I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

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This month’s #clearthelist will be a bit different from the rest. While I was thinking about what to write and what to plan I had a revelation, so things will change a bit for me in September.
August was a time for holidays and reflection after a messy July. I’ve been busy planning work related things and I’ll be even busier doing in September.
I also had the chance to assess where I am with Swedish – more of it in a moment.
Finally, I failed badly at my Japanese August on Instagram. No big deal.
Alright, let’s start!

Where am I with Swedish?

I’ve been studying Swedish now for about one year, at first very casually. Since January I’ve been more consistent, but I haven’t studied intensively at any point.
I am now at the point where I understand what’s going on with the language. How did I find out?
First of all, I recently tried and reviewed Interlinear Books. It gave me the chance to strengthen my self-confidence when reading, as I managed to read a real novel without too much struggle and using the translation only occasionally.
Second, I spent a week in Sweden and this gave me a clear idea of my strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, I can follow a casual conversation between natives without many problems. On the negative, I still cannot answer promptly and interact effectively. I still speak slowly and need to rehearse a sentence in my head before being ready to say it.
Despite that, I surprised myself by actually using Swedish every time I could in shops, bars and restaurants. I was afraid everyone would immediately switch to English, but no one did! So yay for trying!

Tomorrow I’m off to Stockholm again for the wedding I wrote about a few months ago and I am shamefully unprepared. Still, it’s good to know that I can tell people to go ahead and speak Swedish because I understand what they say. Maybe I won’t charm them with my language skills, but at least I won’t be a bother! Silver linings…

clearthelist september 2017

What about September?

So about the changes I mentioned earlier, the plan for September is that I will have no plan.
I know that this whole Clear the list thing is about sharing goals, so shall I be disqualified maybe?
I’ve been reading a million times about how setting achievable goals is key if you want to learn a language. It’s all over the language learning community and I’ve accepted this fact without questioning it. The truth is I’ve always been a bit of a Bastian contrario, as we say in Italian (Mary Mary quite contrary in English). I’m used to questioning everything, especially if it’s something that doesn’t resonate with me. So while I agree that one should be consistent to make progress, I don’t necessarily feel like goals are a part of the equation for me.

Goals can be great sometimes, but other times they make me feel anxious and constrained. That’s why for September (and possibly longer) I’ll try to go ahead without a study plan and without setting monthly goals. I feel more confident in doing so since I teamed up with Tiia to support each other as study buddies for Swedish. Chatting with her helped me to see things more clearly and to be more forgiving of my failures, which was refreshing.
So this is all for now, in September I’ll stay loose of any commitment. We’ll see in a month how the experiment goes!

Do you think that short-term goals are necessary to successfully learn a language? Have you ever thought of studying without a fixed plan or routine? Let me know what you think, even if you totally disagree with me! 🙂


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Reading has always been one of my favourite activities when learning a language. Crawling up in bed with a book in my target language makes the bookworm and the introvert in me feel all warm inside. What really breaks the magic of this moment is having to look up words in the dictionary. How can one be absorbed by the atmosphere of a tale if they have to stop at every sentence, search for vocabulary and try to guess which of the different meanings they found is the right one?
The thought of reading a real book in Swedish was still daunting so I stuck to children comics. Sure, Bamse’s adventures are great, but not too much of an exciting read…
Therefore I was delighted to have a chance to try Interlinear Books and to challenge myself to a real Swedish book!

interlinear books review

What are Interlinear Books?

“Subtitled books” describes well what Interlinear Books are: novels that include the original text and an (almost) word by word English translation below, in a smaller font. I say “almost” because what they translate is the minimum possible unit which makes sense when translated. If you have an idiom, for example, or an expression doesn’t make sense if translated word by word, they translate it as one unit.
You can find two examples underlined in the image below.

interlinear books review
By the way, this is also how the Interlinear Books look like on your smartphone. It was great to have it with me all the time and read it on the go. Even in such a small format, I found it easy to keep my eyes on the main text without slipping to the English translation.

The biggest advantage I experienced using this tool and the reason why I loved it is that it made me feel a lot more confident.
Knowing that I had the meaning under my eyes actually helped me look less at the translation and try to grasp the sense of a sentence without external help. When I read a novel in my target language I tend to look up every single word I don’t understand, making the whole reading much less enjoyable. Interlinear Books, though, made me into a less anxious reader. I took my time to appreciate the prose style, the use of words and to try and figure out more by myself, without jumping at the translation the whole time.
Halfway through I realised that, despite being still a beginner, I was actually reading a real Swedish novel!

