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!