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The Importance of Cultural Immersion for Teaching Italian as a Foreign Language

From Imogen, published on 14/11/2017 Blog > Tutoring > Advice for Tutors > Visit Italy While Teaching Italian

If you dream of becoming an Italian teacher but you’ve never set foot on Italian soil, you may be missing out – so hop on a flight as soon as you can!

If you miss out on truly discovering Italy with this unique learning experience, you risk leaving holes in your experience which could impact your professional life.

Italian culture is immensely rich, from its gastronomy to the ancient architecture of the Roman towns, there is so much to learn about!

In addition to lacking key Italian vocabulary, you would also miss out on the warm Italian welcome that can only be found in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

It’s astonishing that anyone, let alone budding languages teachers would want to miss out on learning how to speak Italian by wandering Italy’s narrow streets and learning about the culture from the locals.

Learning a new language is about so much more than learning new words and the Italian grammar that governs them – learning to speak Italian is about exploring the history of Italy’s civilisation and its effect on modern-day life in the former centre of the Roman empire.

Whether you’re aiming to become a primary, secondary or sixth form Italian teacher in the UK, the way you will gain the best experience most effectively is by spending some time in the country itself!

If you’re a university student, keep your eyes open for opportunities to work, study and volunteer abroad.

So, what are you waiting for?

Italy is waiting to welcome you with open arms – and if you’re still not convinced, here are four problems you may encounter if you decide visiting Italy isn’t for you.

Difficulties Understanding the Various Italian Accents

Pronunciation is a large part of being able to correctly and fluently express yourself in the language you have learnt, and missing out on listening to Italian as it is spoken in real life could impact your communication skills and overall language proficiency and fluency.

Just like in English, Italian words can have several different meanings depending on how they’re pronounced. One of the most common ways for a word to change meaning is with the placement of stress on a certain syllable.

Getting this wrong can affect your chances of being correctly understood by a native speaker of Italian and becoming fluent in the language.

You don't even have to be consciously listening to Italian to be learning about the pronunciation - your brain will do it automatically! Listen to the Italian being spoken as you enjoy some delicious Italian cuisine! ¦ source: Pixabay – RitaE

Perfecting your Italian accent does come with regular practice; however, you will only truly learn to perfect your Italian pronunciation by exposing yourself to the Italian language as it is spoken by natives.

In spoken Italian, the stress is usually put on the penultimate syllable of each word. When this isn’t the case, the stress is indicated in the spelling of the word in question, although, there are a number of exceptions.

So, to avoid comprehension issues and adopt good habits from the start of your Italian learning, going to Italy is important. Even by just spending a few days in Italy, your ear for Italian will improve without you even realising, helping you become more familiar with the intonation used by native speakers so that you repeat it automatically when speaking Italian.

Your visits to Italy will also help you gauge the level of your Italian language skills and see how you have improved since your last visit.

Total immersion in this country which is known for its art and history will teach your brain to start thinking in Italian rather than English – even if it is just a few words to begin with.

This usually happens involuntarily within few days of arriving in a foreign country and is a signal of how deep your language learning is going.

If you don’t feel ready to visit Italia, or it’s just not a good time, you can always take private Italian lessons with a one to one Italian tutor.

Your tutor can meet you at home or deliver an Italian lesson via webcam. Interacting with another human being will improve your chances of speaking Italian more accurately – something that can be missing from those who learn languages online.

The Benefits of Learning Italian Slang

In Italian, just like in other languages spoken around the world, there are many different ways you can express yourself.

From formal Italian phrases to Italian slang words, Italian speaking varies from one situation to the next.

And you won’t find the language of the Italian streets in your phrasebook.

Here is what one Italian learner experienced:

When I arrived in Argentina, where I would live for the next year, I found it impossible to understand Spanish. Not only did they speak incredibly quickly, but they also used a lot of expressions I had never encountered in my Spanish lessons. So, even after five years of Spanish lessons at school, I was not always able to express myself as I wanted to.

Several months passed before I felt able to use everyday phrases such as ‘I don’t care’.

Sadly, similar stories to this one are all too common among future languages teachers training for their PGCE without having spent enough time around native speakers.

Although some may only be hoping to teach the basics of a language to younger children, neglecting your own language skills can prevent them from accessing new opportunities in the future. Learn what qualifications you need to become an Italian teacher.

Don’t fall for the traps. The best Italian language lessons cannot be found by google ‘Italian online’, and even the most expensive tutoring out there won’t be able to teach you what you learn by spending time abroad.

The only way you can acquire this kind of knowledge is by going to Italy and interacting with real Italians.

And don’t be shy – they will be delighted to teach you even the most offensive insults of their native language!

You’ll learn about the conversational language of the younger generation, which has evolved significantly with the arrival of mobile phones and the internet. And because major changes in a language usually stem from its youngest speakers, you can experience these changes first-hand!

Get to grips with the different ways of speaking Italian according to different situations Learn Italian as it is spoken by people your age ¦ source: Pixabay – Free-Photos

Once you become a teacher and spend your school holidays in Italy, you’ll be able to tell your students all about how Italian children of the same age spend their time.

Experience isn’t something you can learn; it’s something you live.

The national curriculum forgets this, and so exams and tests usually centre heavily on the knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, as well as correct use of adjectives, nouns and conjugating Italian verbs, and the cultural aspect isn’t even considered.

Make the most of your time as an undergraduate and go abroad for an experience you’ll never forget!

Interacting with native speakers and getting to know the accents of Italy’s cities will stand you in good stead when exam time comes around, and the things you once found difficult will become significantly easier.

Teach Your Students Formal Italian

Once you become an Italian tutor at last, your pupils will expect the best from you – as will your employer.

Being given tutor jobs isn’t just an end goal – it marks the beginning of your teaching career.

During your first year in a teaching position, you will be regularly observed by another teacher or assessor while you teach, so it’s important that you maintain a good relationship with your pupils and direct their learning towards a more polite way of speaking Italian.

This means that if ever they go to Italy, they be able to use Italian manners and communicate effectively and politely.

Although, as the age-old argument goes, ‘everyone speaks English anyway’, Italian is a major language in International exchanges thanks to Italy’s cultural output.

Fashion is a particularly large sector of the Italian economy. With brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and Gucci, Italian high fashion is incredibly important on the runway and on the high street.

For this reason, many fashion businesses look to employ people who can speak both English and Italian.

Fall in Love with Italy

It’s a well-known fact that we are best at explaining the things we are passionate about.

These days, there are a number of ways you can spend some time in Italy:

  • Work placements
  • Language exchanges
  • Studying abroad

It would be a shame to not take advantage of this!

Your passion for the Italian language will only grow as you spend more time speaking it.

Italy's coffee culture is just one thing that makes Italy so welcoming Enjoy an Italian coffee and discover what makes Italy unique! ¦ source: Pixabay – eliasfalla

So, discover Italy and the ancient culture, gastronomy and architecture that are so often associated with it.

Did you know that the Italians have at least 10 names for their coffee?

Different words and phrases are used to describe the different method for preparing the famous beverage.

Once you have taken the time to wander through the winding streets of Italy, photographed the ancient ruins, and spoken to all kinds of Italian people, you’ll be ready to take on a class of pupils who are raring to study Italian.

You’ll be able to teach them all about Italy, and emphasise the need to learn about the culture that goes with a language.

Your knowledge could put you in charge of organising a trip to Italy for your class, meaning that your favourite places will no longer remain a mystery to your enthusiastic students as they fall in love with Italy for themselves, even if they only learn to speak basic Italian.

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