Italian is the 4th most studied language in the world, after English, Spanish and Mandarin. Considering it is spoken in a relatively small geographic area apart from Italy - like San Marino, Vatican City, Switzerland and some parts of Slovenia and Croatia.
World history’s writers, composers, singers and designers notably trace their roots in Italy. Italian has been considered the language of music, arts, sport, design and cuisine for centuries. It is also the official language of the Roman Catholic Church. Thanks to this, Italy influences global culture in a pivotal way, like no other country on the planet, continuing to be a solid attraction for foreign students and expatriates.
But many still wonder if we too can excel in Italian to achieve our dream of becoming fluent?
Francesca Ruberti, marketing and student services manager at Mangiaparole, Italian language school, is on board to explain to us everything that goes on behind the scenes of teaching and learning this beautiful language spoken by 68 million people in the world (as per Wikipedia.)
How was Mangiaparole started?
Mangiaparole was founded in 2015 under the Erasmus+ programme by a group of young Italian language enthusiasts with more than 20 years of experience teaching in universities and language schools.
The first in-person classes started in Rome and Marta (Viterbo) with a group of international students. When Covid-19 arrived, all classes went online. Our courses are one-on-one and group, both in-person and online, for students at all levels. The teachers developed and launched a free in-house assessment test which includes two parts - twenty written questions to measure students' writing ability and a video call with a teacher to determine how effectively students can communicate in Italian.
How many months are required to become fluent in Italian?
Well, the answer is different for everyone. Based on our experience, the number of weeks might vary according to your mother tongue and exposure to the language and if you learn living in Italy or remotely. For instance, if you live in Italy and you start as a beginner, it might take between 80 and 120 intensive hours to reach level B1 to prepare for the Italian citizenship exam. But if you just want to understand what most people say to you to be able to travel and communicate with locals or order at a restaurant, 10 hours can be enough.
How much easy or difficult is it to study and gain formal mastery over Italian language?
The key to learning Italian is to commit to studying daily. As I said, it also depends on several factors as mother tongue, motivation and dedication. If you know any romance language, including Spanish, French, Portuguese and Romanian, Italian is more approachable and easier to learn.
How many nationalities have been trained by Mangiaparole?
Students are at the center of our work and we welcome them no matter where they come from. Most come from the United States, Korea, India, Latin America, Australia and Europe.
How does the Mangiaparole school’s teaching methods tend to international students?
We prioritise a global and communicative approach where students are fully immersed in a stimulating context and exposed to practical aspects of the Italian language. Teachers always look for something entertaining to break-up formal studies and keep learners motivated. In addition, they look for authentic materials (articles, movies and songs) to show how native speakers really use the language and make students start feeling like natives too!
What courses do you offer?
Aside from individual and group courses for all levels we offer the following:
- IDL - Italian for Driver’s Licence;
- Italian for diplomats;
- Italian for religious students (proofreading/editing services);
- Italian for CELI, CILS and PLIDA certification;
- Italian for tourists.
Our courses follow the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to gauge how well you speak Italian. The CEFR organizes language proficiency in six levels - from low to high A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2 which can be regrouped into three broad levels: Basic User, Independent User and Proficient User.
Which one is your signature course?
The IDL – Italian for Driver’s License course on Zoom was created for L2 adult learners that are studying for the theory test and who’s home country has not signed bilateral agreements with Italy to convert the driver’s license. The course focuses on driving vocabulary and quizzes. It gives students support to overcome language barriers and tricky questions asked in tests that even the locals find difficult. Tests can be intimidating if you don’t have enough vocabulary or aren't exactly sure how to prepare for the exam. Teachers go through preparation tips, vocabulary and linguistic structures of the driver’s license book, driving rules, quizzes and what to do on the day of an exam. The course is made of twelve lessons of two hours each, with lexical activities, games and role-play. Our experienced teachers explain about different types of roads, vehicle categories, signs, traffic regulations, yield signs – while practicing Italian. The required level to join the course is A2.
How is your teaching methodology more interactive and student-friendly than other schools?
