Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Academics: Parlare italiano

Today we turn the podium over to Francesco Menonna, a SAIS Bologna student from Rome who  works as an Italian-language teaching assistant. He and his classmate Arianna Ranuschio  support the Language Department by holding weekly Italian conversation classes for students keen to improve their Italian.

SAIS Bologna is right in the heart of Bologna's vibrant university quarter. But sometimes SAISers can feel they are living in a separate world. At SAIS the lingua franca is English, and many students speak little or no Italian. To help students make the most of their year in Bologna, SAIS Bologna offers them the chance to take Italian conversation classes.

Francesco and Arianna
As teaching assistants, Arianna and I help our friends improve their ability to express themselves in the language of Dante.

The classes are structured around a theme that changes every week. Using a document distributed at the beginning of the session as a starting point, students take turns reading and exchanging opinions about the topic. Our role as teachers is to foster discussion and answer questions, ready to introduce new words and concepts and to explain language construction.

Arianna and I choose the topics according to the students' language ability. The aim is to build their vocabulary and facilitate fluency. The topics range from shopping in a grocery store to commenting on Italy's byzantine political situation (which provides an inexhaustible source of speculation), without neglecting techniques for chatting up strangers.

As the teacher of  the more advanced class, I try to give my Italian-learning friends both insight into my country and the tools to move confidently in it. In the beginners class, Arianna does the same while focusing more on strengthening students' grammar.

It is important that the session should be fun, which is why we hold the class between 8:00 and 9:30 pm and order pizza -- accompanied by a quality bottle of red wine that unties tongues and renders the experience truly Italian.

Francesco Menonna

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