I'm what you might call a language junkie. I love to learn both human and computer languages. Last year while visiting my ancestral home town in Sicily, I re-discovered Duolingo, and just for fun, started doing Italian lessons. After a few days, I'd learned a few words and phrases that were immediately useful given that I was at the time in Italy. Simple stuff like "quanto costa?" - how much?, "acqua, per favore" - "water, please", "un cotello, per favore" - "a knife please".
Studying a language, be it a human or computer language, is always the easiest and most rewarding when you are an environment to immediately put to use what you've learned because of the sense of accomplishment you receive for being able to use each thing you've learned creates a feedback loop that motivates you to keep learning more. While you can try taking classes to learn languages, if you can't figure out how to create this motivational feedback loop, you're probably not going to succeed at learning the language that you are studying.
Where I am today
I'm now a bit over a year into my Italian study on Duolingo. Today is day 391 of my learning streak and I'm on unit 26 of 51 units of the Duolingo Italian course and curious as to what this really means in terms of ability. I've taken a couple online language placement tests and it seems like I'm around advanced A1 or early A2 in the CEFR common reference levels.
Wikipedia describes CEFR A2 as the following:
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
I've just starting to be able to do the above tasks - at least in terms of listening, reading and writing. I have very little experience with speaking besides talking to the app.
Improving my motivational feedback loop
A year out from my last trip to Italy, I'm feeling the urge to improve my motivational learning feedback loop. I live in an environment where I use Mandarin, English and Cantonese every day (in that order), none of which help with learning Italian, so I need to start adding in some real world Italian usage until I can get back to Italy.
Netflix has decent collection of tv shows and movies in Italian. I tried to to watch a bit about 6 months but it was way over my head which caused me to give up. Last week, though, I was able to finish my first Italian movie and was happy to find that I wasn't entirely lost while watching.
Social media has been a surprisingly good source of content as I happened upon some Chinese who live in Italy that explain China to presumably Italians living in Italy which I find entertaining in that I know the subject matter well and it's very simple so it's easy for me to understand.
I've also found as series of short stories books that control the vocabulary at the CEFR A2 level that seem the perfect level for me. The stories are a bit longer and more challenging than than ~2-3 minute stories Duolingo uses. Reading one of the short stories from the book takes me about 10-15 minutes.
I also purchased books on grammar and verbs to supplement Duolingo. While I really like Duolingo's emphasis on learning through usage instead of learning rules and memorization, I am the type of person that also likes to understand the framework in which I'm operating.
It's also fun to compare my progress in Italian versus Mandarin and Cantonese. Duolingo's Mandarin for English speakers course is longer than it's Italian course. I tried the placement test and unlocked the entire course...trying the most advanced unit, unit 57 of 57 total units, the exercise felt very easy...like child's play in fact. I can fly through a lesson with 100% accuracy as quickly as the app will respond. Compare this to where I am in halfway through the Italian course, a lesson in unit 26 feels very challenging...sometimes I can get every exercise right, but often I make a number of mistakes.
This is the natural process of learning...if I keep it up, at some point I'll look back on these lesson and realize how easy they actually were.
The next step is to try to get back to Italy for a few weeks and put my newfound skills to the test. Wish me luck!