Practice Makes Perfect: Basic Italian

3-5 Italian, Books, Kids

December 2, 2013

Author  Alessandra Visconti
Series  Practice Makes Perfect
Publisher  McGraw-Hill
Publication Date  2011
Price  $13.00
Skill Level  Beginner

I did not love Practice Makes Perfect: Basic Italian by Alessandra Visconti, but I found it pleasant. I am in general pretty fond of the ubiquitous Practice Makes Perfect series from McGraw-Hill and have used many of the Italian books in it. They are good for me in that they have a lot of grammar and gobs of exercises—both key for my preferred learning approach.

The topics Visconti includes, ranging from the Italian alphabet and cardinal numbers to vocabulary and verb forms, are helpful and relevant. In addition, there are a number of engaging and well-written cultural readings, in Italian, without exercises and just for the reader’s own edification and pleasure. In case you get stuck, English translations of the readings are provided in the back—far far away, lest you succumb too easily to temptation.

I finished the book through to the end. That is always a good sign, but there were three things I found problematic.

First, as indicated in the preface, the book is designed to provide “reinforcement of material already presented in another format or setting.”

“Reinforcement of material already presented” seems a bit of a copout. It is hard to write a language-learning book with standalone integrity, one that a random person without a class could just pick up and use.

Indeed, this book has odd instructional lacunae. I question that enough basic students will have the knowledge they need to use it comfortably. Since it is a basic Italian book, why not just give a full explanation of the individual topics so that readers don’t get frustrated when they come across something they don’t know and can’t figure out? Frustration is a major cause of abandoned language studies.

Second, the book needs some additional copyediting. Some time ago, I started collecting lists of errors for all language-learning books I use. Errors are inevitable, but my list of errors for this one is longer than average.

On kind of a related note, Visconti doesn’t always include multiple answers for grammar questions where both male and female forms are possible. For example, on page 120, you are asked to change a series of sentences from present to past tense, and are specifically cautioned not to forget agreement.

One of the sentences is Mi sento male. Since I am female, I wrote Mi sono sentita male. The answer key gives only the male option: Mi sono sentito male. Unless I am losing my grammatical mind, two other sentences in this exercise (out of a total of just nine) also have two possible answers, but only one is given in each of those cases, too.

Since marking gender in articles, adjectives, and participles is for native English speakers one of the chief challenges of Italian, answer keys should consistently give multiple gender-related options where relevant. This is pretty standard in the Italian grammar texts I have used to date.

A last issue: the preface announces that the book is designed primarily for middle and high school students, and it felt like it. Is the Practice Makes Perfect series meant for kids then? I use it all the time, and that has never crossed my mind. But in any case, this book seemed to move at a slower pace than is usual for this series—a little too slow for my taste.

I think it will also be a little slow for the tastes of most people who bring to this book the knowledge they actually need to fill in the aforementioned instructional holes.

Basic Italian, by Alessandra Visconti
Basic Italian, by Alessandra Visconti

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