How to study productively.

We’re all stuck in at home these days (well the majority of us). Whether you are stuck at home due to this crazy, global pandemic, or you have chosen to study at home, studying languages at home can be difficult. It is hard to find motivation. It is hard to know how to study. It is hard to find resources to study from. All of these things can stop you from being your most productive self. 

Learning a language at home and doing it completely by yourself though can give you an immense feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. ‘I did that. I learned Italian, completely by myself!’ Going through this journey alone has left me in awe most of the time. Every time I learn a new grammar tense, or realise ‘Oh wait.. I understand this’ leaves me wanting to learn more and more. I love it. There’s nothing more satisfying than reading an article in Italian and realising that suddenly you do not need to translate any of it. 

So what crazy secrets have I got to share? 

Well, none. 

Anyone can learn a language at home. There are so many resources out there these days to aid you in this challenge. 

What I can give you are some tips on how to get yourself in the right frame of mind to study languages at home.

How to focus when you have a million things going on? 

  • Plan, plan and plan. 

Planning out my studying routine helps me keep focused and motivated. I personally use two apps for this. First things first, I like to make to-do lists. I use the minimalist app that can be found on the apple store. This clean and simple design is both user friendly, and pleasant to look at. The concept is simple, you write your tasks and then swipe right on them when you complete them. I start out by listing everything I want to achieve on that day. Even things that are not study-related, such as ‘pick up prescription’. The app allows me to prioritise tasks which is great. 

Another app I use when I want even more structure in my day is a calendar app. I use Timepage for this. This one I use to block out specific times for different areas I want to study. Such as 2pm – 3pm – grammar. I don’t always use this app, but I find if I give myself too much fluidity in my schedule I end up watching youtube videos instead of focused study. 

  • Create your own sanctuary. 

A study sanctuary of course. When I was doing my undergraduate degree I used to use a laptop on my bed. This is possibly the worst idea I have ever had. A bed should be used for sleeping and private couple time only.

Having a dedicated space where you study from is absolutely vital for me. And you need to give yourself enough room to do it. I actually do not have enough room in my current set-up. I have to move my keyboard out of the way when I want to use my Ipad to study. This creates another task to do first. Clearing out space before you can study means that on days when you are less motivated, you will come up with excuses. Just like not having everything you need in reach will. So make sure you have a dedicated study place and everything you require to study set out. 

  • The Pomodoro technique. 

Have you heard of this? This is a great technique, created by someone called Francesco Cirillo in the ’80s. Basically, it involves setting out blocks of studying time, separated by short and long breaks. You set a timer (say for 25 minutes) after the timer is finished you take a short break (say 5 mins). When four sessions have passed you take a longer break (30 mins). 

I use focus keeper to aid me with this. I use the short breaks to go and grab a coffee, take a toilet break etc. Then the longer breaks I will make sure I am actively resting. This really helps me keep focused. I know I have only a short period to study so I will try to use my time more effectively. The shorter breaks mean I do not get distracted doing other activities. 

  • Cut out distractions

This is probably one of the biggest problems – distractions. Getting rid of all of the distractions helps so much. So put your phone or tablet into airplane mode. Tell your family members not to disturb you. Unplug the house phone etc. Anything you can do to get rid of them is great. If you have kids this is probably really tough. I do not have any, so I can’t really imagine the struggles. But if you can find a way to keep them distracted even just for half an hour – you can get a lot done in just 30 minutes when your really focused. You know, one of the biggest distractions for me is my cat. Shes so soft and fluffy and every time she comes in I just want to go and give her a cuddle.

Look at the little fluff ball! How can you resist that? Damn it Midnight. So if your like me, and get distracted very easily by fluffy things, then kick them out!

  • Review

Now you’ve got your space set up, you got rid of all distractions, you set your timer and you managed to achieve a focus, studying session, its time to review. Make sure you review what you have been through. I try to do this at the end of each day, and I will also recap at the start of the next day. This just renews the content in my mind and enforces it. If I didn’t review it, I would be likely to forget it. I usually will do my end of the day review tucked up in bed, and read through my notes as if I was just reading a book at the end of the day. I do nothing but read. I don’t highlight anything, I don’t make notes. And in the morning, I will quickly read over the study content from the day before, and if I am still struggling with some aspects of it, I will add it back to my to-do list for that day.

