Thursday, 17 October 2013

Roads to Hell and other good intentions

Summer has turned into autumn - very noticeably and rather suddenly, I thought.  Lots of things I'd intended to do for one reason or another didn't materialize, keeping this blog up-to-date being one of them.  I won't bother making apologies or excuses, after all I'm quite a long way past the days of getting detentions for not handing my homework in on time!  Not that I actually ever did, just in case you were wondering: back then (as now) I got it down to a fine art doing the necessary the night before - and sometimes even that very morning.

I've written from time to time about my classes at the Uni learning Italian.  We'd been fortunate in keeping together as a group for the last three years - keeping the same timeslot and even meeting up almost every week informally during the long holidays.  Our luck was bound to run out eventually of course and this year there were not enough of us wanting to progress further with their studies to make our group viable any longer - the main catalyst being a change of time to an evening.  Not only that, the low numbers of enrolments generally this year has meant my having to skip a year and go up to the Advanced level!

For a while I toyed with the idea of swapping to doing French instead, for which there seemed to be a better variety of courses being offered.  Out of curiosity I did their 'test your level' thing (for intermediate to advanced) and found most of it surprisingly easy.  A few hesitations here and there meant I ran out of time right at the end, but on emailing them to get my result I found I'd got 67%.  Back in the days when I was doing my A levels I'd have been appalled to have got about a third wrong, but considering it had all lain pretty dormant for four decades, I felt not too shocked.

The upshot was that I found myself rather unintentionally being interviewed for a place on the Academic French course.  I'd expected to be able perhaps to manage a 'brush up your A level' type of thing but the tutor was so impressed by my ability to dredge up enough oral French to insist that I'd be suited to the top level (which equates to a 2-years post A-level!).  I was aghast at the prospect of this, and she compromised by suggesting I could drop a level if I found the going too tough.  Looking back on the encounter now, and writing about it, I wonder if it's perhaps just symptomatic of the grade inflation - a grade A (and an S grade 1) from 1966 equips you to go straight onto a modern second-year undergraduate level course?  Maybe if I'd kept up the practice more it would've done.  The clincher, though, was that it involved the study of a set text - something by Camus, I think.  I vaguely recollect dipping into "L'├ętranger" as background reading when I was doing my A levels, but I certainly didn't and don't feel disposed to embarking on the study of literature once again, given how much I hated it all the first time round.  Perhaps one day I'll find a way of taking up from where I left off 47 years ago, but I'm fairly certain that's not going to be it.

So, with some trepidation, I enrolled on the Advanced Italian course.  It's put me in mind of the time I was eight and was put up a year at Junior School - the logic I suppose being the same, that if you're at a high enough standard to start with and you have the innate ability (and perseverance) to catch up on what you've missed, then you maximise your potential.  It seemed a better idea than either repeating the year, which wasn't an option anyway, or waiting a year and probably losing the impetus.  So far so good: we'd pretty much already covered the bulk of the grammar anyway and widening your vocabulary is as much to do with reading and writing as actually going to classes.  By chance earlier this evening I came across something I'd written about three years ago when I was first starting - and spotted a couple of very obvious mistakes in it.  More to do with carelessness than not knowing what the correct version should've been, I daresay.  But I always find it's a huge step forward in learning a language when you find you're developing an innate 'feel' for when something looks wrong.