About the book

Herr Arnes Penningar is a 1904 novel by Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf. The author was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her best-known work is The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, one of the most famous Swedish children books, translated into over 30 languages. It’s the tale of a boy shrunk to the size of a thumb and travelling the country on top of a goose, with insights on history and geography of Swedish provinces.
Herr Arnes Penningar takes us to 16th century Sweden, depicting the harsh winter, the lives of people as well as subtlety describing the landscapes of the region. It’s a captivating novel somehow close to Edgar Allan Poe’s atmospheres, but I don’t want to spoil anything: it’s an absorbing read that deserves to be discovered page by page.

Who is it for?

Interlinear Books can be very beneficial for any learner who already has a grasp of grammar in their target language. The translation will help if you’re struggling with vocabulary, but you need to be familiar with the sentence structure.
I would recommend it if your level is from upper beginner/intermediate onwards.

What’s not great?

You might have guessed I’m a big fan of Interlinear Books by now, but perfection is not of this world.
This rose has its thorn as well, and it would be the price. It ranges from 12.99$ to 29.99$, which someone might find quite costly for an e-book.
For me, it’s clear that behind these books is a lot of work, love and passion, and the price is commensurate with the quality of the product you get.
If you would like a taste of it but you’re not quite ready to buy they also have some interlinear short stories on their blog.

Bonus tips: how to make the best of it

Grab an audiobook

Listening to the text while reading it will help you retain more vocabulary and get you familiar with the pronunciation of new words.

Read out loud

Practising your speaking skills doesn’t necessarily mean having a conversation partner! You can exercise by yourself by reading out loud a text: another method to make new vocabulary and grammar structures stick easier in your brain.

Resist the temptation to check the translation

It might be tempting to look at the English translation every time you’re not sure about a word, but resist! If you get to the end of the sentence or the paragraph you’ll often be able to guess the meaning of it.

Summarise it

This is a great way to move the vocabulary you learned from passive to active knowledge. After you finish reading a chapter try to summarize it using the words from the original text. It works both as writing and speaking exercise.

On the Interlinear Books blog, you’ll find more tips on how to use them for language learning.

To sum up

  • Offers excellent pieces of literature by renowned authors.
  • High-quality translation.
  • Many versions available for different devices.
  • The text is clear, easy to read without slipping to the translation below.
  • Lets you enjoy reading in your target language without worrying about vocabulary you don’t know.
  • Useful to increase vocabulary and grammar knowledge: it’s an enhanced reading tool.
  • The price could seem high.
  • Not for complete beginners.
  • Still not many books in the catalogue.

On the Interlinear Books website, you can find more info about this great tool for language learners and have a look at their catalogue. At the moment they have books in Swedish, French, Spanish, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Greek, Portuguese, but I hear there are more languages to be added soon so keep an eye on them!

Do you like reading as a language learning activity? Do you usually look up every word you don’t understand or do you prefer to grasp the general meaning, even if you’re missing some vocabulary along the way?


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

I’ve had a look at my diary to understand what happened in July: I feel like it literally disappeared in front of me. You know when your projects end up all over the place and you don’t seem to be able to keep track of them? My July has been a mess made of too many ideas, too little facts and way too much stuff being postponed.
Whenever a new idea pops up in my mind I get restless and I can’t wait to start working on it, leaving all sorts of unaccomplished tasks behind me. It’s frustrating and it’s starting to make me feel quite anxious. I would like to be able to focus and to be more disciplined.

Phew, enough with rants. This month wasn’t a great one so I wanted to be honest about it. It’s no use to make everything seem pretty and shiny here on the blog when in reality I’m struggling. Hopefully, I will find a way to deal with my plans better and to concentrate my energy on fewer projects. Maybe it just takes a bit more time to settle into the life of a freelancer.

language learning goals august

July review

Despite that, I am satisfied with the language learning bit.
I kept enjoying studying Swedish and I dedicated time to it consistently every day.
The Instagram challenges were a good way to stay motivated and I’m proud I posted every day for #languagediarychallenge. I had to give up #IGLC after half month as I realised that creating the images was taking me way too much time. Next month I’ll try a more relaxed approach instead.
Everything else went pretty smoothly:

  • Memrise: learn 100 new words. ✔
  • Babbel (affiliate): review weekly and do one new lesson per week. ✔
  • Learningswedish.se: one new lesson per week. ✔
  • hejsvenska: one session per week. ✔
  • Rivstart books: two sessions per week. ✔
  • SFIPodd: one session per week. ✔

Moreover, I had the chance to try Interlinear Books and I’ve been using it to improve reading skills. I’ll write a review later in August to tell you more about it. Spoiler: it’s good stuff.

