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Fi3M Stories: How Heather Learned Italian in 90 Days


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As the Head Coach for the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge, I have the opportunity to watch thousands of language learners do incredible things as they push themselves to learn a new language in just 90 days..

Every time I lead a challenge, it gives me a thrill of excitement to see our students achieve a 15-minute conversation at the end of the challenge

One student whose results really stuck in my mind was Heather Snodgrass, who joined the challenge because she wanted to commit to learning Italian, and actually use the language in real conversations.

I met up with Heather (over a video call) and asked her to share her journey. She was incredibly open in what she shared, and she told me:

  • How she found an inner drive to learn Italian (it all started with a short film)
  • The language learning strategies Heather applied to reach a 21-minute conversation in Italian after 90 days
  • The exact tools Heather used to develop her Italian skills
  • What Heather loved about creating videos for the Fi3M Challenge (plus what she found difficult about making the videos)
  • How Heather dealt with difficult life situations that came up while she was learning Italian
  • Heather’s biggest takeaway from completing the Fi3M Challenge, plus her advice for new students.

You can watch the video below. First here’s what Heather achieved with:

Heather’s Progress from Day 0 to Day 90

Heather’s Story

You can hear Heather’s story in her own words here [edited transcript below]:

Note that the Fi3M Challenge was previously called the Add1Challenge.

Shannon Kennedy: Heather, why don't you take a moment to introduce yourself, let us know what language you studied as a part of the Add1Challenge, and why you picked that language.

Heather Snodgrass: My name is Heather Snodgrass. I'm 38 years old, I'm from the United States. For the Add1Challenge I studied Italian… I just remember a few years ago for an Indigogo campaign there was a short film which in English was “The Night Shift Belongs to the Stars.” It was partly in Italian, partly in English, and I met the director, Edoardo Ponti, and some of the producers. And at the time, I knew maybe two words in Italian. And one of the producers jokingly says “You have to learn Italian now.” Challenge accepted. That was several years ago, so I decided to make good on that.

How Heather Succeeded in Learning Italian in 90 Days With Add1

SK: When you started doing the challenge, what was your approach? What were you expecting to do and how did you think you were going to participate in the challenge?

HS: Originally, when I did it, I thought okay, I could find some sources. I can go through the material. I can speak when I need to. Wrong. Doesn't work like that. Speaking is the number one thing in this challenge. You really do have to speak a little bit each day. You can't just say “I'll do it tomorrow, I'll do it tomorrow.” No. You have to do it now because when it comes time to do that 15-minute conversation, you need to be able to speak. You can't just sit there and “uh and um” for 15 minutes. Ninety days… that's plenty of time to be able to find someone to have a conversation with, and maybe you wanna decide a certain topic to talk about instead of just sitting there talking about the weather and other mundane things.

The Exact Tools Heather Used to Improve Her Italian During Add1

SK: What were some of the things that you did in the challenge that you thought worked really well?

HS: I took lessons twice a week. I went on italki. Toward the end, I picked up a little bit. Beyond that, I didn't really do anything different than I would normally do. I just wrote in a journal, I found some songs I really like to be able to hear the language, I looked for different podcasts. There was one thing called Coffee Break Italian, which is a little different than other podcasts because you have a teacher, you have a native speaker, and then you have somebody who's learning along with you. That person makes mistakes at times, so it's not totally scripted. It was really nice.

Finding the time to do it was no problem. It was finding the commitment to do it.

How Heather Dealt with Stage Fright When Making Videos in Italian

Note: For Add1, students create videos of themselves speaking their target language on Day 0, 30, 60 and 90. The Day 90 video is a recording of them having a 15-minute conversation with a native speaker.

SK: Let's talk about creating videos. How did you feel before creating them, and then after you had created them, and then as far as your progress between zero to 30, 30 to 60, and 60 to 90?

HS: Well, the hardest video is the first one, I think, especially if you're not used to doing videos.

