Sunday, 19 April 2015

Molto Bene

May is approaching and with it, improved weather and the holiday season, the time of the year when the days are longer and brighter and I get to enjoy the prospect of a trip or two abroad that isn’t work related.

The first of those trips is a long weekend to Bologna in Italy. Mrs PM and I plus five friends are popping across to the home of spaghetti bolognese and I can’t wait.

You may also know that this year I have decided to attempt to improve myself by adopting several 30 day challenges throughout the year. My reasons for doing this are as follows.

First, I have been tired of the same old tired New Year’s Resolution because I fail miserably. By forcing myself to concentrate on something for 30 days.

Second, other bloggers have attempted something similar and it yields results.

Finally, I am aware that this challenge is probably a bit of a midlife crisis. When I analyse my reasons for wanting to do it, I simply want to add a few more strings to my bow. Regular readers will know that I really want to do something other than my chosen career and by trying a few other things I get a sense of relief and a little bit of hope that something will appeal to me so much that I take a chance and go for it.

Anyway, enough of that crap; it’s early days yet.

My current 30 day challenge is to learn basic Italian in time for our trip to Bologna. And I am thoroughly enjoying it. One of the things I’ve always regretted is my limited knowledge of languages and the struggle I have when immersed in a culture that speaks little or no English, and I can’t even begin to make myself understood.

I’m really lucky that I speak English, American, Canadian and Australian fluently. My French is good enough to make myself understood, my Spanish is improving rapidly and my German needs some work.

Before April 1st this year, my Italian was limited to molto bene, scusi and ciao

But now I can say a lot more and I understand the basics. And all this from between 20 minutes and an hour a day learning from the internet using two tools that are absolutely free to use.

The first is Duolingo that offers lessons in the form of challenges, a bit like a game. Gradually you learn phrases, sentence structure and vocabulary, writing out translations in English and Italian and also practicing listening and speaking.

The second is Memrise that helps improve vocabulary with flashcards and repetitive tests with picture and prompts to help to jog your memory if you forget.

I have been using these tools to great effect to strengthen my Spanish skills and I am now able to have a very good level of understanding of online Spanish magazines as a result. I’m not fluent by any stretch of the imagination but I can get the gist of what I am reading.

I have 12 more days of Italian and then a real test when I actually go there and try to speak with the locals. Wish me luck; I think I’ll need it.

I have so far completed five of these 30 day challenges.

(1) Walk at least two miles every day – This was easy, In January I made a real effort to force myself outside every single day no matter how cold and miserable it was. As a result, I achieved a little more fitness than I would normally have done and since then I have continued to walk on average two miles a day on most days since then.

(2) Improve Spanish – I concentrated on my Spanish using Duolingo and Memrise for the whole of January as well as attempting to read Spanish web sites and watch Spanish videos. This was tough and still is but I have improved my vocabulary and reading skills.

(3) Photography – I spent February trying to improve my photography skills, reading books and trying to get to grips with Mrs PM’s digital SLR. I had an ally with this because Mrs PM is a great photographer and explained a lot of techniques she had learned on a course she attended a few years ago. I am attempting another photography challenge in May because of holidays. This time the emphasis will be to actually take Mrs PM’s camera and try to take as many cool shots as possible.

(4) Creative Writing – A few years ago, I bought two creative writing books and I have never read them. They have simply gathered dust on my bookshelf. In March I decided to blow off the dust and read them from cover to cover. Also, in March I write down lots of notes for writing ideas including a novel. I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge and it has sown the seed of a massive challenge later this year.

(5) Life Coach – When I found the creative writing book, I also spotted a book about being your own life coach. Both Mrs PM and I have no idea where it came from (she thinks I bought it and I think she bought it – perhaps it’s a survivor of my time with my ex-wife – I can’t remember). Anyway, I decided to read this too because, the author claimed, the book can change your life and make you grab your desires by the scruff of the neck and totally change its direction for the better. The truth is, that while I found it vaguely interesting, the book was full of Mr Motivator ideas like “JUST DO IT!!!” and while I could relate to some elements of it, most of it was aimed towards those of us who can burst into a room and announce “I’M HERE!!” with no fear of the consequences. All of the stories of success were a bit too contrived for me. It was good to read though – not something I would normally even consider picking up.

What’s next?

Our big holiday this year is Brazil in October so, depending on how successful I am with Italian, I am planning to spend 30 days learning Portugese.

One challenge I have been dying to try, but lacked courage and belief in my own ability to do so, is to write a novel in November (National Novel Writing Month – or Nanowrimo). This is a 30 day challenge just waiting to happen – so I am going for it.

Mrs PM can play a piano so she has been talking about buying a digital piano for a couple of years now. We’ve chatted about this and I said that if we buy one, then I will spend 30 days trying to teach myself how to play it. I can read music (well I used to be able to) so how hard can it be? Don’t answer that – I know it’s hard.

Anyway, enough of this nonsense for now.

Wish me luck with my Italian and I will let you know whether I made a complete arse of myself in Bologna or not in due course.


River said...

Good luck Dave! Not just with the Italian, but with everything, including the piano.
I have no such fancy plans, my one aim this year is to get through the mile high stack of books waiting to be read.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

Thanks :o)

The piano will be really hard.




H2B said...

Bravo Mr PM! You have been busy indeed! Good luck with your Italian, and thanks for the learning tools. I may give it a go myself.
Have a fabulous time in Italy,

Pandora Behr said...

You've got some great ideas there for 30 day challenges. Maybe I should try that with my French. Sounds like you're doing really well.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi H2B,

It's worth it if you have the stamina. Go for it.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

The good thing is that 30 days is just enough to give you a taste of a language. Have a go - I think you'll enjoy it.




Anji said...

Good luck with the Italian. I loved the Italian part of Eat, Pray, Love and toyed with the idea of learning it so I could say 'The art of doing nothing' . Google translate haven't got it like Julia Roberts said it; Have a great holiday

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Anji and thanks,

I'll see if I can learn that.