Children learning: hidden benefits of a second language

should children learn a second language

Should children learn a second language?

Learning a second language might be good to enhance a person’s career prospect and often comes in handy when you go on holiday. However, there are deeper reasons and benefits for offering your child the chance to learn a second language.

Interestingly enough, a second language will actually boost their abilities in their native language and will generally boost their school performance. In fact, studies suggest that children with a second language are more creative, develop more critical thinking, the flexibility of the mind and have a better memory.

But there is more: learning a second language gives people the ability to access and understand another culture. They acquire respect for other cultures, for people and their ways of thinking. This develops their empathy for others. Their curiosity and interest for the different and as a consequence, they are more open to new ideas as well.

Should children learn a second language? The benefits are great, however, any learning that children undertake is also an effort for the child and a commitment from the parents.

You will often hear people saying that children are like sponges. In a way this is true. It has been proven that children’s brains are designed to absorb information and particularly languages. Also, unlike teenagers and adults, they have a natural ability to recognise and reproduce new sounds. This is why small children can speak without a first language accent. However, we need to recognise that learning is an effort for the children and that they need to be well supported in their endeavour. Learning a language takes time and it is a commitment for both children and parents.

Having said that, the benefits are far-reaching and will enhance a child’s ability in many different ways. Second or more languages will give children even better chances of developing into well-rounded individuals and the earlier they start the better it is.
At Parla Italiano we offer Italian courses for children, please check our children’s classes schedule.

Laura Scaramella, Tel: 07941 092593

Written for Edmonton Green Magazine, November 2017

Italy and its food etiquette: when in Rome do as the Romans do.

italian food etiquette

Find out how to eat and drink in Italy, what are the authentic customs and rituals, and what is the Italian food etiquette. If you want to make the most of your holiday to Italy please read on. In addition, you can also find here some essential Italian food and drink vocabulary.

In Italy, eating is not a trivial matter, Italians don’t consider food as a means for survival, but as one of the pleasures of life. Food is related to joy and it is to be enjoyed with friends and family. Eating is a part of the Italian culture as much as the art of Michelangelo and the science of Galileo. We have many beautiful words which are typical of the art of enjoying food and drinks by the Italians, such as degustare and assaporare which both mean to enjoy/taste. We’ll discuss here the very essential vocabulary that you need for your trip to Italy. But for now, let’s see a few things that you can expect when you’re in Italy:

About meals (i pasti):

Italians eat quite late compared to the British or the Americans, so expect an Italian restaurant to start getting busy at around 8.30. When eating out in Italy always reserve your table. Especially if you wish to eat in the outside area, it is better to book as restaurants get full quickly. Italians are relaxed about time but if you are over 20 minutes late it is better to let the restaurant know. Regarding the menu always ask for the specials: these will be the freshest items on the menu, and it is what most Italian will order. To dine in style in Italy be adventurous and from time to time swap your lasagne and pizza for the local cuisine.

Il ristorante = the restaurant
L’antipasto = the starter (for example prosciutto e melone or bruschetta)
Il primo = the first course, usually pasta, rice, or soup
Il secondo = the main course, usually meat, fish, or a vegetarian option
Il contorno = the side dish (for instance salad or any other vegetable)
Il dolce/ il dessert = the dessert

So as dinner is somewhat late, if you are hungry early, you can always enjoy a lovely ‘aperitivo’ before your meal.

About the aperitivo:

The ‘aperitivo’ in Italy is also a ritual. To put it simply, this is a drink – for example a glass of chilled prosecco, a martini, an Aperol Spritz or a classic Negroni – accompanied by nibbles. So, expect your drink to be served with one or more of these: crisps, bruschetta, focaccia, olives, cheese, a selection of cured meats, etc. The food is fresh and delicious and in spring and summer is enjoyed outside. One essential ingredient of the aperitivo is the relaxed and leisurely attitude of the regulars. Hence aperitivo is to be consumed in an oasis of peace, where what counts is the full enjoyment of the taste, the flavour, the colour, the texture of what you are eating or drinking. And all this, of course, in the company of good friends or family.

Le patatine = crisps
Le olive = the olives
Il formaggio = the cheese
Gli affettati = cured sliced meats (salame, bresaola, prosciutto, etc)
L’analcolico = non alcoholic drink

About wine (il vino):

Wine is savoured with the meal; it complements and completes it. The Italians say: ‘a meal without the wine is like a day without the sun’ (un pranzo senza vino e come una giornata senza sole). Indeed, wine represents enjoyment and joy, it is essential to the full experience of eating like an Italian. In fact, food does not taste the same without it. Italy produces high quality, world renown wines and every region will be famous for their own. I personally come from Valtellina, in the very North of Italy near Lake Como, and our beautiful red wines are Sassella, Inferno, Grumello, Sforzato, and more. Despite this, in Italy, wine does not have to be expensive to be good, even the house wine might surprise you.