Our teachers only speak Italian during classes. They use a communicative method where beginners typically start speaking basic Italian after a few weeks. Each class lasts 60 minutes and during this time students study grammar but most importantly they have the opportunity to practise their speaking and listening skills. We help students build their confidence. We prepare them to understand that it takes time to learn a language. We give them the chance to not only experiment through practice but also learn how to express themselves. We promote quality of life. If you pick a course in Rome and Marta and their surrounding areas, you won’t have to commute to and from school. If you live across the ocean, you just need an Internet connection.
What is the cultural background and qualification of your teachers, basically why do you think they are best at what they do?
Our teachers are native Italian speakers, graduates cum laude and specialized in teaching Italian as a foreign language. When it comes to effective teaching, strong communication skills, adaptability and empathy are a must.
Benedetta Triulzi, school principal, got her start as a teacher more than 20 years ago. She told me that many students came to her class feeling afraid of speaking, discouraged by their previous experiences and too overwhelmed to approach the language positively. By communicating with them about how Italian applies to their passions, sports and future plans, Benedetta realized that they were able to approach the subject in a more enjoyable way that better supported their learning.
Anita Lorenzotti, teacher and school coordinator, believes that no matter what level you're teaching, your patience will be tested at one point. Whether you’re preparing your lessons or planning the school calendar, patience is one of the most important skills to have as a teacher. Another way to improve a student’s learning is to be empathetic and understand what may be going on in their personal lives. Teachers make an impact on their students’ lives and those that do, leave a lasting impression that can totally change their lives.
What are the long-term benefits of studying Italian?
While the Italian economy is set to rebound and recover most of this year’s losses due to Covid-19, Italian employers seek people who speak Italian - plus a second language. Italy is the world’s hub when it comes to fashion, design, luxury cars, culinary arts and cinema. Although the country has a relatively small number of international corporations, small and medium enterprises create the most jobs in tourism and the service sector. The industries that have traditionally been the most open to foreigners are tourism, finance, media and international business. Teaching English, working as a translator or for an import-export business is a popular option for expats in the country. With this said, given the high competition and the current economic climate it is challenging to find a job in Italy.
Why, according to you, do people learn Italian - apart from education or career?
The majority of students are fascinated by the musicality of the language, the charm of its words and the funny gestures. It’s the most studied language in the world for culture and pleasure - and we could not agree more! If you are passionate about literature, art history, archaeology, food and fashion, Italy is the place. It is the land of Pinocchio - the wooden puppet - and that’s what our logo is about! If you are ready to make a lifestyle change and move to Italy, taking classes in person takes on new meaning; Vocabulary surfaces and the language comes to life, especially with locals. But when words do not suffice, just learn hand gestures and facial expressions and quickly break down all communication barriers!
How did you end up doing your current job?
My passion for languages comes from my sister who is an English and French teacher. We spoke only Italian at home, but she would challenge me to play in different languages. When it was time to deepen my knowledge in foreign languages, I decided to start my full immersion experience in Spain and in the USA. I participated in the Erasmus exchange project at the University of Valladolid, Spain. I was a visiting student of International Marketing at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I worked at two prestigious schools for foreigners, Casa Italiana and Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, after gaining a long experience in fundraising at Unidos US, while living in Washington, D.C. All these experiences made me the person I am today. My passion for languages, empathy and curiosity leads me to take this job and embark on new adventures. Mangiaparole's mission for spreading the Italian language around the world represents a challenge that I accepted with great enthusiasm.
What makes you passionate about working at Mangiaparole?
I have a vision and creating a rewarding learning experience for our students humbles and inspires me daily. I know where I want to be. I believe that together with the strong women I work with - we can take Mangiaparole there. Our school is 90% women-owned business and that is the motivation I need to keep going. I’ve also been fortunate to have many mentors along my journey, family and friends who have helped me make important decisions. Creating a relationship with students is also my drive. I love listening to their stories. It makes me feel I’m part of their world. Are you ready to start your Italian journey?