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  • Monene Murray

Stages of Learning to Speak Italian



Last year I embarked on a journey to learn Italian. What an exciting, frightening and ultimately satisfying experience!

In our jobs we are required to learn new things all the time. For example, we have to learn how to chair a meeting, do business presentations or use a new software package.

Gordon Training International developed a four-stage process that describes what happens when we learn new skills. It is called the Conscious Competence Model. Indulge me while I reflect on how these learning stages played out in me while learning to speak Italian.

Phase 1: Unconscious Incompetence

The first stage is called the Unconscious Incompetence phase. I call it the “you don’t know what you don’t know” phase. You know where you want to end up but you do not have the faintest idea of what you need to learn. Usually the excitement of learning something new propels you into the next stage. In my case I could visualise myself chatting to the locals while touring in Tuscany on my next holiday.

Phase 2: Conscious Incompetence

The second stage is called Conscious Incompetence. You have started to gather information about what you need to do or you have started to engage with the new learning area. I call it the “you know what you don’t know” phase. You get a sense of how much you still need to learn before you can reach your goal. In my case I realised after the first two Italian classes how much effort would be required to simply understand Italian, let alone speak Italian. A slight disillusionment can prevail as you could have underestimated the effort.

Phase 3: Conscious Competence

As you embark on learning new skills you move into the third phase of Conscious Competence where “you know what you know”. A sense of achievement makes the learning process a satisfying one. In my case it was the first Italian e-mail I wrote to an Italian friend. His reply clearly indicated that he could understand what I had said.

Phase 4: Unconscious Competence

After a number of repetitions your new skill will come naturally, as if it is second nature. This is called the Unconscious Competence phase. This is also the phase where, if someone asked you about what you did, you would really have to think hard about what you are doing right. I call it the “you have forgotten what you know” phase. In my case I will arrive at the Italian class and almost automatically greet my fellow students in Italian and apply the basic grammar rules when constructing sentences.

Regardless of what new competency you need to acquire, knowing the stages of the learning process can help to make the journey less stressful. Arrivederci!


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