Il vino rosso = red wine
Il vino bianco = white wine
Il vino rosé = rosé
Il vino frizzante = sparkling wine
Il vino corposo = full-bodied
Il vino dolce = sweet wine
Il vino secco = dry wine

About beer (la birra) and soft drinks (le bevande)

Beer and soft drinks are the usual accompaniment to pizza and barbeques. However, a very cold beer can also be an alternative to wine in the summer, when it is scorching hot, to accompany light simple meals. In the past the only beer you could find were pale lagers, but today, you can see a good variety on offer, including German, Belgian and Irish imports as well as local craft beers.

La birra alla spina = draft beer
La birra scura = brown ale
La grigliata = the barbeque

About coffee (il caffè):

Coffee is something that Italians are very fond of. Most importantly, coffee for them means an espresso, so when ordering be clear about what you want. If you try to order an item from the Starbucks menu, for example Frappuccino, you will probably be met with a question mark on the Barista’s face. Italian terms for a coffee are: espresso, caffé corretto, cappuccino, caffè ristretto and macchiato. If you order a ‘caffé corretto’ you’ll get an espresso with a drop of liqueur, a ‘caffé ristretto’ is a short shot of espresso, a ‘macchiato’ is an espresso with a drop of milk, or milk foam. According to the Italian dining etiquette cappuccino is drank only for breakfast or in the morning and never after meals.

Il caffé = the espresso
Il caffè americano = the black coffee
Il latte = the milk
Lo zucchero = the sugar
La panna = the cream
Il cornetto = the croissant

About parmesan (parmigiano):

This is the king of the Italian cheeses. The parmesan cheese is originally from the city of Parma. This cheese has been produced for centuries and recently it has been given the DOP label (Denominazione di Origine Protetta = Protected Designation of Origin). The original Parmigiano Reggiano must mature for at least 12 months, while other similar cheeses such as Grana Pandano can be sold after 8 months. This type of cheese is eaten on its own as part of the aperitive as well as being used as an ingredient in many Italian dishes. Usually, cheese is not mixed with fish and seafood dishes. Italians use parmesan abundantly for example on most pasta dishes, however they don’t sprinkle it on pizza, which is made with mozzarella cheese. It is considered so nutritious that even babies are introduced to parmesan as soon as they start eating solid food.

Il formaggio = the cheese
Il parmigiano = the parmesan cheese
Il parmigiano grattugiato = grated parmesan cheese

About ice-cream (il gelato):

As with many Italian foods, ice cream has a long history. What we call gelato originally came from Naples (although not everybody agrees on this!) and since then it has been exported everywhere in the world. When looking for ice-cream in Italy, look for ‘produzione propria’ or ‘artigianale’ which means that it is made on site with natural ingredients.

Il gelato = the ice cream
Il cono gelato = the ice cream cone
La coppetta = the ice cream cup
I gusti = the flavours
Cioccolato = chocolate
Panna = cream
Fragola = strawberry
Limone = lemon

Other essential items of the Italian food etiquette:

Tap water:
better to order a bottle of mineral water rather than ask for tap water.

Oil and vinegar:
Salad dressing such as salad cream are not used by the Italians, who prefer to dress their salad with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt. Consequently, expect oil and vinegar to be brought to the table even if you have not asked for them.

Some other essential vocabulary related to eating is:

Mangiare = to eat
Il conto = the bill
Grazie = thank you
Acqua minerale naturale = still mineral water
Acqua frizzante = fizzy mineral water
Mi porta il conto = can I have the bill please?

When in Italy relax, take your time to enjoy, blend in and try to use the beautiful language (la bella lingua). If you can, keep in mind the Italian food etiquette, however, Italians are generally very forgiving. During your trip to Italy try a few words in Italian, they will appreciate the effort. Other than that, look around, adjust to the atmosphere of the place and do as the Romans do

Italian is the language of music

why is italian the language of music

Why is italian the language of music

This beautiful language is the language chosen by Mozart for many of his most famous operas. Indeed, it is considered the language that sings, and it has been associated with music for more than a thousand years. In addition, a great deal of musical terminology is in Italian. So why is Italian the language of music?

Find out here:
1. Why the Italian language sounds musical
2. How the Italian language dominated the musical scene in the past
3. Why the terminology of music is largely in Italian
4. What were the Italian inventions in music

Why do people love the Italian Language?

Many people fall in love with the Italian language by going on holiday in Italy. They fall head over hills with the language while enjoying the beautiful country, the warm weather, the sea, the cities of art and perhaps by listening to Italians. I have heard of an English speaker who believes that everything ordinary becomes rather special if said in Italian: the modest kitchen towel is asciughino, to rock or swing is dondolare, to whistle is fischiettare and even the garbage has an enjoyable and mischievous sound: spazzatura.