How do you guys study? Have you got any additional tips you could share? Please leave a comment if you do.

Studying online and taking digital notes.

I haven’t been posting for a while because there hasn’t been much to write about. This week I have mostly been just reviewing all of my old notes on grammar and vocabulary. I have also sat a 3 day boot camp on how to move to Italy, which was great, I found out a lot about some stuff that I probably don’t have need for – visa’s, buying property etc. But the majority of the information was pretty helpful.

I have been using my iPad recently for my note taking process. And so this week i’ve been transferring all of my notes from my notebook to my iPad. For this I have been using the goodnotes 5 app. I love this app for many reasons. I can hand write all of my notes on it. Writing things by hand rather than by typing helps me remember them more. When I type, I usually tend to not pay attention to what I am writing, and it quickly leaves my memory. This is why I have always preferred to hand write my notes in a notebook.


However, after studying an MSc in Conservation, I have been becoming increasingly aware of the footprint we are having on the planet, and have been trying to shift towards a more ‘zero waste’ lifestyle. Using the iPad helps me with this step. All my notes are stored digitally, on the cloud. I no longer need to use a load of paper. And as I am planning on using this iPad for a very long time, I feel a bit more comfortable with the unfortunate plastic waste I do create with this. A small amount of plastic waste over years compared to a huge amount of daily paper waste is.. well.. a bit better I guess.

The kit




I have been using my iPad which is a standard iPad (2019 model) 10.2 inch screen as pictured and linked to the left. Mine is only a 32gb, and is in rose gold.


I also have the 1st generation apple pencil which is absolutely essential for me to hand write my notes on the iPad. The 1st generation pencil can be used on the majority of iPads, however, the 2nd generation can only be used on two of the iPad pro’s so if you want to purchase one yourself, make sure you are buying the compatible pencil.



I also bought a case similar to this, just so that I can use my iPad like an actual laptop, and I can type up my notes with a full keyboard. I find this more comfortable than using the touch screen keyboard that is on the iPad.

As well as these on my iPad, I still use my desktop for the majority of my studying. I have managed to utilise several different programs and apps to help me with this process of learning a language by myself and from home.

The software I use?

First of all, as I have said previously, I have been a frequent user of AnkiApp. I have been using this for a bit of time now, and am very fond of it. I use this as a flashcard deck to study vocabulary mostly. You can add text, images and even audio files to it, which is great if you want to record yourself saying a word or phrase, and practise with your pronunciation. I also utilise the tags in AnkiApp, and tag different categories. Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives etc. But also can tag groups as a seperate tag such as ‘animals, family, in the city’. This way I can study cards with a certain tag, like if one day I wanted to study verbs only, then I would select the verb tag.

I also have been using the Online Italian Club extensively, and really taking advantage of their fantastic free resources. You can search for resources for your specific level and you can even download a free study planner for that level. Recently I have been going back over the A2 study materials and the planner gives you the link to the material. Below is a screenshot from one of the pages from my own A2 study planner. I managed to do quite a few lessons in a day because I am already studying at a B1 level, and was just going over these again to refresh my memory.

I have also recently started using duolingo again. This is again to refresh my memory, and my father has recently taken up learning Italian and is using duolingo himself to do this, and helping him with this has renewed my interest in duolingo.

I am still using babbel and am quite fond of this app. I have been mostly doing the reviews every day and then doing a lesson now and again. However, babbel and duolingo I use only to supplement my learning.

On my iPad, for note taking I am using goodnotes 5 as I have already stated. As well as this I am using some other apps to help schedule my time. I am using the app Timepage which is created by moleskin. This is a calendar app, and I schedule all of my learning in this app, with time slots. When I schedule in learning like this, it helps me stay committed to actually doing it. I usually schedule in general blocks like ‘Review Vocabulary’ between 9:00 and 12:00 as an example.

I also create a to-do list, which I am currently using MinimalList for. This app has a really simple and sleek design. I use it in monochrome however, you can adjust the colour. It is simple to use, you drag down to add an item, drag to the right to check it off, drag to the left to delete it. I have started writing my to-do list in Italian, just because

Another app I am currently using is Focus Keeper. This app uses the pomodoro method to keep focus. It sets timed blocks of study and rest time. I have it set for 25 mins study, 5 mins short break and 30 mins long break. Every 25 mins you get a short break, but after 4 rounds of 25 mins you get one long break. You can fully customize this to suit your own schedule, and you can change the focus time, break times and the total amount of time you want to study for.

