Back to Class: Learning the Italian Language in Italy.

a student standing outside a language school in Italy

Speaking the Italian language has been a goal of mine for many years, even long before we started running our Italian cycling tours.

Aside from signing up for various online language apps, I started researching language courses in Italy a couple of years ago, and finally took the first step this month, completing a 10 day intensive course at Siena’s Università per Stranieri di Siena.

The course, which included a mix of classes and one-on-one tutorials, was a rewarding, thought provoking, exhausting and interesting process.

Commencing the first week with a placement test, you are then assigned a class the following day.

The first day in class was interesting.  There was a group of 5 university students from Arizona, a retired architect from New York, students from China, Japan and Sri Lanka, a lady from Brazil and myself. This is the A1 entry level class and while it was a good first day, I was somewhat surprised by the amount of Italian the teacher was speaking, and how little English was used to explain something that we were “being taught”.

A white board in an italian language class in Siena

I know that there are many ways to learn and it’s been a while since I have had to sit in a classroom for hours at a time, but this ‘teaching style’ was definitely pushing the limits of my concentration and comprehension.

At the conclusion of the first day in class, the Americans were sent off to another class. So with now 5 students in the class for the second day, it was a mix of really good and really slow progress, as even in the entry level class there were vastly different levels of comprehension.  Then at the start of the 3rd day, the Brazilian lady was sent off to a different class and I to another, where I rejoined the American contingent. This new class was a better fit for me, but I also knew that I was in the right class when the topic of conversation swung around to bicycles, and in particular ‘made to measure’ or fatto su misura da Stelbel.

An italian language class in Siena

This third day was also the day that I started my “one on one” tutoring. For me, the one on one sessions were great. I could focus with the tutor on things that I specifically didn’t understand, and most importantly in a context that I would personally use. Over the course of the week, I had 4 one on one sessions with 2 different tutors and the difference between each tutor with regards their teaching style, was significant. I learned different things from both, but certainly felt more at ease with Monica (my first tutor) who after our first session said “believe in yourself as you know the general information”.

In fact, one one of the best things I learned over the 10 days was how you can sometimes take a piece of information that you know is correct and overthink the answer, only to then get it wrong.

Having the confidence to just say it, even if it is wrong, is key.

As day 4 started, I had quickly developed a routine where I would awake early to have a caffe and respond to some emails, before the picturesque 35 minute drive into Siena to secure my free parking.  I would then take a walk up into Siena’s centro storico where I would stop for my second caffe and a cornetto con crema, before settling in to start the class at 8.35am. With two classes back to back and a 15 minute break, we would finish every day at 1.20pm, unless I had my tutorial, where I would then finish at 5pm.  These were seriously long days.

The Campo di Siena

Overall, the experience was really positive and a great start, however what I did learn at the end of this intensive course is that I need to have space and time to study and put into practice what I have learned each day. So ‘intensive’ is probably not for me.  Perhaps it’s also because I’m very fortunate that I can talk and practice my Italian with Nancy and our friends here in our home town of Gaiole in Chianti each day, and that I know we have the opportunity to spend many months immersed in Italia each year. Piano piano …is the way for me.

I am now having a break from the classroom for a few weeks to put into practice what I have learned (and to run our Tour of the Dolomites & Prosecco Rd), before returning in mid August for some more one on one sessions.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the experience of learning the Italian language in Italy, reach out to us anytime.

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