This is the fourth update in a language learning case study. Introvert Michael Gaeta is using the Mimic Method to learn Italian by Ear.
The last week of this Italian mission has been the most difficult for me by far.
I was having a fun time learning vocabulary with Pimsleur audio, and having conversations on iTalki. But then Idahosa told me to stop all that for a while to memorize a long script, word for word.
It was very challenging, and I didn’t think I’d be able to do it at first. But Idahosa assured me that I would get it, and that I would be happy with the results.
And once again, he was absolutely right…
full episode list
- Ep. 0 | Introducing Mike
- Ep. 1 | Week 1 – Singing Practice
- Ep. 2 | Week 2 – Faking Accent
- Ep. 3 | Week 3 – Chatting w/ Strangers
- Ep. 4 | Week 4 – Script Building
- Ep. 5 | Week 5 – Blending w/ Locals
- Ep. 6 | Week 6 – Immersing in Italy
- Ep. 7 | Week 7 – Hacking Shyness
- Ep. 8 | Holiday Update
- Ep. 9 | Spontaneous Conversation
Preparing The Script in English
How I got the questions
First I went to italki.com to get my script material. Coincidentally, there is a page for language learners to create and practice their own scripts too. This section featured Benny Lewis and a set of language missions which prepares you for your first conversation on italki.
I used the first script “Talking About Me,” to begin to think about how to structure my own. Finally, I made sure to base my script around questions that people would ask right when they meet me. So, questions like:
- What’s your name?
- Where are you from?
- How long have you been learning Italian?
- Why are you learning Italian?
- What do you do?
After I had the list of questions, I wrote out my own personalized answers. I contemplated writing it in Italian, but Idahosa told me to write it in English because it would need to sound natural.
First Draft in English
Hi, I’m Mike. I’m from New York and I’ll be here in Italy until the middle of the month. This summer I visited a few European cities and now I’m spending my last two weeks here in Italy to improve in Italian. I’ve been learning Italian for about a month. I want to learn it because I would like to know Italian culture and also because my family is Italian. It would be fantastic if I could speak in Italian with them for the first time. I work for a small company that has to do with the teaching of pronunciation of foreign languages. I’m using this method – called “The Mimic Method” – to learn the language faster and with a better accent.
Translating The Script To Italian
Now that I had the raw materials, I asked one of my friends from italki to translate my script into Italian. After, I sent it over to the Italian girl from upwork to make some final improvements and do a voiceover.
Updated Italian Script
Ciao, sono Mike. Vengo da New York e starò qui in Italia fino a metà mese. Questa estate ho vissuto in alcune città europee e ora sto trascorrendo le mie ultime due settimane qui in Italia per imparare meglio l’italiano. Sto imparando l’italiano da circa un mese. Voglio impararlo perchè mi piacerebbe conoscere la vostra cultura e anche perchè i miei familiari sono italiani. Sarebbe fantastico essere in grado di parlare con loro in italiano per la prima volta. Io lavoro per una piccola azienda che ha a che fare con l’insegnamento della pronuncia di lingue straniere. Sto usando questo metodo – chiamato “il metodo mimico”- per imparare il linguaggio più velocemente e con un accento migliore.
Preparing the Italian Script for Memorization
Chunking the audio
Now that I had my Italian script ready, it was time to begin memorizing. I began by splitting the script into bite-size chunks using a program called Audacity.
I made sure to cut the scripts at points of inflection – that is, the natural breaks where the speaker changes tone. Idahosa told me that this is important because you can only hold so many things in your head at once. Cutting by intonation made it easier for my brain to separate and memorize the chunks.
Memorizing the Italian Script
First I began by memorizing each chunk in isolation. At this stage, the order of the chunks was not important. I did this in Audacity by creating a separate track for each audio and repeating it many times with space to mimic.
I practiced this until my brain and mouth felt like mush, or between 30-60min per day. To make things easier, I did one session in the morning and one right before bed.
Experimenting with musicality
As I improved I experimented by removing chunks to increase the difficulty. I also used a beat-mixing software called Maschine (but really, you can do all of this in Audacity). This made the memorization process much easier because I could put the speech to a 4-count meter. This is also another reason why cutting on the points of inflection seems to work better.
After I was comfortable mimicking each chunk on cue, I attempted to memorize it in sequence. I achieved this by spacing out the chunks inside Audacity, giving me time to mimic between each one.
Then I played the combined clip through, mimicking each chunk in order. This made things easier because with practice, I could begin to expect the next clip in the series.
I even saved a copy to my phone so I could listen to it on the go and practice with it Pimsleur-style. I continued to do this at least 30-60 minutes per day (or until my brain turned to mush).
Performing the Italian Script on italki
After lots of grueling practice, I returned to italki and booked some more conversations. The goal this time was to practice the script with as many people as possible. In total, I managed to complete four full conversations.
This time, I had two things to make things easier: my cheat sheet and Google Translate. In each conversation, I could still more or less memorize the script. But if I got nervous or froze up, I checked the sheet to get me back on track.
Having google translate on standby was also helpful because it kept the conversations fluid. Whereas before I would freeze up, I could now just search the word I was looking for and continue talking.
Analyzing Italian Script Performance
How each conversation went for me
The first two conversations were with people whom I already knew from italki.com. I was pretty nervous, but they were patient and helpful as I read my script to them.
The other two conversations were with complete strangers who didn’t know my Italian level. I booked these two teachers as trial lessons on a site called Verbling.com, which is like italki.
The third conversation I totally bombed. The fourth one I mimicked so well that she thought I was way more advanced than I actually was. Mission accomplished.
Key Takeaways & Next Steps
I still have a while to go before reaching what Idahosa calls “The Shift,” But I now realize just how important this exercise was in getting that much closer.
Because I listened and mimicked the Italian speech exactly, I noticed that Italians drop their vowels almost all the time. They do this in order to speak fast – kind of like when English speakers say “wanna” or “gotta.” By developing that habit in myself, I now sound much more natural when I’m speaking.
The next few weeks will entail refining and building on these scripts. Idahosa predicts that I should finally reach “The Shift” to get to Spontaneous Conversation in 21 days, or 3 weeks from now. That still sounds pretty bold to me, but it’s been working so far. For now I’m just glad I can walk into an Italian conversation as an equal – at least for the first few minutes.