I was in Walmart the other day, listening on my headphones to Harry Potter, in Italian. A somewhat surreal experience, I’ll grant you that, but nonetheless, thoroughly rewarding. Now, why on earth is a grown man listening Harry Potter, in Italian no less? Well, because I’m learning Italian, and audio-books are a great way to learn a language. But first, let me tell you why I’m learning Italian and then I’ll explain a bit more about my process.
Every year, as you probably know, I organize trips to Europe. I’ve organized trips to Ireland, France, and Scotland. And, even if I do say so myself, they are a huge success. Nothing worse than false modesty, so let me just say that this year, on the trip to Scotland, I had about a dozen people who were on their third trip with me, and about another dozen who were on their second trip with me. Which is very gratifying, since I’ve only been doing this since 2011. Even I’m impressed with me, though of course, being Irish, that feeling is only fleeting. As W.B Yeats, the Irish poet put it, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy”. Thankfully, the temporary periods of joy seem to coincide with the times I spend leading groups around Europe, otherwise we’d all be in trouble.
Next year, we’re off to Italy. Oh, I can smell that Mediterranean cuisine already. The vineyards of Tuscany await. As does Florence, with its art and architecture, Milan for the fashionistas, the canals of Venice for all you romance lovers, the Amphitheater of Rome, for anyone who’s complaining on the tour.
Now, in order for me to guide you around Italy, I will need to be able to speak Italian – and that’s where Harry Potter comes in. Back when I taught 3rd grade, I used to get such a great kick out of reading Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone to the kids, why, I’d read it every year to them. So, as you can imagine, I know the book very well. Because the audio book is available in Italian, this means I can use it as a resource to help me learn. And it’s proving to be invaluable.
Trust me, if you want to learn a foreign language, do not under any circumstances buy one of those commercially available courses that promise you fluency in months. I speak both French and the Irish language fluently and if there’s one thing those commercial organizations don’t want you to know about learning a language it’s this: it takes a long time. Not only that, it takes serious determination and devotion. It’s not easy at all. And anyone who tells you that learning a language is quick and easy, is clearly trying to sell you something. They are selling you a “dream” and most people are so infatuated with that dream, they buy the “short-cut” to the dream – when it doesn’t exist.
If you’re really serious about wanting to learn a language, find a popular book that you like. Read it at least twice, but before you do, make sure the audio book is available in Spanish, or French, or whatever language you choose. Then, listen to each chapter over, and over, and over, and over again and again and again – which will probably take you months. It’s very cheap, and much more effective in terms of how much you learn.
Brian O’Nuainain is a native Irishman who currently lives in Bossier City. He is also owner and operator of Across the Pond and Beyond, a company that organizes international vacations. You can reach him at acrossthepondandbeyond.com.