, the seaside, many towns and regions, introducing you to real people who live and work in these places. Itís so beautifully done that you hardly realise that you are learning. Itís more like a travel program.
Iíll give you an idea now of what to expect in a unit. Letís have a look at unit two.
The basics of pronunciation, greetings, some numbers and simple ordering of drinks and cakes have been covered in unit one. Weíve met Anna, and we know weíre off on a tour of Italy. We are now in the countryside in the Colli Albani, hills not far from Rome, at the vineyard of a real person, Valentino Muratori, where he, his family and friends are harvesting the grapes. The first page of each unit is general background about life in Italy, in this case family life and law. People then introduce themselves, and we learn, "Iím called," and, "What are you called?" "Where isÖ? "Where areÖ?" Then there is vocabulary for members of the family, and a fun family tree to help you practise the different relationships. After the dayís work is done, they all sit down to eat, drink and chat. There are useful phrases such as, "What are you eating and drinking?" "Whatís that called?" We go into the Muratori house, see the different rooms, say where people are in the house.
This, with a lot of useful vocabulary, is the basic stuff, and you can get by very well just on that. Printed on light brown pages, so that they stand out, are grammar notes for those who want to work in more depth. This unit covers : Present tense of regular -are verbs, including regular reflexive verbs. Personal pronouns. Some possessive adjectives. », sono ; cíŤ, ci sono. Various useful adverbs. Constructions with Ďancheí (also, too, as in ĎI like chocolate cake, tooí. ĎIíve also been to Romeí.). A list of extra vocabulary to do with meals, the family and clothing. Varied exercises to test your progress. Oral work with the tapes.
Whether you opt for the fast track or the more detailed approach, you will enjoy the photographs of the real people and places, the colourful illustrations, the presentation of all new material in small chunks, so that it is easily understood and learned. Real grammar freaks (Iím one, and I know of at least three others on this site) can go to the very detailed reference section. Italian grammar is not difficult at all and neither is the basic pronunciation once youíve mastered the difference between c, cc, ce, che, sc, sch sounds. What is more tricky is getting the rhythm and flow of the language, but since youíll hear only Italians speaking throughout the course it can be done if you practise. You will learn the simple present tense, present continuous, past perfect, past imperfect, simple future. Other, compound tenses and the subjunctive mood are fairly easy to avoid, though if you wish to continue, Italianissimo Book 2 is much more academic, good but less fun, and will take you up to A level. I found it very useful for more in-depth conversations, and greater subtlety in both usage and understanding, but I maintain that Book 1 is quite sufficient for an excellent grasp of the language.
There are mini-exercises in the main text, which everyone should do. They are fun. Itís not like school! There is serious testing in another section for students studying in detail. There are two good reference sections. One gives full explanations of grammar, with tables of irregular verbs. The other contains the days of the week, months, nationalities, and other information of a general kind.
All the work is sweetened by the wonderful photographs, the activities, the useful information about the country. By the time you get to the end, at basic level, youíll be able to eat out, shop, travel, talk about yourself and others, buy tickets at parks and museums, go on trips, express feelings and opinions : in other words, get a lot out of a holiday in this wonderful country. If you cover the whole course in detail thereís little you wonít be able to say. Not for the first time I wish we could include illustrations in our opinions. Iíd love to show you some of the pages of this terrific book. The tapes are excellent, light hearted, well paced, reinforcing the text. The videos are fun, and visually exciting, but not essential. I donít think they are still available to buy new, as I canít find them anywhere.
Ordering from the BBC: Book and 4 audiotapes £39.99 Book alone £12.99 2 cassettes £12.99 Prices are cheaper on Amazon, but too complicated to list here. You could order from WHSmith, and get the loyalty points on your card. I have seen the book in charity shops. Oxfam seems to have the most language courses.
Iíll be happy to advise on any aspect of this course, or on language learning in general. Just leave a message in my GB. For beginners, a good way to learn is this : 1. Try to do a little every day, if itís only five minutes. You will learn and retain much more than if you do one mammoth session a week. 2. Play the tapes whenever you can, except when youíre doing something which would make it dangerous. Even if youíre not consciously listening, lots will go in. 3. Once a week, look back through what youíve learned. Those who already speak another language : just get stuck in! My first holiday in Italy, when Iíd done the course, was a delight. I went to Liguria, just east of the French Riviera, and saw some of the places featured in the book, and then on to Portofino, a wonderfully swanky spot which Anna had taken me to in the course. All the Italians I met were delightful, and pleased I was able to talk to them. "Complimenti!" is great praise, and such a reward for the work youíve done.
Advice to all : This course is superb. The BBC also produces a truly appalling one, Greek Language and People. Give it a very wide berth, as it could put you off another beautiful language for ever. Si,Italianissimo mi piace molto. Buona fortuna !
If I go to Spain, I manage a hello and thank you in Spanish. To be honest I'm quite shy at languages, I feel a right berk with my Lancashire accent.
Gill_J 30.04.2003 15:11
Well deserving the diamond that it earned, great op.
steveuk 24.04.2003 16:42
Well, I was going to say that "All BBC language courses are great" but reading the final paragraph of your op re:Greek book, I'll just say that "Most BBC languages courses are great". I'm currently learning German and use the Deutsch Plus book and CDs and they make learning the language a lot of fun (well, as much fun as learning German can be :-) ). Excellent op, let me know if you need any help with your Greek :-)