There is that bit of stage fright. I have to just kinda soldier through that, but after the first video, it can get addicting. You do a benchmark video and then you kind of want to do other little sub-videos. Maybe where you're counting, or you maybe I don't know, have a grocery list and you want to read it out loud, so you just to put it out there and people can listen to it.

The Emotional Challenges of Add1

SK: You had mentioned that you went on a trip during the Add1Challenge, but as far as other hurdles that might have affected your study and your progress what did you face? And what did you do to overcome them?

HS: My oldest cat actually died right in the middle of the challenge and so that was very rough. I'd had that cat since just before I turned 17. I'm 38 now. With that, I had to kind of step back for a couple of days, and deal with that… I can't really remember what I did. I know that it happened on a Thursday, and for a while Thursday was kind of like a designated break day. I might just do five minutes of Duolingo, just to do something.

Heather’s Day 90 Video (The 21-Minute Conversation in Italian)

SK: Let's talk about your day 90 video in particular. Tell me a little bit about what you were expecting going into it, and how it actually went, and some of the things that you talked about in your video.

HS: My day 90 video, I was stressing about that probably from day one, as you do. I ended up recording the video with my tutor which was the best option because we'd worked together for most of that time, so we could feed off of each other. We were talking about what I could do and have a real topic that I could talk about so she could ask questions and what not. Originally, there was one topic I was going to do. I won't mention it because I'll probably do it for a later challenge. Then I got to looking it and I was like “I think this might be a bit too big right now.” So I put it on the back burner and I decided to talk about my trip. London, in general, and the delays… there were so many delays on that trip it's even not funny. I could laugh about it now, but at the time, no.

I talked about my trip, what I did, and things like that. Before I knew it when I cut the camera off, it was 21 minutes long. So I'm like “No way, no way that was 21 minutes.” I purposely didn’t look at the counter.

Biggest Takeaway: “If You Don’t Use It, You Lose It”

SK: What would you say your biggest challenge is after the Add1Challenge? What was your biggest takeaway?

HS: The biggest takeaway … if you don't use it you lose it. That's with really anything in life. At the present moment, I'm still taking lessons once a week to keep up the language there, and learn a little bit. I do plan to do the next challenge coming up. I haven't decided if I'm going to do Italian again or not, or if I'm going to do something else, just to give myself a little bit of a break. You don't do the challenge and go “Whoop, I'm done with that” and then not do it again and expect to retain the knowledge. It doesn't work like that.

Heather’s Top Tips for Add1 Students

SK: What would your advice be to someone who's just starting the Add1Challenge?

HS: Speak every day, even if it's just five minutes to yourself. A lot of times I did because, for example, our third mini challenge was to log total speaking time. I use music a lot because that was kinda the focus of my lessons, which paid off for me. That's really it, is to go all in. It's going to be a lot of work with the mini-challenges, but try your best to do them.

Be involved in the community. Just get to know your people. It's not a race, it's not a contest. It's okay to have friendly competition, which I did.

If you have a big fail one day, that's okay. Just pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. You have to put in the time.

Embrace the suck, because that's how it's gonna be. You're going to be terrible at the beginning. That's just how it is. There are days that I will forget how to English, as I say. There will be a lot of times that you'll just say something, then looking back you say, “What? That doesn't make any sense,” even though it did at the time. But that's part of it. Learning from your mistakes.

See Rapid Results with Add1

Heather’s story is impressive, and she’s just one of the thousands of students who’ve reached their language goals with Add1. The community is brimming with passionate language learners encouraging one another to reach that 15-minute conversation in 90 days.

Are you ready to have a victory story of your own to share? Don’t wait any longer to finally have a conversation in your target language like Heather did. Find out more about Add1 here.

author headshot

Shannon Kennedy

Language Encourager, Fluent in Months

Shannon is Head Coach for the Fluent in 3 Months Challenge. She is currently based in Southern California where she performs as a professional musician. Her passions are cooking, reading, traveling and sharing her adventures in language learning.

Speaks: English, French, Mandarin, Russian, Croatian, Japanese

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