Other apps I have are of course Books on the iPad. I only have one book on here at the moment which is a grammar book. I can highlight sections and add notes on this app. I do not really use this so much at the moment. Sometimes I will read over it and highlight important sections.

An app recommended to me by my partner is PDF Expert. He uses this a lot more than me. He has a lot of medical textbooks as PDF’s and with this app he can make notes, highlight etc. I haven’t had a chance to really use this app yet, purely because I do not have any PDF’s at the moment that I am studying from but check it out if you do study from PDF’s a lot.

Books – paperback and hard back.

I have several physical books that I use to study from. The one that I use the most frequently is probably the ASSIMIL with ease (Italian). I also refer to grammar books on occasion, and I have several workbook style books to work through for a variety of different levels.

These are the books I do have:

ASSIMIL with ease series (Italian)

Collins Complete Italian

Teach Yourself Complete Italian

SOS Italian Grammar A1-A2

Streetwise Italian Dictionary/Thesaurus

Italiano plus A1-A2

Attiva il lessico A2/B1

Teach Yourself Enjoy Italian intermediate to advanced.

Preparazione al CELI 3

And I also have a few story books:

Pasta per due

Amore in Paradiso

Italian short stories

The imperative

Using the imperative in Italian allows us to either;

Give a command or an order, scold or reprimand a person or to ask somebody to do something.

To form the imperative of regular verbs you replace the infinite endings (-are, -ere, -ire) with the endings listed below.

-ARE

Tu -a

Lui/lei/Lei – i

Noi – iamo

Voi – ate

Loro – ino

-ERE

Tu – i

Lui/lei/Lei – a

Noi – iamo

Voi – ete

Loro – ano

-IRE

Tu – i

Lui/lei/Lei – a

Noi – iamo

Voi – ite

Loro – ano

When forming irregular verbs there is no rule to follow, so these need to be simply learned off by heart. The following are examples of the formation of some irregular verbs.

ESSERE

Tu sii

Lui/lei/Lei – sia

Noi – siamo

Voi – siate

Loro – siano

AVERE

Tu – abbi

Lui/lei/Lei – abbia

Noi – abbiamo

Voi – abbiate

Loro – abbiano

DIRE

Tu – di’/dì

Lui/lei/Lei – dica

Noi – diciamo

Voi – dite

Loro – dicono

FARE

Tu – fa’/fai

Lui/lei/Lei – faccia

Noi – facciamo

Voi – fate

Loro – facciano

STARE

Tu – sta’/stai

Lui/lei/Lei – stia

Noi – stiamo

Voi – state

Loro – stiano

SAPERE

Tu – sappi

Lui/lei/Lei – sappia

Noi – sappiamo

Voi – sappiate

Loro – sappiano

ANDARE

Tu – va’/vai

Lui/lei/Lei – vada

Noi – andiamo

Voi – andate

Loro – vadano

DARE

Tu – da’/dai

Lui/lei/Lei – dia

Noi – diamo

Voi – date

Loro – diano

And finally if you want to use the imperative with tonic/atonic personal pronouns then they must be combined with the imperative. An example of this would be mangia la frutta -> mangiala (eat it).

I verbi servili

The four modal verbs or verbi servili – Potere, volere, dovere and sapere (when it expresses an ability), are some of the most commonly used verbs in Italian, and are also all irregular verbs so it is important to learn them. Modal verbs are used to indicate an ability, obligation, a desire or a permission to do something and are usually followed by a verb in the infinitive tense.

Non posso andare al cinema – I can not go to the cinema.

Oggi devo studiare l’italiano – I have to study Italian today.

Voglio leggere questo libro – I want to read this book.

So nuotare ma non posso nuotare oggi – I can swim (I know how to swim) but I can’t swim today.

Conjugating modal verbs (Present tense)

POTERE

io posso

tu puoi

lui/lei/Lei può

noi possiamo

voi potete

loro possono

DOVERE

io devo

tu devi

lui/lei/Lei deve

noi dobbiamo

voi dovete

loro devono

VOLERE

io voglio

tu vuoi

lui/lei/Lei vuole

noi vogliamo

voi volete

loro vogliono

SAPERE

io so

tu sai

lui/lei/Lei sa

noi sappiamo

voi sapete

loro sanno

Modal verbs and compound tenses

Compound tenses are tenses such as passato prossimo and trapassato prossimo. When using modal verbs with these tenses you need to understand what auxiliary to use with them. Usually this would follow the same rule as you would follow if using the verb in the infinitive form (avere or essere).

