The principal objective of our Italian language courses is to get our students, even those in the beginner and elementary levels, to the point where they're able to communicate in Italian. How do we do this? We believe that the knowledge of grammatical structures and vocabulary are important, yet we know that they aren't enough in themselves. Students can be well versed in the rules of the Italian language without being able to speak it.
When we communicate in Italian, we use language to exercise certain functions, such as asking, answering, discussing, promising etc. In addition, we exercise these functions within a socio-cultural context. These are the two fundamental elements that make for effective communication, and it is through the interaction between two speakers, or a writer and a reader, that the meaning of a communication becomes clear.
How do our instructors put into practice these basic concepts? The aim of our Italian lessons is to develop proficiency in communication through activities such as games, role-plays, problem solving, dramatizations, and listening and reading comprehension using real recordings and texts. The use of authentic materials provides our students with the opportunity to develop ways of comprehending the Italian language as it is used by native speakers. What renders the approach we use in class particularly effective is the fact that the activities have an immediate, functional impact on our students' communication beyond the classroom. Immersing themselves in the Italian language as it's used outside the school environment (for example in a bar, in a restaurant, at the post office or the train station) allows students to put the strategies they've learned into practice and to get immediate feedback on their capacity to communicate effectively.
This is made much easier in a small town like Montepulciano in which even the shopkeepers and waiters feel they're part of our students' learning process. They're always ready to listen, encourage, advise and even laugh with the students at their more entertaining mistakes.
Within this context the Italian teacher is the point of reference - creating a situation in which students can communicate, explaining the rules at the right time, drawing students into conversation and encouraging those who are having difficulty - without being a dominating presence. We're convinced that our students, while having the constant support of their teacher, must always feel that they are the centre of the learning process. And our results speak for themselves!