Why does the Italian language sound musical?

I suppose that when you experience mostly blue skies and warm weather you might be inclined to feel positive and happy. You might be on holiday and then most things might feel and sound better.

However, the musical element of the Italian language can be explained technically. Indeed, it is achieved by the fact that most words end with a vowel giving a singing quality to the language. The use of double consonants as well as the length of the words made up a several syllables also helps in giving Italian the distinctive musical sound. To help pronunciation we also use elision, where we drop a vowel to make pronunciation smoother.

Why is the primary language of music Italian?

Having said that, Italian is also the language of music in the sense that Italians have greatly influenced classical music and its language. Therefore, many musical terms, instruments and much of the musical notation are in Italian.

It started in the Medieval times…

We need to go back to the Medieval era, around 1200, when an Italian monk, Guido D’Arezzo, invented the modern musical notation. Prior to his notation, music was not written down consistently or clearly nor in an accessible way. Guido’s book on music notation revolutionised the musical world, opening it to a greater number of people. This was one of the most read treatises on music of the Medieval time.

The Italian authority in the musical world

Later on, the Italians continued to dominate the musical scene, so much so that their innovations enabled the creation of the opera in the 16th century. The Italians had a great influence on much of classical music. They established Italian as the language of music in the same way as, for example, English is used today in most countries for IT and new technology terms because the Americans have mostly dominated this field.

This explains why, if you read music, you will come across Italian words such as allegro, andante, con brio, vivace, moderato and so on. The Italian composers also gave names to the musical compositions they created, such as: concerto, sonata, sinfonia, opera and so on and so forth.

The creation of the opera

Opera was born in Florence around 1550. From then, this new genre took the rest of Europe by storm. However, the Italians and the Italian language dominated the scene for a long time and operas were considered serious and influential if they were written in Italian. Equally important, Italian was considered a more poetic and musical language. Indeed, even Mozart collaborated with the Italian poet and opera librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. He authored the text (il libretto) of the three famous operas by Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.

The invention of musical instruments

The Italian had a great influence upon the invention of musical instruments. For example the piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori. Even the violin (or violino) as it is known today in its complexity was created by two Italians Amati and Di Bertolotti. It is, therefore, of no surprise that many instruments have Italian names: viola, violoncello, mandolino and even their entire group: orchestra.

Italian music words used in everyday language

Afterwards many Italian words used in music have entered other languages and are still used today in everyday exchanges. These are a few interesting ones used by English speakers:
Prima donna
Bravo
Presto
Forte
Concerto
Opera
Tempo

To summarise: why is Italian the language of music?

In short, this is because Italian not just sounds beautifully melodic but most importantly because Italian had a huge influence in the history of music. Starting from the Medieval time, Italians created an entire music language, new genres, new musical instruments and more. Hence, if you play an instrument or are an opera singer, Italian will be an interesting language to discover.

Join one of our classes to take a dip into this beautiful language, you’ll re-discover words you already know. In addition, you will have the chance to hear the real language. And practise speaking from day one and learn or improve your Italian. And even if singing is not required, we might listen to Italian music from time to time. Ciao!

Enigma and the game of learning a language

Learning a language is like a game, not necessarily because it is easy, but because that should be the spirit when you attempt it.

Have you seen the film The Imitation Game? This is about Alan Turing, an English mathematician and computer scientist who worked for the Government at Bletchley Park. With his work, he helped cracking intercepted coded messages, which helped defeating the Nazis. Interestingly, what Turing says in the film is that cracking the code is just a game, a puzzle game.

But a language is also a code and my advice to you is to treat the learning like a game that you enjoy, be it a Sudoku, crosswords, or any other puzzle.

One of the common problems of second language students is listening comprehension. The spoken language is very different from the written one. Utterance of words is affected by speed, volume, accent, and so on. However, if you are listening in my class you will be advised to play like Alan Turing. The listening is not simple, it has to have a natural flow so that students practise hearing the ‘real’ spoken language. At first nothing makes sense, same as your jigsaw puzzle when you first start. However, the idea is not to understand it all, in fact any single word that you will understand is a bonus. After the first listening students start working on breaking the code. In the film, Turing realises that all message have some words in common, so this is his starting point. So if your audio track has prosecco in it, you might start to piece together that people are at a party or at the bar. During the second listening, you might capture other individual words and when added together it starts to make more sense. The more you listen and the more pieces you can put together to get the full picture. Before you know it all of the pieces start to fall into place.

This is of course true for a single listening but also for the all process of learning a language.

Do not forget that it is just a game and enjoy it the challenge of it while doing it.

New classes starting soon, beginners class available, limited places, contact Laura if interested laura@parlaitaliano.co.uk

The secret fountain of youth: learning in later life

learning in later life

Learning in later life

It is only after having had children that I discovered the Palmers Green community. Now, when I go out each day, I always meet somebody I know either from the school, the nursery, the tennis club, the swimming pool, the park, or of course the Italian classes that I run in Palmers Green.

