Monday, 27 February 2012

What I learned in school today

Wouldn't it be fun if this were my class photo? Alas, it's just a random shot from the Vatican Museums.

I'm now in week nine of my Italian classes, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 12:15, and it's time to talk a little about the experience.

I'm enjoying the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci, and I'm learning a lot. There are many positives: most of the teachers are very good; class sizes are reasonable (usually, about 8 students) and the curriculum is clear and carefully followed.

The negatives are the same ones I've found in other language schools: few resources other than a lot of photocopied handouts and the school paperback textbook. The building in Rome's historic centre looks beautiful from the outside, but the classrooms are a bit rough. Either no heat or too much; rickety desks; and windows that don't close properly.

In short, it reminds me of every language school I've ever attended! And I really would recommend it.

Although it's possible to take classes during the afternoon as well, I decided to take classes mornings only. This was partly because of my budget, and partly to leave me time to look for work. And do my homework. We have a lot of homework, which I think is really valuable. I see the morning class as just the beginning of learning -- giving me information that I take away and absorb and practise.

The regular morning class is divided into two segments: grammar from 9 a.m. to 10:30; a short break, then conversation until 12:15. Anyone who has ever taken a language class would recognize the conversation gambits. Write a horoscope or directions to the train station (to practice the imperative verb tense used in giving orders); talk about your favourite vacation or a childhood routine (to practice past tenses of verbs.) And so on.

The other students are pretty interesting. I've seen many come and go already -- often, adults taking vacation time to come to Rome for a few weeks to improve their language skills or at least maintain the hard-earned Italian language skills they already have.

There seem to be a few nuns sprinkled through every class: I've studied with a pair of nuns from Ghana, sisters from the United States, and currently, a lovely young nun from southern India is taking Italian in preparation for studying nursing here in Rome.

Many of the students here for longer terms are young Americans and Brits taking a break from university, or getting college credit for a semester in Italy. I've met several Swedes; a few Germans and Swiss; a rare French or Belgian citizen. And the very rare Canadian.

I've been especially impressed with two very, very brave Asian students I've met who arrived here speaking neither Italian nor English. Deyoung from Korea and Myko from Japan each came to Rome completely alone, without any grounding in a Latin-based language. Talk about starting from scratch! Aside from school, just finding an apartment, shopping or finding your away around Rome without at least a smattering of English or Italian would be terribly hard.

I really would recommend the experience of a daily language class; it focuses the mind and gives a student the opportunity to learn the grammar and practice Italian in the safety of the classroom. There are always students more advanced or less advanced than the rest of the class, so there is rarely any judgement and a lot of laughs.

But it's hard, hard work and my pride has taken a terrible beating as I learn to speak all over again!


Jane said...

Hi Sandra, 9 weeks already? Wow- doesn't seem like it. How are you doing with speaking Italian when out and about? For me, that has always been the hard part. How are you adapting to life in a new country. Hugs, Jane

Kathryn said...

Can you give us any insights into which strategies are paying off? When I listen to native speakers, I understand 80% of the words, but not the conversation. And only the standard phrases of a 3-year old are spoken without hesitation, anything more complicated is painfully slow or never verbalized.

Mantenere il buon lavoro!

Diane said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
sandrac said...

Hi Jane!

It has actually been three months since I arrived -- hard to believe! I "lost" 3 weeks in there because the school was closed two weeks for Christmas and I took a week off when my brother was visiting.

I do use Italian a lot when I'm out in stores and on the bus, etc. But these are not complicated conversations! Anything longer than about 5 minutes (which can feel like a long time) and I begin to run out of words and energy. It is still an enormous effort. But I know that it will come.

Hi Kathryn, it is SO difficult to make the leap from listening and understanding, to actually creating sentences. That's a really important function of the class, I think. Half of the time is spent in a kind of formal, lecture style with the instructor speaking. The second half is in conversation in pairs, with the teacher going around and listening in, probing, offering corrections and advice.

