Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Learning our lessons the hard way
Monday, February 13
Finding the best language class is proving to be a difficult venture. When we lived in Padova in 2001-02, we tried two schools, Inlingua and Bertram Russell. Inlingua offered pricey individual instruction that quickly threatened to break our budget, so Lucy, Suzye and Lindsey took group lessons at Bertram Russell. Because I was working, I could sit in on only an occasional lesson.
They went to school four hours a day and five days a week in the beginning class, with instruction entirely in Italian. While total immersion has its advantages, it can be a daunting experience. The proprietress and staff were friendly and helpful, but the classes moved too quickly, with much time spent listening to the teacher talk and little time to practice one concept before moving on to the next. The insegnanti are obliged to cover all the curriculum, and they forge ahead regardless of the level of befuddlement of gli studenti. Some students give up and stop coming. The more persistent repeat each level numerous times before passing the tests to advance to the next level, which is what happened in my family's situation.
On Friday, Lucy and I walked into the office of Bertram Russell and were surprised to be greeted warmly by the head of the school, who seemed to remember us as if we had only been away one year instead of 10. We sat in on the last hour of the intermediate class, currently in its fifth day of 20 sessions. We were given the study guides for both the beginning and intermediate classes to peruse. By the end of the hour, we drew two conclusions: That there were some concepts in the latter stages of the beginning study guide that we needed to review, and that we would not be able to bear four hours a day of listening to the teacher. She seemed nice enough, but she did 99 percent of the talking in class, except for the long pauses when she wrote sentences on the blackboard. This did not seem the place for us.
Before coming to Italy, Lucy had purchased the Rosetta Stone interactive computer program at Borders Books closeout sale, and on the weekend, we took our first Rosetta Stone lesson. The first lessons, though too basic for our skill level, kept us fully engaged for an hour. In comparing the group class with the computer program, we concluded that an hour with the Rosetta Stone is worth at least two hours of group lessons.
This morning I check into two other options. First, I sit in on 20 minutes of the Bertram Russell beginning class, which as we thought is much too elemental for us, and once again there is much time taken to write on the board or listen while other students struggle to answer questions from the instructor. Worse, of the nine students present, only one has done his weekend homework, which was to write a paragraph on one's own hobbies and interests. The other students either didn't understand the assignment or just didn't want to do it, so the class spends most of the time listening to the teacher. I find it strange that people would spend $600 on a class and not do their homework, but I leave knowing that this is definitely not the place for us.
Leaving Bertram Russell, I pursue our final option, hunting down a government office that I had looked up on the Internet over the weekend. It offers free classes for immigrants, classes I had tried to take 10 years ago but was rebuffed because I didn't have a permesso di soggiorno (a story I will tell another time). I explain that I am a dual citizen interested in the free classes, and the man at the information desk tells me I should just show up at one of the classes and sign up. The classes are offered twice a week for an hour and a half, a total of only three hours a week. He circles the location that is closest to where I live but warns me that none of the classes are in my neighborhood. He doesn't give any indication whether or not my legal status here is important to my eligibility for the class, so I will have to see what happens when I show up for the next class, which is two days from now.
Three hours a week is not going to teach me enough Italian, but 20 hours a week of sitting and listening to the same voice at Bertram Russell is more than I can take, so I am not thrilled with either choice. Private lessons of about two hours a day might be ideal, but that will cost more than I want to spend. It seems Rosetta Stone is the best choice, but I will also see what the free classes are like.
The problem with Rosetta Stone is not the program but the student and the weaknesses of the flesh. I know it will be too easy for me to choose to read, write, take a walk or just snooze instead of doing my daily lesson. Hopefully, though, I will be a different person here, without the distractions of running a business and my many home projects. With the added incentive of having Italians all around who expect me to understand them and make myself understood, I have the incentive to make it work.
My goal will be eight hours a week of Rosetta Stone and three hours with the free government classes. If the free classes are not for me, then I can increase the Rosetta Stone hours. I’ve been told that the very best way to learn Italian is to get an Italian girlfriend or boyfriend, but neither Lucy nor I have an opening in those positions, so we’re just going to stay disciplined and stick with our lessons.