Panorama view of Lucca houses and mountains in the background

Back to the Classroom for a Week of Italian Language

Jake and his partner Laurel recently returned from a successful trip to Lucca, where they enrolled on our 2-1 individual beginner’s Italian course.  Jake has kindly sent us a testimonial of his trip which we loved reading! Read on to find out about his first-hand experience of  starting an  Italian language course as a complete beginner: 

It’s okay not to know everything. I can google it. I can read about it. I won’t become an expert, but I might learn something. That is all I should hope for, taking at least one thing away from any experience. That was my perspective when I decided to take an intensive language series of classes. Fortunately, I got much more than one thing over the course of my first week learning Italian.

students with Italian teacher

Jake and Laurel with their Italian teacher, Lucca

Caledonia set me and my partner up with a great school. The school is set in the heart of Lucca, a small, medieval city in the area of Tuscany. A booking manager helped talk us through our options and worked out a 10 hour, one week course which was just the amount of time we had available.

My partner and I had big plans for Italy. We will be spending six weeks in a village in Southern Tuscany later this year. Because the village is remote, we need a good enough working knowledge of Italian to get groceries and not embarrass ourselves. We were motivated and ready to learn!

On day one, we walked through the doors of the school and found smiling faces greeting us with “ciao!” (which means hello and also goodbye). We went into one of the classrooms and talked through some of our excitements and fears. We both are former teachers, but this would be the first time either of us had been a student in years.

Then Isabella, our teacher, strode into the room and closed the door as the fear set in for us. She began speaking solely in Italian to us right away. With my lack of experience you would think I would be in a panic, but with Isabella’s smile, slowed down speech, and encouragement we began to relax while imitating her words. Soon we were greeting each other and Isabella in Italian. Then repeating the greeting (again and again and etc.). Through the repetition, Isabella’s encouragement, and her exactness for pronunciation, we slowly began to pick up a few words.

After our first day’s lessons, we were ready for a break. We headed out of the school into the city. We knew we needed to practice so we started rehearsing the conversations from the lesson. Little by little, it felt less uncomfortable.

The second day started with Isabella asking how we were. I had a headache and had not slept well so we talked about sickness, medicine, and sleep. She began lessons for the rest of the week in this way organically building learning experiences from what we told her. This made us feel welcome and encouraged us to use the language for what was most relevant to us. Using the magic phrase “Come si diche…in Italiano,” we could ask for the translation of English words into Italian. This challenged us to use what we already knew and build our vocabulary to stretch our capabilities.

We moved on from the warm beginning to some grammar. This focus on grammar helped us understand how the language works. Learning about the different conjugations of verbs helped us build more diverse sentences.

Language student pointing to board of Italian verbs during Italian Language course

Learning Italian verbs in Italian class, Lucca

Isabella stressed saying a phrase or sentence out loud then repeating it. She would break a sentence down by making each of her fingers represent a word. Then she would have us repeat the sentence word by word simultaneously and individually. This was helpful because my partner was at a better level of understanding than me so the teacher could push us individually while we moved through the same lesson.

Isabella made a rule of no translations for each other. This coupled with her constantly speaking in a language I had just begun was tough to keep up with in class. Sometimes she would say several sentences in a row and I wouldn’t pick up anything. Just when I was feeling most lost, the teacher would rephrase an idea in such a way that a switch would be clicked in my head and what she said would make sense. Like putting on glasses for the first time, I could understand, or “see,” what she meant.

As the days and the classes went along, we picked up more and more. By the end of the week, we were surprising ourselves with how much we had picked up. It is so easy to think you have gotten nothing from an intensive language class, but we found we had picked up a few tricks. When we would chat with our host family, with the butcher at the grocery store, or with the servers at cafes, we could effectively greet them, ask how they were, order what we wanted, find out how much the order cost, and make change. We are now ready…well, ready for much more practice and hopefully more lessons!

About the Author:

Jake is currently making his way across Europe while petsitting various animals along the way. He has taught in American schools from coast to coast in Los Angeles and Baltimore as well as his hometown of Dearborn, Michigan. In 2017, he left the classroom and his country to pursue a digital nomad lifestyle as freelance writer. Follow his travels or get in contact with him on his website.

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