Monday, February 20, 2012
Italian class educational in its own way
Monday, February 20
My first free language class begins with 22 of us setting our chairs in a U shape around Ilaria, who explains that our placement test results showed mixed skill levels. Nine students showed more advanced knowledge and may find the class too simple, she says, and she encourages those students to go to the Wednesday and Friday evening classes instead of the Monday and Wednesday afternoon classes, because the evening classes will be smaller. I am one of the nine she suggests take the evening classes, and I say I will check my schedule. As she explains course expectations, more people trickle in, and we have to widen our semi-circle. Ilaria has to re-explain things to the newcomers, and I volunteer to carry more chairs from an adjacent classroom. By the end of the class, she has 28 students. I am barely able to keep up with what she is saying, and I wonder how the 19 who are less advanced than I are able to understand.
We must give notice if we will miss a class. Those who miss three consecutive classes will be dropped. We must attend at least 25 hours of the 45-hour term to be presented with a certificate of attendance. The classes are free, but we must purchase a textbook for 17 euro.
Ilaria is italianissima—well dressed, thin, pretty and graceful—and we are a motley group of blue collar immigrants. Some have brought their children, who sit quietly off to the side. Ilaria has us state our names and where we are from, and my classmates are from Morocco, Russia, Puerto Rico, Romania, Cameroon, Nigeria, Moldova, Algeria, India, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. I am the only American.
Since much of our time was taken with procedures, seating and introductions, we have time for only two very simple handouts. In the first one, we match 12 pictures with 12 words, such as treno, piazza, vino, stazione, mercato and so on. A couple of students think that piazza is something to eat, and at this point I have pretty much decided to try the evening class, because I am probably not going to learn anything new about Italian in this class.
The experience makes me grateful for many things. I am thankful that this is not my only chance to learn the language. I have the Rosetta Stone program, and I can afford to take lessons at a private school if I want. Most of these people have left everything behind to come to Italy, and they have no other choice than this free class. I am also grateful for my Italian grandparents, who left their homes to provide their children and grandchildren a solid chance for prosperity. The immigrants in this classroom remind me of my grandparents, who risked all to come to a new land, enduring hardship so that I can enjoy an easier life. I may not learn much Italian during the two more weeks I will take these classes, but that doesn't mean I won't be enriched by the experience.