I got curious to try Duolingo for Japanese after its recent release. I have mixed feelings about it but I have to admit it’s addictive and despite it being too easy for my level I feel a bit of a thrill for Japanese again. I’m rushing through the tree to write about it soon.

Plans for August

My Swedish routine will stay pretty much the same:

  • Memrise: learn 100 new words.
  • Babbel (affiliate): review weekly and do one new lesson per week.
  • Learningswedish.se: one new lesson per week.
  • hejsvenska: one session per week.
  • Rivstart: two sessions per week.
  • SFIPodd: one session per week.

In addition, I will try to finish the Interlinear Book I’m reading and I’ll throw in some Duolingo sessions whenever I feel like it.
In August I will be in Sweden for a week, so my main goal will be to actually talk to people I don’t know. I want to start ordering at a restaurant, buying something at a shop or asking for information. The main obstacle here will be to overcome my shyness.

I’m going to complete the Duolingo tree for Japanese, hopefully within a week / ten days from now.
As I seem to be more keen to study Japanese I will use Instagram to practice it this month. It feels like a good way to dip my toe in the water again very slowly, to recover bit by bit from my Japanese burnout.

I will take it very easy with French, reading a few articles and commenting posts if I have the chance.

August will be a month when I try to reassess my priorities and set an effective working routine. That way I will be able to be in full force in September, a month that always feels like a new beginning for me.
To do so I will implement a daily planner I created to help my boyfriend during the study weeks before university exams. It is based on the Pomodoro technique and I was so happy to see how well it worked for him that I want to share it with you as well. 🙂 It’s created with full-time students or freelancers in mind, to help them make the most of their days.
I modified it slightly and you can now find it in my newborn (but soon growing!) resources library. Click on the image below to subscribe and get access. If you try the planner I’d love to know what you think of it and if you have any suggestions to improve it.

free daily planner

That’s all for this month, time to get to work. 頑張りましょう!
What are your plans for August? Are you taking it easy during the holidays or are you going to use your free time to study some more?


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.

Love has no borders, but cultural differences are something you can’t always ignore. They are often just small obstacles on the way to a blissful relationship, but it’s common to experience some misunderstandings with a partner from another country. Sometimes it’s eye-rolling, sometimes it makes everything more interesting.

When being with an Italian, many differences of opinion will have to do with food. We are proud of our culinary traditions and we have an appreciation for good food and quality ingredients. Also, we are not very flexible when it comes to the *right* way to prepare and consume that food.
But there is more to it. Here are 6 things that your partner disapproves – secretly or, being an Italian, very vocally.

Disclaimer. Needless to say, this post is not meant to offend and it’s mostly me laughing at my own quirks. It was written with humour, love and respect. Please read it the same way.

things your italian partner doesn't approve

No bidet

Try and google what Italians abroad miss the most and you’ll be surprised to learn that bidet is nearly always mentioned. We can try to suppress the pain of not having it when we live in another country or we can find creative ways to make up for its absence, but we all miss bidet. When a bidet is not in the house the most personal act constantly becomes some sort of trial. “Oh, you went to the bathroom. And you’re not washing afterwards. It’s alright. I’m totally not judging you”.
No matter which part of Italy your partner is from, I have yet to meet an Italian who wouldn’t mentally grimace.

Bidet is a French word for a pony, as you straddle a bidet much like a pony is ridden. It was invented in France in the 17th century according to most sources. However, the Italian Wikipedia states that Medici family from Florence actually knew it and introduced it to France. We are that proud of it.
It is a common bathroom fixture in many countries in Southern Europe, while it’s uncommon in Northern Europe. In Italy, 97% of households have one and since 1975 its installation is mandatory.

