My thesis advisor used to say to me that if you really want to learn something well you must teach it. He was more than right. As I graduated in Educational Science I taught a few subjects and I became rather knowledgeable about them. Since I have started to teach Italian I have perfected my knowledge of Italian grammar, even thought there is always something to learn, but my focus has been mainly on my students’ learning: ‘How can I get them to learn? How can I empower them and give them the confidence they need to speak in a language other than their mother tongue?’.
Many of us know how difficult it is to speak in another language. Panic and nervousness frequently take over and we find ourselves going blank and embarrassed… I know it so well, trust me.
We frequently forget that we learned how to communicate in our first language in a natural way, copying what our parents, caregivers, tv and so on were saying. I cannot remember what I did, but I am closely and constantly watching my son who is three years old. He is continuously copying what we say at home (and not only at home, I am afraid), and the way that things are said. At night when he is on his own in bed he rehearses… he repeats complete sentences said during the day, the same tone of voice used and so on. Prof. Dalton Kehoe senior scholar at York University in Toronto Ontario, Phd in Social Psychology during his lecture ‘Effective Communication skills’ endorses the fact that it would be far more difficult to learn how to communicate learning a word at the time. To support his theory I have a couple of personal experiences which I am happy to share. I lived in Paris for a year and my French was much better when, after spending hours with some French friends, I would start imitating them. Even better when I’d try to mock them… I recently had a student in my class who, as with many beginners, would make some small mistakes in pronouncing Italian words… As soon as I’d correct her she would mock me, repeating and emphasizing what I had just said… her Italian then was perfect… not only her pronunciation, but her way to communicate was truly Italian!
This is the reason why working on your fluency is so important and I am working hard to get this message through. Grammar is incredibly important, vocabulary is more than necessary, but everything is dead knowledge as long as we don’t start to use the language to communicate. Through communicating effectively we gain confidence and we finally feel empowered. So, let’s watch Italian films, tv and the Italian people around us and let’s rehearse… practice makes perfect!