Example using passato prossimo:

Ho potuto parlare francese con lui – I was able to speak French with him.

Sono potuto andare al cinema – I was able to go to the cinema.

Ho voluto prendere il treno per Milano – I had to take the train to Milan.

Non ha saputo nuotare – I didn’t know how to swim.

Sono dovuta andare al supermercato – I had to go to the supermarket.

Ha dovuto salvare il gatto – He had to save the cat.

I verbi riflessivi

I have decided to try something new. I figured every new concept I learn in Italian I will post it here. This will help to both renew my learning, and hopefully it may help you a bit too. I am only learning Italian, so please do your own reading around the subject as well. And if I have made some mistakes please feel free to correct me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reflexive verbs? Easy, peasy… Or not?

I struggled with reflexive verbs a little bit, until I actually actively went and learned the rules about them. Then I realised, ‘Oh this is actually really simple’. I was sat there with my grammar book, my ipad, my notebook and was expecting to be studying i verbi riflessivi all the day. I opened up google, typed in reflexive verbs in Italian, read a couple of web pages. Opened my grammar book and headed to the reflexive verb section. And within 10 – 15 minutes I was texting my partner, explaining it to him and he said ‘Yes, that is correct’.

What is a reflexive verb?

Reflexive verbs in Italian are verbs that are followed by si in their infinitive forms. The meaning of the word si is basically ‘oneself’. The subject and the direct object are the same, so, the action carried out is something that is being done to ‘oneself’.

Examples of reflexive verbs:

  • Svegliarsi – to wake up
  • Lavarsi – to wash
  • Addormentarsi – to fall asleep
  • Farsi il bagno – to take a bath
  • Divertirsi – to enjoy (oneself)
  • Chiamarsi – to call (oneself)
  • Pettinarsi – to comb (oneself)
  • Sedersi – to sit down
  • Sentirsi – to feel
  • Alzarsi – to get up
  • Spogliarsi – to undress
  • Innamorarsi – to fall in love

Reflexive verbs are often proceeded by a reflexive noun when conjugated.

This is an example with the reflexive Lavarsi in the present tense.

Personal Pronoun

Io

Tu

Lui/lei/Lei

Noi

Voi

Loro

Reflexive Pronoun

mi

ti

si

ci

vi

si

Verb

lavo

lavi

lava

laviamo

lavate

lavano

So how do we use these in sentences?

In the present tense, most reflexive verbs follow the exact same conjugation patterns as their -are, -ire, and -ere forms do. The only difference is the addition of the reflexive pronoun.

Examples:

  • Mi lavo
  • Ti vesti
  • Si sveglia
  • Ci mangiamo
  • I cani si divertono.

The placement of the reflexive pronoun is dependent on a couple of different things. Most of the time, as stated, it will go in front of the verb, as in the example above. However, in some cases it can attach to the end of the verb. This is the case with using the infinitive or an imperative. So if your telling someone to wake up you could say svegliati! Or if you are telling someone not to worry you could say non preoccuparti. Another case when you can use the reflexive pronoun after the verb is when the verb follows another verb such as volere, dovere or potere. For example: Devi alzarti (You must get up).

Using reflexive verbs in the past tense is also fairly simple. Reflexive verbs are conjugated with the auxiliary essere and this auxiliary goes after the reflexive pronoun. As well as this, these past participles have to agree with both the gender and number of the subject.

We will use some examples in the passato prossimo:

Mi sono alzato/a

Ti sei messo/a

Si è fermato/a

Ci siamo incontrati/e

Vi siete divertiti/e

Si sono sentiti/e

These conjugation rules work with all compound tenses, this means that they will work with trapassato prossimo, futuro anteriore and condizionale passato as well.

For other tenses that are not compound tenses (such as imperfetto, futuro semplice and condizionale presente) you just add the reflexive pronoun before the verb and conjugate as you would do normally.

An example of this in the futuro semplice using the verb vestirsi.

Mi vestirò

Ti vestirai

Si vestirà

Ci vestiremo

Vi vestirete

Si vestiranno