by Francesca Chen Ting
Why would want to learn a language? Probably because you want to acquire skills to communicate in real life. However, probably your study time is skewed towards grammar and translation, with little or no speaking practice.
In fact, typically, speaking is the most overlooked skill in their study schedule, be it because of lack of time or money to take lessons or do language tandems. And don't tell me that you fear that “it's too early to speak with people”. You can't wait until you're 'ready' because that ready day will never come. This is the one that separates successful from unsuccessful learners. You hear the same advice from any polyglot: should speak from day 1.
But let's say that you really don't have the time, money or courage to meet with native speakers and practice conversation with them. Are you doomed to never learn how to speak? Or maybe you do take classes, but enrich your self-study time with speaking practice? Do you need to rely on conversation partners in order to practice speaking?
Even if you're alone, you can still improve your speaking skills under proper guidance! In fact, there's plenty of audio courses that train your speaking skills. In this article, I'll review an Italian language audio course with a focus on speaking practice that teaches through listening and repeating sample sentences: “Ripeti Con Me!”.
This course is based more or less loosely on the principle of spaced repetition, which means that you're prompted to listen and repeat certain words and patterns at certain time intervals. It's all very intuitive, even too simple to be true: it shows you how to say things. Linguists call this “comprehensible input”.
Let's assess the course under its various aspects:
In Ripeti Con Me, I liked it that:
However, no language course alone is ideal, and Ripeti Con Me also have some weakness, which are inherent in this kind of learning resources:
Total beginners can take it without being either overwhelmed or bored, provided that they're motivated enough and stick to their daily practice.
There are at least another two language audio courses based on spaced repetition that prompt the student to listen and repeat sample sentences.
The closest to Ripeti Con Me is Glossika. In fact, its claims to be an improved version of it, having fixed some flaws in Glossika's Italian audio course (before Glossika turned into an app) like rushed speech, fast pace, and meaning mismatch between English and Italian sentences. Since Ripeti con Me is only available in Italian, Glossika remains the natural alternative to it for any other language.
Another audio course is Pimsleur. Unlike Ripeti Con Me and Glossika, the speaker gives guidance in English on pronunciation and meaning of the new words introduced during the lesson. It is more repetitive and covers a more limited vocabulary than the first two candidates, which makes it ideal for total beginners. For those who don't feel confident enough to start with Ripeti Con Me from day one, a couple of months with Pimsleur can be a safe choice.
I hope you're convinced that you should practice speaking. I just showed you that you can do that even in your self-study time. Just pick an audio course and push play.
My pick for the Italian language is Ripeti Con Me. Being Ripeti Con Me an improved version of Glossika, I can't see any reason why you would want to use Glossika. The slower speech rate and learning pace make it absolutely better.
Only if you feel the need for guidance from the speaker and don't mind keeping a slower pace, start with Pimsleur for a couple of months, then supplement with Ripeti Con Me or switch to it completely.
I've known Stefano, the author of “Ripeti con me!”, for many years. We were language exchange partners for a year while he was studying Chinese in 2012-2013. I personally witnessed his progress over time, thus I can testify that he knows how languages are learned. “Ripeti con me!” is the product of his experience as a language learner.
I was asked to review Stefano's product and I gladly accepted out of sympathy and admiration. I'm not earning any profit from this review.
Francesca is a freelance Chinese-English-Italian translator and interpreter based in Milan, Italy. She runs the translation agency “Window on China”.
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