Last year I volunteered to be lingua madre instructor in the public schools. It was a great way to fill my day, meet cute kids and insure that little voices would say “hello” when ever they passed me in the piazza or during passeggiata. You can read about the schools and that experience by flashing back to this earlier post http://wp.me/p3rc2m-8Y.
What I really wanted to do during this year’s time in Pontelandolfo was organize a summer theater camp – free – in English for kids. Every student here has to pass an English proficiency exam and theater is a great way to get a grip on speaking. Unfortunately, I wrote my proposal to the town in a timely manner but was remiss in getting it translated in a timely manner. Che fa! Now its translated but we’ll save the proposal for next year. That brilliant idea thwarted by il dolce far niente, I needed a something else to keep my brain and body occupied.
Idea numero due! In July I printed up fliers that said, ” lingua madre Midge is offering free English conversation classes.” I figured maybe four people would want to hang out in a salon like atmosphere and practice speaking English. WRONG!
The first people to reach out to me was a group of four middle school girls. We talked about refreshing skills before they went back to school. Four turned into six including one adult! What I find interesting was that their text book had them reading and writing at a really advanced level – I mean I don’t know these grammar rules. But no one can speak! Worse, some didn’t remember the simple concepts. The schools are between a rock and a hard place – everyone has to take English but there is no money to put native English speaking teachers in the schools. Imagine if every elementary school teacher in the USA suddenly had to teach Chinese. The same type of instruction would happen – videos, worksheets and books. I had a great time with them but will admit that after a few weeks only one girl and the adult kept coming. Something about homework in the summer…
Talk about learning on the job – Marilina from my favorite morning writing room – Bar Elimar – wanted to learn enough English to talk to tourists. Hell, I didn’t know what half of the words on the bar menu meant and thought where do I begin? I know, I’ll play the ugly American, DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH and provide her with a variety of responses. Then I thought of every question I’ve ever had about the stuff she sells. To make it fun for media loving me, I created a power point and made sure to include pictures of her behind the bar. So the up side is I’ve had to learn all the phrases in Italian in order to insure she understood them in English. Festival season happened and she was too busy to keep coming. But I still have the power point!
I Cuochi Antonio e Nicola.
Then, two great young men studying to be chefs at the vocational cooking high school knocked on my door. Help, we got internships in a restaurant in England – we need to speak English! How do we meet people? What if no one in the kitchen speaks Italian? Whew – who knew there were so many cooking verbs to translate. We toured my kitchen pointing and laughing as they identified every cooking tool I had. Now, I have cooking study guides up the wazoo.
The two adult conversation classes were the most fun. One class had two butchers, a plumber and OK I don’t remember. They didn’t speak English at all so it was really ESL. Oops, Festa season and that class ended.
The other class had an attorney, pharmacist, shop keeper and florist. They do speak English and just needed an outlet to practice. It made me not feel so stupid when they admitted they knew vocabulary but were afraid to speak. That is exactly how I feel about Italian! We are still reading and discussing short stories and newspaper articles. Festa season didn’t impact them. Sigh – perfect.
Guess what also happened? Strangers not in the classes are now giggling and saying “Good Morning” when they see me sitting and writing at the bar! What a wonderful gift.