Friday, 3 December 2010

A rose by any other name

Into December, and I'm now coming to the end of the first term in my Italian course. I sense that I'm doing pretty well: I'm enjoying it tremendously and picking up the grammatical concepts really quickly - or should I say refreshing my memory, as the deep-seated recollections of doing it some 45 years previously are coming back thick and fast now. The homework is falling into place too, as I'm regaining the intuitive ability to recognize when something looks right and sounds right. Having had as a schoolboy a definite aptitude as a linguist, it seems that it's something I evidently haven't lost.

Nonetheless, it was with some trepidation that I found out last week that today the tutor would be giving us a test - or a "progress check" as she hastily rephrased it. I did do some revision, or at least tried to fix more clearly some of the things which I'd been finding I'd mis-remembered (or which I possibly never learned the first time round). But it's not as if I were going to get a detention for not having paid attention properly in class!

The 'test' kicked off with a sort of aural/dictation test - listening to a recorded spoken passage and filling in the missing words in a transcript. I'd anticipated this as being the most difficult bit, because it's something I've been having trouble getting used to again - mainly I think due to the dialogue being played at normal conversation speed rather than being spoken deliberately slowly and clearly. But with filling in blanks, there's a surrounding context to give clues, which I've always found is a big help!

Onto the test proper: no looking things up in textbooks or dictionaries! Some grammar exercises (things like rewriting present tense as past tense) and then some comprehension exercises which consisted of four 'holiday postcards' and answering questions in Italian on which of the four holidaymakers had done what. A bit of intuitive guesswork with the vocabulary, but apart from my briefly wondering whether in a couple of instances there was more than one correct answer, it was otherwise fairly straightforward.

The big difference, I noticed, from the type of O level tests I'd done at school was the tendency to use multiple-choice answer format. With four possible answers to choose, blind guesswork will statistically score 25%, while eliminating those answers which are clearly and obviously wrong can easily improve that to a 50/50 chance. And that became even more apparent in the final set of questions which simply required a true/false answer to a statement. In fact the only time I did approach something of a total guess was in wondering if nuotare meant to swim, which I either didn't know or couldn't remember, but it seemed as if it might fit.

As far as I know we get the answers back next week. I shall be surprised if I haven't made the odd careless mistake or two: it's easy just to get a temporary mental block and give a wrong answer to something simple and basic which you actually know. But I reckon the grounding I got as a schoolboy linguist was a very solid one and I hope my old Masters at
Leamington College for Boys would not be too disappointed with my efforts today.

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