Todi as Teacher
Todi come maestra
by Christina Ball
Faccio la professoressa d’italiano. I’ve been an Italian teacher for over 20 years, initially to college students and, since 2004, primarily to those who’ve fallen in love with the language later in life. My duty is to dust off unrealized dreams and help people of all ages and backgrounds believe that it is never too late to learn a new language, especially when learning is propelled by a profound, enthusiastic, unbridled passion for all things Italian.
As Italian professoressa and friend, I have witnessed many epiphanies over the years — from the excitement over the first “Buongiorno, signora!” to the equally empowering moment when a student learns to distinguish between the two principal past tenses (passato prossimo and imperfetto) while describing a favorite childhood memory or an unforgettable dining experience in Rome.
However, I’ve witnessed the biggest, most thrilling transformations, not directly as a teacher, but as the instigator and guide of a language and culture immersion program in Todi, a tranquil hilltown in the achingly beautiful region of Umbria.
Each year, the town opens its arms wide to welcome my group of Italy-loving Americans for a 14-day seminar on Umbrian life. Participants join me from all over the U.S., from all walks of life, and with varying experiences with the Italian language.
Florence, a nurse from Arizona, and her 21-year-old daughter, Nicole wanted to spend some time together while learning a little Italian in order to communicate with relatives in Sardinia. Domenico (Don), an air traffic engineer with Italian roots, chose to spend part of his sabbatical studying Italian and enjoying Umbrian food and wine with his wife and new friends.
Marianna (Mary Ann), a flutist and advanced student of Italian, brought her entire family along to share her passion and to perform in one of the local churches (a highlight of the 2010 course). Giuliana (Jill) and Marta (Martha) have been studying Italian for years, but knew they needed total immersion to reach the next level. Roberta, a school reading specialist returning for the third time in 2011, has convinced all of us that she has un cuore italiano, an Italian heart. She comes back to Todi because, she says, it’s like coming home.
For two weeks, my primary job is making introductions. I first introduce my group to their host families and apartment owners and to our wonderful driver and guide, Leonardo. I introduce them to Elisabetta, who owns the coffee bar, and to the teachers and staff at La Lingua, La Vita, the Italian school where they spend four hours each morning learning to laugh in Italian.
On our afternoon walks, I take them to meet Michele, the hairdresser; Marcello, the owner of a museum-like food and wine shop; and Elsa, owner of Enoteca Oberdan, my favorite little wine bar. Within days — and even with the most minimal Italian vocabulary — they become part of the fabric of life in Todi. They become tuderti.
My favorite moments come from silently observing my “students” interacting with the people and places of Todi. I walk by the bar to catch Martha and Jill chatting with barista Elisabetta over cappuccini before class. At the miniscule supermercato, I stand in line behind Don, who’s talking with the woman behind the counter about the different types of pecorino cheese. Out for my evening indulgence — a gelato “noci e fichi” (walnut and fig) at Gelateria Pianegiani — I catch four of my students watching a World Cup soccer match with a handful of locals. I wave a friendly "ciao" and continue my passeggiata.
With Todi as their teacher, I’ve realized that the best thing I can do for my students is simply to step back and let them shine.
Words and Expressions
Volere è potere — to want is to be able (to do) or "Where there's a will, there's a way"
Tuderte adjective (singular) — from Todi
fare un giro — literally "take a spin around", closest equivialent to "cruise around"
Magari! — an expression meaning 'I wish!" or "If only!" For examplee,if asked: "Parli benissimo l'italiano?" (Do you speak Italian very well?), a student might say, “Magari!” And an Italian teacher might comment, "Volere è potere!”
Christina Ball is the owner/director of Speak! Language Center and the creator and guide of Two Weeks in Todi, an Italian Language and Culture Course. Click here for more information on this program including 2011 dates (June and September) and numerous videos.
Win a week-long immersion in Venice!
The Venice Italian School is offering another opportunity to immerse yourself in Italy's language and culture: Enter its second annual contest to win a week for two studying Italian in Venice (accommodations included). You can find out more about the school and its programs at its website.
Dianne Hales is the author of