Some people are pioneers, others of us are always looking for recommendations – a story from someone else who have “been there – done that”, so we can fine tune a trip, rather than start from scratch. That is what travel blogs are about and it is also what Susan Van Allen’s book offers this for Italy – she must have had a wonderful time researching it, what stories we weave when we travel.
Susan Van Allen’s new travel book 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go is a celebration of Italy’s sensual and feminine best ~from a historical, cultural and travel perspective. Van Allen offers a treasure hunt of delightful destinations, charming stories and practical information which bring a unique richness to visiting bell’Italia! Amazon link to buy the book
Italian Language Classes
“Get an Italian boyfriend,” is what girlfriends tell me is the best way to learn the language. Learning to speak Italian while falling in love is a lot like how a baby makes its first attempts. First it’s all about amore, then it moves on to basic necessities where you’re like a demanding two-year-old, and if things go farther you’ll inevitably be expressing feelings, which could lead to anything from a tearful breakup or, in the case of my friend Lisa, a happy marriage and two adorable bi-lingual children.
Going another route, you could follow my friend Louise’s lead. She’s a card-carrying Italophile and has taken lots of language classes in Italy. For her it’s been a good way to take a trip that feels “rooted” and gets her more deeply immersed into the culture. And since she’s past the backpacking days of meeting fellow travelers in youth hostels, the classes have the perk of a built-in social scene for those times when she’s traveling solo.
If you do an internet search, you’ll find schools all over Italy—from Elba to every major city. Most are reasonably priced and have sliding scales of accommodations, so you can stay in a low-priced dorm or private apartment. Italians have become professional in setting these schools up all over, as so many people from all over the world want to learn Italian. As far as accreditation, you may want to check with your local Italian teachers to see if they have any recommendations.
So the question is: Where to study? Since it’s Italy, every place where there’s a school has its charms. You could break the question down to, “Do I want a village or city school experience?” If you choose a city, as Louise says, “It’s like going to a commuter college in America. There’s the advantage of having so much interesting culture around you in a place like Rome, but it’s going to be a bit more expensive than a village school. And most likely the other students will be running off after class to do their own thing.”
If you choose a village, it’s like going to college in a small town. There’s camaraderie with the other students, and since you’ll be in a place where most of the natives don’t speak English, it’s a good “sink or swim” situation when you’re not in class. A middle ground choice would be a town like Siena or Perugia, where you have a lot of cultural activities, but it’s a more closely knit community than a major city.
Ciao Italia, Rome
Taking Louise’s advice, years ago I went to Ciao Italia, a small school in Rome, near the Colosseum. They fixed me up with budget accommodations (my own bedroom and bath) in a huge Trastevere apartment, where I was hosted by Antoinella, a half-deaf, 70-something-year-old widow. She insisted on feeding me and I got a kick out of hanging out and watching blaring TV with her just like I’d done back in Jersey with my nana.
My classmates were a writer from Edinburgh who was working on translating Belli (his favorite Roman poet), a thirty-something- year-old Venezuelan gal who’d married an Italian and was on a job hunt, and a Japanese chef who worked in an Italian restaurant in Tokyo. This mix of nationalities is typical. “Most of the time I’m the only American at the school,” Louise says.
At Ciao Italia the instructors were enthusiastic types, who rode Vespas to work and looked like fashionistas even when they were just wearing jeans and zip-up jackets. The classes were excellent and structured as most schools are: three-hour morning sessions, broken up into grammar and conversation classes, and optional afternoon activities that ranged from cooking classes to a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto, or watching Cinema Paradiso without subtitles.
I loved the two weeks. It was rigorous classwork, but fun. At the same time, there were distractions, like my American- Roman friends who I’d have dinner with and break my “only speak Italian rule.” And then the endless sights I’d want to get to or re-visit from past trips, which cut into what I could’ve gotten from the afternoon programs.
One of Louise’s favorite language school experiences was in the small port town of Milazzo, Sicily, where she signed up for a few weeks at Laboratorio Linguistico. The classes were small, the school had sailboat excursions to the nearby Aeolian Islands, there was a beach to hang out on, and a historic town center that wasn’t touristy. Louise now speaks excellent Italian, and she says taking this class really helped to improve it.
Wherever you choose to go, you should have basic Italian 101 under your belt, as most schools teach using the “direct method,” with classes totally in Italian. And though there is fun to be had, keep in mind there will be homework. What’s best about taking classes in Italy rather than back home is that the learning curve is speedy. All of a sudden you’ll be out in the street, overhearing conversations you can actually understand or having interactions with Italians, using what you’ve just learned. Ah—those “Eureka!” moments.
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