Tuesday, July 23, 2013

W29: Elementary Italian Grammar

I had thought last week’s book was the most non-descript looking text that I would ever receive but this week’s Biblio-Mat offering took it to a whole new level.

I almost felt bad for judging it by its cover. Almost.
As I picked up the small worn green clothbound book with the lettering faded away on the spine, I shivered. Past experience has taught me these kinds of books turn out to be either textbooks or incredibly boring novels. I was not wrong. Elementary Italian Grammar, written by Joseph Louis Russo, was a 342 page textbook published in 1929 that taught, well, elementary level Italian grammar.

New edition as of 1929.

It’s funny that a week ago a friend and I were discussing learning languages and she had said that she wanted to learn Italian as it was “the most beautiful language in the world”. Having once dated an Italian girl that was angry all the time, I strongly disagreed. Unsurprisingly, the Biblio-Mat decided to chime in. Coincidentally, another one of my good friends is actually in Italy this month for a wedding and could have probably used this book to get by.

The preface of Elementary Italian Grammar laid out Russo’s interesting theory on teaching languages. He sees it from a practical standpoint and sets out to present as few rules and as many exercises as possible, which is something I would have expected from a traveler's guide as textbooks usually concentrate on teaching the theory behind the practice. Indeed he goes against this outright with examples and exercises being presented first then followed by the rules and explanations. As the type of student that thrives on learning how and why things work, I did not find this method optimal.

At least the pictures were pretty neat.
What were useful, though, were the exercises themselves. Ranging from simple fill in the blanks to matching words to images to build vocabulary, these created welcomed diversions from the tables of text to be memorized. An added touch, though, was that some of the previous owners of this book had filled in some answers as well as scribbled various notes in the margins.

I hope whoever had this first knew what they were doing.
Also of note were the photographs of various historical Italian figures and places scattered randomly throughout, which reminded me of the Roma book received from the Biblio-Mat months before.

A country frozen in time. According to the pictures, anyway.
In terms of pronunciation lessons, the book was quite well-rounded in using a variety of English words to help isolate the sounds of Italian vowels. Skipping the dictionary phonetics in favour of using common words as examples did help a lot, however, learning from a book will never be as accurate as actually conversing with a native speaker so I would place my pronunciation at a preschool level at best. Another helpful section of the book was the vocabulary at the back. The last 53 pages at the end contained not only an English to Italian dictionary, but an Italian to English one as well. In a pinch, this would at least let a person fumble their way through ordering a meal in Italy.

The point-at-a-menu method will still always win out.
To be honest, this was not a terrible book as far as language textbooks were concerned. However, I am currently trying to pick up French again and the similarities of the two Romance languages overlapped too much to properly decipher in one reading. Reading this through in a week also did not leave a lot of time to absorb the knowledge, unfortunately, so after 342 pages the only grammatically correct sentences I can form without looking at the vocabulary section are quite useless:

- Non parlo con nessuno.
- Mi mostri le tovagliolo!
- Il mio asino ha pelliccia verde.
- Voglio comprare un'arca.

Perhaps in another point in life I will pick Italian up, but it would only be to read The Divine Comedy in its native language.

This would seriously be my only reason.

Book rating: 8/10 (A respectable language book that was teaching the wrong language)

Random quote: “Drill in idiomatic expressions.” (Should probably explain them first)


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