Teachers of the Italian language are worried. A recent report by the British Council reveals that, overwhelmingly, secondary school students are learning to speak French, German and Spanish.
If all people want to do is speak Spanish, how is an Italian teacher to earn a living?
Many have turned to giving private Italian language lessons. They teach Italian online, or visit their clients' homes for one on one instruction.
That makes for a crowded market, one where the choice is great. Where you may find the teacher you need right around the corner from you.
How would you know a good teacher from a mediocre one? That is to say: of all of the teachers of the language of Dante that you could engage, how to find the one that is right for you?
Let us give you some ideas on how to winnow the long list of Italian teachers available for hire into a manageable two or three names, from which you would then select the ideal teacher for you.
What to Look For in a Teacher of Italian
When trying to learn Portuguese, Marie launched herself online, to discover what she could from the various websites offering basic language courses.
Later, when chatting online with native speakers, in their language, she found that just about all of the grammar she had learned was, in fact, incorrect. As was more than just a bit of vocabulary.
Her pronunciation was way off the mark, too.
This type of experience can set learning back by several months, if not totally discourage any language learner.
So can a bad teacher.
The first thing to look for in a teacher is one with a positive attitude, a proven teaching methodology and a lot of knowledge of the Italian language.
What is knowledge of the Italian language?
Your teacher should be capable of instructing you on:
- the Italian alphabet – just a bit different from ours
- Italian grammar and vocabulary
- Italian verb conjugation
- Italian pronunciation and listening comprehension
- how to read and understand Italian writing
- translation to and from Italian
S/he would have to be well-versed in Italian language and culture, as well as demonstrate a degree of fluency in speaking.
By that, of course, we mean that your ideal Italian tutor should be bilingual: a native English speaker who has learned (or is learning) Italian, or a native Italian English speaker – in which case, s/he should be able to speak English fluently enough to explain grammar rules.
S/he would also have to know what phrasebook you should study from, and what extracurricular materials and activities to recommend to you.
S/he would have to assess your level: are you an absolute beginner, or have you progressed beyond buon giorno, arrivederci and grazie mille?
Your tutor would have to speak Standard Italian.
Italy boasts more than thirty regional dialects, all of which are recognised as official languages by the country shaped like a boot.
If you are only ever interested in visiting the Tuscan region, or sojourning in Sicily, then learning those dialects would be sufficient.
However, should you have aspirations of living and working in Milan, Florence or Siena, or even enroling in the prestigious Università per Stranieri de Perugia, you would have to learn the language cobbled together by Dante Alighieri.
And that brings us to our next question.
What are you Learning Italian For?
There are numerous reasons why people choose to learn la lingua d'italia:
- They are aware that Italy is the world's seventh-largest economy and are poised to take their place among Rome's or Siena's movers and shakers.
- They seek a job in the fashion or automotive industries
- They are foodies hoping to unlock the mysteries of Italian cuisine, from Sardinia to Genoa, by learning from the masters
- They are about to embark on a trip to Italy: floating down the canals of Venice or enjoying Tuscany's sun-drenched hills
- They simply wish to imbue themselves with Italian culture and tradition
Some people, as a part of their university studies in anthropology or sociology, may learn Italian in order to review documents pertaining to ancient civilisations.
Students of science may want to read transcripts of Galileo's or DaVinci's writings, unencumbered by translation.
Are you marrying into an Italian family? If so, you may want to learn to speak Italian so that you can converse with your new relatives.
If your aim is to sit for PLIDA, CILS or DITALS, you may need a boost in spoken Italian, or in reading and writing.
Should your company branch out internationally, you could be on the forefront of those trade relations by learning Italian online as a second language.
Each of these scenarios presents the need for a unique teacher. Furthermore, it is quite possible that any one teacher may not meet all of these learning needs.
If your new family is from the Piedmont region, it would not help for you to learn the Abruzzo dialect, for example.
If you will be importing footwear, it might be best to acquaint yourself with Business Italian, rather than conversational Italian.
These examples illustrate the importance of defining your Italian learning needs before seeking out the best teacher for your Italian language course - for example for Italian classes London or York.
Self-Taught or Certified?
In learning a language, naturally, anyone would want the best teacher for his/her money.
On that, we are in complete agreement.
The question remains: what is meant by 'the best teacher'?
As pointed out earlier in this article, certified teachers of Italian abound, whether for formal Italian lessons in a classroom, or for anyone to learn Italian online.
However, they are not the only people qualified to tutor you in Italian.
You could engage a student who is himself engaged in Italian language courses.
The UK does not require tutors to be certified or licensed.
The general rule of thumb is for your teacher to be at least one year more advanced than you are in learning.
Therefore, should you engage a student at university who is taking Italian classes, you can rest assured s/he would have upper intermediate, or even advanced level language skills.
If you can speak basic Italian – or any other romance language, that student would be qualified to teach you.
Among student bodies and around your neighbourhood, it is possible to discover native Italians who are studying English, that could help you with your language learning needs.
In general, people tend to revere their native language. Thus it follows that a native speaker may well jump at the chance to teach you how to speak Italian.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of learning Italian words and phrases from a student is that the cost is likely to be lower than if you were taking an Italian course through a language school. Find free Italian resources here.
You may also consider someone self-taught to guide your language learning experience.
Such people tend to be passionate about learning in general and languages in particular.
Quite possibly, s/he learned through immersion – surrounding herself with the culture and language of our favorite Boot, so well that Italian speaking comes as second nature.
Imagine such a teacher, transferring her passion for romance languages to you!
Language Instruction Delivery Methods
Gone are the days when one must trudge to class in order to learn anything: modern teaching means that you can receive instruction in the comfort of your own home, if you so choose.
Whether you opt for tutoring in your home or would rather be a part of a student body, learning the language will in part be dictated by how and where lessons are delivered.
Believe it or not, this is an important criterion in choosing your Italian tutor.
Is your future teacher adept at teaching online?
Are you prepared to learn Italian via webcam?
Or would you prefer more traditional methods of instruction: in the same room with your teacher, learning words and phrases alongside other students?
Bear in mind that the traditional classroom setting, by nature, gives students less talking time.
Language classes tend to favour the teacher talking, while students, for the most part, absorb instruction. This could be detrimental to your learning goals.
On the other hand, such a situation will permit you to interact with your fellow students. You could even set up a network to practice your conversational Italian outside of class.
You could attend cultural events such as Italian film festivals together, too!
Once you have decided whether you prefer learning Italian in a classroom or at home, face to face with your teacher or online; once you have determined what level of certification your teacher should have...
Once you know why you are driven to take Italian courses, you can follow these steps to find your perfect teacher.
Prepare for your Italian exams with our guide to exams.