Studying Italian doesn’t have to be a burden: you can learn a lot (about the language and about yourself) by adding creative writing activities to your regular exercises). In this blog post, I am going to share with you all the tips and tricks I use to create a meaningful collage and how you can use this technique to improve your Italian.
How to collect materials
The first stage, especially if you are new to collage, is to create your stash. Now, depending on your style, there are several methods you could follow. I’ll give you my example which is halfway between the nerd approach and the messy approach (my very technical definitions!)
This is what I use:
- 1 envelope/box/plastic folder for words (more boxes for different languages)
- 1 envelope for magazine clippings
- 1 envelope for scrap paper
- 1 envelope for painted materials that I make
A little bit on how I choose what to clip&save.
When looking for images I prefer to use magazines, especially interior design and fashion. I love interior design magazines because I can use entire rooms’ pictures and recreate scenes there. Also, there are many single objects, sometimes very fancy, that would totally make a collage stand out. Fashion magazines provide a lot of people images, and clothes, of course, that can be easily incorporated in mesmerizing collages.
I often look for color palettes and for shapes. This allows me to sketch my scenes in advance: there is nothing fixed, but I have noticed that if I already have a framework to work with, it tickles my imagination and I am more productive — and usually happier with the result.
When I’m hunting for words, magazines are still very useful, but I also like to use newspapers and supermarket flyers. I cut out words or short phrases from titles to have more variety when I glue the collage together: different fonts, different sizes, different colors. If you can, grab your words from articles of any kind: politics, sport, culture, music, etc. It will help you create more diverse texts.
Another interesting source of materials is your pantry. Clip funny animals from pet food containers, or cups from breakfast food, you get the gist.
Don’t forget wrapping paper: there’s always that awkward last piece that cannot fit any package but can be perfect for a collage.
One last thing that you can collect is your own painted paper. If you’re like me and you are learning to draw and paint, you probably have a lot of “trials” on your desk: those are perfect backgrounds for collages.
I know I said one last thing, but there is literally no limit to the kind of materials you can use in your collages, you only need to look at them with a different eye and they will appear.
How to incorporate words into your collage
There are several approaches to collage, all of them are valid. My suggestion is that you experiment and follow what works for you.
The first major difference when you start a collage with words is using words from a single article or page and using words from your words stash. The one we mentioned in the previous paragraph.
If you decide to use a single article, choose something that inspires you. Don’t just go with a random piece of writing that doesn’t speak to you. Even though you are not going to reproduce any of the meanings or contents of the original article it is important that you find it valuable so that you can find valuable words in there.
If you prefer to pick randomly from your word stash that is also a valid way to proceed I actually do it often. I empty the contents of my envelope on the table and I start looking for meanings and connections among all those words and short phrases. It will not always be easy to find those connections, but eventually, by trying, and moving, and mixing the words you will come up with a quote or a short poem or just a sentence.
This is the most important part of the research of your words, of your meanings, it works in the same way whether you decide to use the words from a single source or from your envelope with words. This step of your collage-making is probably going to take longer than anything else but, and we’ll talk about this more in detail in the next section, that’s when your learning takes place. So really indulge in this moment, be patient. Also, keep into account the fact that you can and will probably change the words or the order of the words you have chosen. This is perfectly normal. It’s part of the process.
Once you have all your words It’s time to mix them with images and colors. Now, because you already have a sentence, you will start from that to look for the right images to complement the words.
There is, of course, the possibility of starting the other way round: that’s to say to choose the image first and add the words later. This is something I have experimented with for a while and I really like it because it pushes my imagination.
Most times, I start with a page from an interior design magazine and choose a room. Then I imagine something happening in that room. Who is talking, to whom, what are they talking about, how do they feel? If I have the right words for this conversation in my stash I will just use them. If I don’t, I will simply write them on a piece of paper or print them from my computer and stick them in my “conversation room”.
How to use this experience to learn Italian
All this work may seem just an imagination exercise, something that will only make you feel more creative. But since you are doing it in another language, Italian presumably, this is also a great occasion to learn the language and to fine-tune your language learner abilities.
First of all, you will be drawing from your previous knowledge automatically, because you will be trying to make correct sentences. Your language instinct will guide you in this. Even if you think you are not advanced enough, you too have a language instinct: you can predict the order of words in a sentence, you can identify feminine and masculine, singular and plural, you can recognise verbs tenses, and so on. These are the basics you will draw from while composing your poem/quote.
But there is much more you can do with the text once you have found your words:
- Read it again, several times, to grasp the general meaning. Write down your ideas and leave them aside.
- Circle all the words you don’t know and divide them into categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Look each one up and write down the definition or translation in a glossary.
- Go back to the original text and check where and how your new words are used. Add examples to the glossary you have previously created.
- Read the text again and then read your initial notes: did you get the right information in the beginning?
- Can you write the differences there are between your initial guesses and the actual meaning of the text?
- Is the text inspiring enough for you to journal about it?
Adding up new words, new meanings, and a couple of hours of study will result in a complete language course you have been able to do on your own, with just a page of text.
This kind of work is very rewarding, but it also depends on you: how much time and energy are you willing to put into it, how often are you going to do the exercise, how deep you can go into the learning process.
Manipulating the language and adding images and colors is one of the best ways to create a connection with Italian.
I have only one suggestion for you: try it!