I have written a few articles about fun and innovative ways to learn a foreign language and today I have the pleasure to share with you a guest post article written by Silvia Perrone. She teaches Italian in the most inventive and creative way: through stories, journaling, and poetic workshops. Her students range from beginners to advanced, and they all praise her subtle ways of introducing them to the Italian culture and language. She is a true artist. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy her article.
Before being a teacher I was―and still am, a learner.
I’ve always been attracted to languages and I remember asking my parents to buy me an encyclopaedia to learn English when I was about 7 or 8 years old and I also remember completing all the Italian grammar cards that my teacher had in a box in class.
Then growing up I added more languages, more books, more exams but it was only after I was outside of the school/university context that I really realized speaking a foreign language is not just about getting grades or getting a better job.
A language is a world, a universe even.
So I started to pay more attention to what made me feel good about the languages I was learning: reading literature, laughing at jokes, watching movies, watching tutorials, having meaningful conversations.
I also understood how I was happier to learn, which led me to the way I teach today.
My approach is based on stress-free activities that involve reflection, observation, and creativity.
I guide learners into stories (written by me and other authors), let them get lost, and find their own way back. This allows them to work on the language indirectly. I prefer that the person writes instinctively, relying on their previous knowledge, and only later works consciously on the language. So there is always a first phase where the learner is free to write or speak their mind, even mixing languages, followed by a second phase where they fine-tune, adjust, polish their output.
I’m a grammar nerd, I absolutely love grammar rules and exceptions, but I don’t teach them unless I’m specifically asked to. It’s been a hard choice, especially at the beginning, because I wasn’t used to put grammar in the background. Almost every language book I own and almost all the classes I took in school were based on grammar rules. I suppose it’s the same for most people. While I’m not saying it is wrong to study grammar, not at all, I have chosen to focus on something else. Learning a language as an adult is nothing like learning a language in school, so I thought it deserved to be the most enjoyable experience possible.
Stories transport learners in a “world” with which they may or may not have something in common. And here is where the reflection part takes place: I ask my students open questions—often intimate, deep, even uncomfortable, and I tell them to use every form of expression they find better suits the question. This is why my Story+Journals have two blank pages after the prompts, to be filled with words, images, drawings, etc. In my self-paced materials and courses, there is a part dedicated to journaling because I think it’s the best way to write without judgment or pressure both from the inside and the outside. Once learners break the ice, they are in the right mindset to go even deeper.
This is when I usually introduce some creative activities as for example blackout poetry, collage, and found poems. I also encourage my students to approach the text from different angles, the weirder the better. When you look around, there is always a source of your target language that you can use to learn something new—it can be a song you are listening to in your car while going to work, an advertisement in the train station, a flower in your neighbour's garden, everything can inspire you.
The last part is where students reflect on the language and actively learn about new words and usages (even grammar rules sometimes!) and use their preferred methods to organize and memorize the new information they have discovered.
As adult learners we can struggle with finding the time to learn a new language, that’s why I have designed self-study materials, but sometimes you just need to relax and do something creative with other like-minded people. I find that Creative Italian Workshops are a great opportunity to learn while…using your hands! During the live workshops, we use a text (generally an article from online magazines or blogs) to find our own words.
While we are live, we make collages or blackout poems and this part never finishes to amaze me. The final result is always different even if the text is the same for everyone. This is because we all approach it with a different “present” (state of mind, feelings, worries, etc). I find it very enriching and inspiring. I also lead workshops with A2 students and they are able to find beautiful poems, just like the more expert learners.
“Create connections, meanings, memories” has become my motto and I want to conclude this piece with those words: when you connect the new language you acquire with your experience, when you make it meaningful for you, and when it becomes personal, a memory, you are starting to own the language—no matter how advanced a learner you are. Bask in the beauty of the language you create every day, get comfortable in it, and new opportunities will arise.
Language coach and founder of Italearn.com
Co-founder of Con Parole Nostre Podcast