Now that I’m done banging my head against a brick wall (teaching Italian adults English), all sorts of new projects are coming to mind, more than enough to fill any extra time I might have.
One of those ideas is to go back and look at the organisation and content of the club website, which hasn’t changed for a while, and in any case, was always a ‘hobby’ project, rather than being something that was planned with a particular outcome in mind.
Our Italian school in Bologna recently received a two-star review on Google, from a beginner who was upset that:
1.) The teacher refused to explain things in English
2.) Everyone else in the class (various suspicious young foreigners) were ‘better’ than she was
Now, no one likes getting two-star reviews, and this was totally unjustified.
As far as I’m aware, ALL Italian schools in Italy teach in Italian, not English, for the quite obvious reasons that a.) not all the students in a class will actually know English, b.) a language school can’t expect its teachers to know the language of every student in the class, and c.) learning a language in the medium of the language that you are learning, so to speak, is arguably good for the students, even if potentially frustrating at first.
We try to make clear on our website that this is what we do, and also, at times, I’ve written articles on why it can be tough at the beginning, how the first week can be a big pyschological challenge for beginners, and so on.
But the bigger problem is the woman’s accusation that the other students in the class can’t have been real beginners (because they didn’t experience the same difficulties), this being clear evidence that we’d unscrupulously chuck anyone into the same group, just to make more cash.
Totally not true, of course – all the students having had their level evaluated before the beginning of the course – however, there’s no doubt that the unhappy reviewer might well have assumed it to be the case.
And here I’m getting to the point.
Assuming that everyone else in the class was from Europe or South America, then everyone else would likely be either a native speaker of a Latin-origin language (Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.), have benefited from many years of foreign language education during their state school education, or both, Picture, for example, a French college student, who knows English well, has reasonable German, and perhaps a sprinkling of Spanish.
And now picture our angry former client, a native-English speaker who, in contrast, never got to grips with any foreign language at school, quit at the first opportunity and, since buying a home in Italy many decades later, has therefore not made any progress learning Italian.
She decides to give the professionals a chance, and signs up for a course totalling FIFTEEN WHOLE HOURS of instruction! That’s more than enough to get our sparky young Frenchwoman into the idea of Italian, but woefully insufficient for her less-experienced classmate who rapidly and understandably comes to the conclusion that, as everyone else appears to be way more capable of understanding what’s going on, they can’t be real beginners. We’ve taken her money under false pretences!
The problem, of course, is that we can’t pre-select our students, other than by excluding people who are not adults, or who have an incompatible level (we do that all the time.)
We certainly can’t exclude all native-English speakers, unless they have proven experience learning a foreign language. That would be absurd, and unfair. And would trash my marketing strategy, to boot.
Neither can we, before swiping their credit cards through the machine, take people gently by the hand, lead them into a quite corner and ask, in a concerned voice, whether the potential student really thinks they have what it takes to learn Italian, whether they are they really sure they want to go head to head with all these smart young Europeans, and whether they are aware that they might find the experience a ‘challenge’?
Perhaps we should, I don’t know.
I do know that all of our teachers, and my wife, and I, want the best for every single student. It pains us when someone doesn’t achieve their goals. We know that if they stick at it long enough, they’ll overcome the obstacles and negative thoughts and actually begin to learn. Because we see that happen all the time.
But we can’t force people to come to classes. There’s nothing we can do to stop students quitting.
Anyway, here we are, back at the point.
Most club members are native-English speakers (smart, confident, able ones, I’m sure) and it occurs to me, therefore, that maybe our material could be rejigged or supplemented so as to help them SPECIFICALLY.
Say by emphasising the things about Italian that, while they may be more or less the same in French, Spanish etc., are puzzling foreign concepts to people like me, and perhaps like you, too.
Nouns with gender, for example.
Verbs that have to be conjugated! But why?
The seemingly optional subject pronouns. Oh, that’s why!
Prepositions which look the same but mean different things.
The different position and sequence of adverbs.
Clearly, teachers in our Italian school are not going to begin Monday morning by explaining to a new class containing a majority of Spanish and French native speakers that (io) bevo but (tu) bevi, that la birra is feminine but il caffè is masculine, and that dopo andiamo tutti insieme al bar per prendere un caffè, ma non una birra perché non si fa…
If we had classes that were monolingual (all the students having the same mother tongue) then it might be an option. But we don’t, so it isn’t.
And in any case, not all our teachers know English well enough to understand the structural differences between the two languages.
But I do! And given that these articles are in English, so are read mostly by native-English speakers (not exclusively, so no need to email to remind me), maybe that would be a useful way to go.
What do you think? And can you add to my list of things that native-speakers should know that are weird about Italian?
If so, do leave a comment on this article, so everyone can read your suggestion(s).
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Comments will be moderated before publication (to weed out automated spam, which is quite obnoxious, let me tell you…) So don’t be surprised if yours isn’t visible immediately, or even the same day. All genuine comments will be published.
A lunedì, allora.
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