My annual time out was this year taken in isolation rather with colleagues. A week in Rome to fulfil a long held ambition to learn Italian – well at least some Italian, not all of it! A 3 hour per day morning course (with Koiné) using very practical workshop techniques.

And what lovely people from all over the world on the course.  A chance to be a stranger in a foreign tongue. By chance, the majority of the small group were nuns/brothers – and study is a part of what they do. A very relaxed and humorous ‘squadra’. So what did I take away?

I had expected to have a tired brain, but I didn’t. I hadn’t expected so much exercise. I thought I’d get time out to think but I didn’t. I didn’t know what I’d get by doing something unusual, but I knew there’d be something – so what was it?

Tired brain

If you concentrate on learning and remembering a language for 3 hours straight, you’d expect to be tired – right? So why wasn’t I?

I facilitate a lot of meetings, workshops and events and use plenty of different techniques, so that no one talks for too long and so that participants do the work – I think of it as chewing on what you are learning. So no surprise that the language school does the same.

It was great to experience this, completely out of my work context and feel just how effective it was, however playful. Particularly, in an area where I know I want to learn from others, I was willing to take part. Time flies when you’re enjoying your learning.

Recalling what to say is very different from knowing it on a page. Could I use what I learned in conversation, recalling vocab and grammar in real time – that’s really what I wanted it for. I wasn’t trying to learn in order to read an Italian book.  So the method fitted the purpose, making us listen, think and speak in real time.

Should I have been more tired? It was noticeable that one of my colleagues had progressed more rapidly than the rest of us. More brains, more natural capability? I reckon it was really more work – she worked hard between sessions on what she learned each day and added to it as well. It takes time, commitment and practice to be good at anything. I could have progressed more quickly by committing more and not letting other work get in the way. Next time I’ll plan to do that, to get the maximum accelaration.


Rome of course, could not be ignored. Neither could work – it wasn’t after all a holiday week as far as the diary was concerned. With afternoons free I’d imagined I could catch up on work.

But one look at the surroundings in Rome and I remembered a lesson my daughter taught me at 16:  when going on a business trip, plan time out to enjoy the places you visit.  So I did. 5 or 6 hours of walking and talking each day ( i.e. working on the phone when needed). I wouldn’t have realised how far I’d walked except my legs and my phone told me so – 44km.

The combination of exercise and learning new things is perfect for stimulating the brain .  And so, many hours of “the day job” were easy to add in, no problem.

I exercise regularly, but I realised I can exercise a lot more if I combine it with phone work. And it’s highly beneficial, not only to the diary, but also to the speed of getting things done.

Time to think

I thought I’d get quite a lot of time to reflect. But in fact there was little idle time. Periods of just sitting in beautiful surroundings or 4th century churches, yes. But never with empty space to think in.

No surprise. But the observation was more obvious that this was down to me. Because I was out of my normal context I noticed it more.

The point? Being busy:  your diary is up to you, but do you behave that way? Do you do anything different if you want to use your day for a different purpose? I knew I was going to have a different diary, but I didn’t adjust my thinking, so I crammed more in, rather than taking for more time on the things I wanted.

Furthermore, I learned something about brains and changing thinking.

Every time I tried to recall in Italian, my brain jumped for the French before I could stop it. French was built in long ago. I had to try to blank my French reactions, in order for my new Italian to stand a chance. The parallel is obvious. I spend a lot of my time trying to open up people’s thinking, helping them change what’s happening, the way it’s happening and what they believe they can do. But why is it as hard as it is? The French keeps getting in the way! The prior learning needs to be understood, to understand the blockage, before you can make room for a new way of thinking.

Fatte la differenza

I didn’t know what I’d get by doing something unusual, but I knew there’d be something – so what was it?

Direct benefits, like the satisfaction of chatting with a taxi driver,  or meeting new people, enjoying a city. I kind of expected.

But the indirect benefits cannot be judged now, it’s far too soon.  Except one. The feeling of freshness from a week chocka block with experiences. Learning for learnings sake helps you stay at the top of your game.

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