Serving pasta as a side dish

In Italy, we are used to having several courses during a meal. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all meals: sometimes we only have pasta, or only have a main dish with vegetables on the side.
One thing we don’t do, though, is eating pasta as a side dish.
No matter if you pick your regular maccheroni and eat them with tomato sauce (I said tomato sauce, not ketchup!) or butter: still not a side dish. This applies to risotto and soup as well.
Sad story: once, when visiting my boyfriend in Sweden, I was asked to make my worldwide famous risotto coi funghi. After more than one hour of careful and loving preparations, it was served on the side of a chicken with salad. I kept smiling and pretended it was OK but ouch, that hurt.

More culinary profanities

Remember this: spaghetti bolognese don’t exist. I’m from Bologna so you can trust me on that. The real thing is ragù, a delicious meat sauce that takes hours in the making and that doesn’t even match well with spaghetti. Note that you don’t want to mess this up, we bolognesi are very sensitive to the topic.

Italians are also very serious about pizza, gelato, caffè… Have I told you already that we are a bit rigid about food? For a peaceful relationship sometimes it’s better to just do things our way – which incidentally is the best way.

Le portate: the meal courses.
L’antipasto: the starter.
Il primo: the first course. Usually pasta, rice or soup.
Il secondo: the second course.
Il contorno: the side dish.
Il dolce: the dessert.
Risotto coi funghi: mushroom risotto

Going out without sunscreen

I know that you might be used to a different quality of sunshine in your country, but please do as we say. You cannot go out into the burning Italian summer without a proper sun protection, especially if you’re bianco come una mozzarella and your skin is not prepared for it. Yes, it really has to be 50+ child protection. See, I’m putting that on too.

Bianco come una mozzarella: as white as a mozzarella. Unlike the English “white as a ghost/as a sheet” it doesn’t imply feelings of fear or shock. It just means you’re not tanned and it has a negative meaning.

Walking barefoot

Another thing Italians are quite fussy about is hygiene. I first realised it when moving abroad, because before I was completely unaware there existed any other way. When I started travelling and staying at hostels every shower I took brought the fear of getting a fungal infection under my feet, while brave Australians were going to the shop at the corner barefoot.
While I might agree that la virtù sta nel mezzo I still don’t fancy going around the house without any socks or slippers on. You’re welcome to do so, but then don’t come in my bed until you’ve washed those dirty feet!

La virtù sta nel mezzo. From the latin In medio stat virtus: virtue stands in the middle.

Getting cold

We come from a land blessed by a lovely weather, I live in London now so I can tell.
Still, when I was a child my mamma wouldn’t let me out without drying my hair after a shower. My boyfriend doesn’t even dry his hair in the winter when in Sweden the temperatures go below zero!
But there’s more. Did you wear your canottiera? You’re going to freeze your belly!
And I know it’s 35 degrees outside, but shouldn’t you bring a cotton scarf to protect you from the breeze? You’ll get a cervicale!
This is how we were brought up and this is how we are programmed to function. Your immune system is probably stronger than ours by now, but we’ll still frown when you don’t cover up properly.

Canottiera: a cotton or woollen vest to wear in winter under your clothes.
– Metti la canottiera! Put your vest on! This is such a recurring scolding from Italian parents that they even made a song about it. It was performed in 1994 at Zecchino d’oro, an international children songs competition that has taken place every year since 1959.
Cervicale: cervical arthritis or more simply neck pain. Italian moms are absolutely certain that the lightest breeze on your neck will cause you cervicale and we’ve been so conditioned that we actually get it.

Not being stylish enough

I’m a mess about dress codes and fashion, but I’ve been told Italians are known for their impeccable taste in clothes. You won’t see people going to the store in their pyjama and looking scruffy. It’s actually more likely for them to be dressed up for the catwalk even if they’re just going to buy a newspaper.
Being quite concerned with their appearance your Italian partner might want for you to look fabulous all the time as well. Don’t be surprised if they scrutinize you from head to toe and ask: “Esci vestito/a così?

Mettersi in tiro: a colloquial expression that will make you sound very Italian, meaning to get dressed up, dress to impress.
Esci vestito/a così? Are you going out dressed like that?

Do you recognise your Italian best half in any of these traits? Have you ever experienced misunderstandings with a partner from another country? And what are the things someone from your country would complain about? Let me know in the comments!

For more Italian on the go, find me on Instagram!


I’m Elena Gabrielli, introvert, grammar geek & proud Ravenclaw :)
I teach online Italian and beginner Japanese to introvert students who want to learn without pressure and I share tips for shy and anxious learners.