Adventures in Teaching English to Italians

Jun 20, 2014

Alison David

Insegnare l'inglese a Milano

Teaching English in Milan

A guest post by Alison David

After more than 20 years of evening college classes, in-country immersion courses and even a university degree in Italian, I finally decided I would master la bella lingua once and for all–by moving to Italy. So here I am in Milan, teaching English and trying to improve my Italian. Not quite the fantasy I had of drinking wine and picking olives in the Tuscan countryside, but it’s a start.

Not long after my arrival I was asked to join an immersion “English week” at a liceo. Sure, I thought, sounds great! Liceo. Oh. High school. Oh God, teenagers!

After very little sleep, I walked into a classroom of twenty 18-year-olds — who all stood up and said “Good morning!” It turned out to be a fantastic week. They were creative, attentive and funny. They even laughed at my jokes.

I segued into teaching Business English for a language school with clients all over Milan. I travel (run) between offices daily. Many of these students have learned English by reading literary works but have little practice actually speaking English.

There are the usual problems and frustrations with pronunciation, spelling and verbs — and sometimes just the absurdity of English. I have classes calling out “ha ha ha, he he he, ho ho ho!” to learn to aspirate the letter “h.” I’m teaching them to poke out their tongues to feel how to pronounce “th”—not unlike English speakers learning to roll an Italian “r.”

While verb conjugations drive us foreigners crazy, at least in Italian you write a word as it sounds and say it as it’s written. English? Forget it! Which “rain” or “reign” should we use? And what about “Look at that tortoise: It’s still still”?

I love when my students “get” something, whether it’s a business phrase or “Ah, Alison, that guy was trying to…chat you up.” We’ve heard, “I’ll hold him down; you hit him!” One student proclaimed “Alibi, but is not a lullaby. Or a butterfly!”

There have been some tears-rolling-down-faces-stop-the-class moments. One day striding about the classroom, I acted out prepositions by standing beside, near, in front of students. When I stood behind one, someone called out, “Ah, you’re under him!” “Ah, no!” I said. The others started laughing, and that was it.

Last week a student gave us a salsa lesson. What a great way to learn: “One, two, three –- five, six, seven, sideways, backwards and forwards!” And just try, ‘Left right left, right left right” in another language while dancing the steps!

My students are wonderfully polite and welcoming. I’ve been invited to events and social outings. We’ve shared birthday cake in class. Last week I had a coffee before class. One of my students was there with friends. When I went to pay, the cashier said. "Oh no, Marco's paid for you."

Teaching English to Italians is certainly rewarding. As long as I can keep up the pace!

Words and Expressions

insegnante — teacher

imparare —  learn

scorrevolezza — fluency

possedere bene una lingua — master a language

Alison David, a native Australian, is pursuing her dream of living, teaching, writing and singing in Italy. Follow her adventures on FB at "The Italian Muse."

Dianne Hales is the author LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Langauge and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.

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