She also begins most mornings asking each of us to describe what we did the day before (went shopping, saw an exhibition, did laundry -- whatever!) The point is to make us all speak and strive for coherent sentences.

Once in a while I've met students who find it frustrating to be forced to listen to other people's stumbling attempts at conversation and mistakes. But I figure fair is fair -- they have to listen to my feeble conversation, too! And I do learn from others' mistakes.

I also think that immersion is huge -- daily classes, daily exposure, and daily interactions that force you to use the language. I found that studying French as well, that I made huge strides when I was immersed in northern Quebec.

I cheat a lot here in Rome -- I'm doing freelance reporting (obviously, in English); blogging in English; emailing with friends, etc. A purist would cut herself off from English entirely! But I can't quite bring myself to do that.

Diane, I deleted your comment just because it included your email address which I didn't think you'd want published! And the program won't let me edit comments. I'll email you soon!

Trekcapri said...

Hi Sandra, your school experience sounds so interesting. Language has always been a struggle point for me. Maybe someday I can try an immersion class. Kudos to those girls from Asia for taking their own leap.

Thanks so much for sharing.

sandrac said...

Kathy, I think you'd enjoy the experience -- even just meeting the other students from all over the world! I had the advantage of already learning French, so some aspects of Italian grammar were already familiar -- an advantage European students have as well.

Liz said...

Hi Sandra, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I've got a personal interest as I've booked a 3 month immersion in Rome Jan-March 2013. I'll be taking extended leave to do mine so fortunately do not need to study and work. I can only imagine how full your days must be!
Are you able to practice with fellow students outside class hours, or do you find this too much?
I wish you increasing fluency and ease, particularly with those past tenses! Meanwhile, enjoy the lengthening days and a change in wardrobe!

sandrac said...

Thanks for your kind words, Liz. I've found that I do a fair amount of practicing outside of class with other students -- especially now that we're all more advanced and able to sustain a conversation!

Sometimes it IS hard to be disciplined, especially at first when you just don't have the vocabulary. But sometimes, it seems to be the only way to practice since average Italians don't really want to listen for too long to a student struggling to find the right words!

I'm really envious of the students who have Italian partners or roommates -- I suppose it would be easy even then to default to English. But it seems there would be so many more opportunities to practice around the house -- even simple (but useful) phrases like: "whose turn to do the dishes?!"

Annie said...

It sounds fascinating (and also like a lot of work but I'm sure it will all be worth it). That is cool that there are nuns in the class too. And my heart goes out to the very brave Asians, cheers to them.

And thanks for the interesting info about graffiti!

Ciao Girl said...

I so enjoy reading about your Roma adventures and your immersion into the Italian language and culture. In all my years of travel to Italy, I can attest to the fact that "osmosis" does not work in learning the language. I'd always hoped I could just absorb it...

If I were younger, wiser and single, I'd like to think I would have had the nerve to do what you are doing.

Hang in there Sandra!
Buona fortuna!

sandrac said...

Hi Annie, there are so many interesting elements to the school and my classes. I wish I were progressing faster but that's no one's fault but my own, I'm afraid!

Graffiti: it's amazing the things you can learn from watching TV (and then following up on Google!) Who knew that graffiti has such historic roots?!

Hello Heidi, thanks for the encouragement. And I should have mentioned in my post that not only are there people from every background and country, but also folks of every age. I'm 51 and usually I'm not the oldest in my class!

Jerry said...

I can't believe it has been that long since you went over there. I bet you are speaking like a native!

Ciao Girl said...

Really? Fifty-one? All the more reason to raise a glass to you Sandra!



girasoli said...

Sorry I am so late to comment. I read this post right after you wrote it. Just been bad at commenting lately.

Thanks so much for sharing your language class experiences. I was wondering what your classes are like. Sounds very similar to the classes I took in Siena from the same school.

I am glad you have had opportunities to converse with some of your fellow students outside of class. I always found the conversation outside of class so valuable because it is more natural and spontaneous.

Keep at it!