My Italian classes are designed for adults and take place either in the morning at 10 am or in the evening at 7.30 pm. Who chooses the morning class is usually somebody working from home, self-employed or, more and more frequently, retired.

People are choosing to learn a second language later in life and recent studies point to the benefits of such a decision: “even brief language courses could improve mental ability and ward off a decline in later life.[…]

So even when you are in your 60s or 70s, your brain responds” says Prof. Sorace who carried out a study on retired people.

This and other studies have discovered that learning a second language offers proven benefits for intelligence, memory, and concentration and lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Once it was thought that our IQ and brain’s abilities were set at birth and they would simply decline with age. It is now recognised that our brain possesses plasticity that enables it to change throughout life and it has the ability to reorganise itself by creating new connections between brain cells. In other words, the ability to learn continues in later life.

A number of my students know this and take advantage of my classes and my methodology to exercise their brain and keep it agile. I admire them and in some cases, they make up some of my best and most rewarding classes.

They are a very active part of our community. And just yesterday at the local supermarket I met one of my latest students, Doreen; she is 84 and doing well. If you had any doubt about joining a class because of your age, you are probably just a baby compared to her. Don’t wait any longer, discover the real fountain of youth and you will reap the benefits, even the ones that you didn’t expect.

The magic of learning: understand and love the process of learning and you can learn anything.

the process of learning a language

The process of learning a language

Isn’t this statement alluring? I can learn anything I want.

If you are cynical, you might think: here it is another of those big statements that are in fact pure marketing or one might even say: a lie.

The interesting thing is that I actually believe that one can learn anything. I have seen it done. The catch is, that it is not without actually doing something about it.

I once came across a product that declared you could learn a language in your sleep just by plugging some headphones on your head and going to sleep. I’m sorry to say, that this does not work.

In order to learn you have to do something, you have to do it regularly and you definitely have to be awake for at least some of it.

Learning is a process, it is usually easy in some parts and difficult in others but always rewarding if you stick with it.

I have a dyslexic friend, she has always had problems with the academic side of life and she was of course always aware that her learning was difficult. However, at the ripe age of 50, she decided to make one of her dreams come true; she decided to learn to play the piano.

I can hear you saying: “well, many people start and very few achieve what they set out to do. When did your friend give up?” And in thinking that you will be quite right, many people start and very few actually achieve what they set out to do. At the first hurdle, they let go, they feel they are making mistakes, they are not progressing fast enough, they don’t understand completely everything, etc. If you have any more excuses for giving up, we could add them here…

The fact is: you have to believe in the magic of learning.

Learning is magic because it does not happen in a linear way, it does happen in your sleep and it emerges when you are not always expecting it. You have to believe in it.

Learning is also a process. To achieve the success you must embrace that moment when learning is difficult. Feel the moment, keep going with it, whatever it is you are doing. Be it that difficult shift of the fingers when learning the piano, or mastering the slight angle of your tennis racket for that particular shot, or the ending of new verb conjugation. It is this difficult moment that makes the learning happening. It is the constant practice and the belief that if you stick with it, it will happen. Don’t give up, the hurdle is part of the process, without it, there will be no learning.

I feel that, at this stage, it is appropriate to mention a quote that is very important to me, is from Henry Ford and he said:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re probably right.”

Believe that you can do it, stick with it, and it will happen.

By the way, I didn’t tell you the end of the story about my friend: she has been learning the piano for ten years, sometimes she plays for me; she is amazing! I listen and, of course, I believe in the magic of learning. Love the process, love the difficult part of it, believe that it is happening even if you think you have no evidence of it yet, and the magic will do the rest.

How to learn a language effectively: a few ideas to complement your class

how to learn a language effectively

How to learn a language effectively

First of all, if you are interested in learning a language find yourself a class. Even Bill Gates tried to do it alone and didn’t manage. A tutor will help you strengthen your motivation to carry on with your learning. But it is proven that a class complemented with self-study works best and makes learning quicker.

Here are some ideas on how to study outside of the class.

A student recently told me that he wouldn’t do his homework. OK, but if you go to the gym and your instructor teaches you how to use one of the machines, would you say that that’s enough to get fit? You understand how to use it but only if you practice you’ll achieve your goal. My advice is to do your homework. This is usually design to practise more at home what has been done in class. Do homework does not have to take two hours a day, in fact it is better to do 10/15 minutes a day for two or three days than to do it all in one go.

People are busy and sometimes it is difficult to find the time to study.

But why not finding opportunities in those empty little slots of time for example when waiting for the bus. Prepare a few little cards, on each one write some new vocabulary that you want to learn. Put them in your pocket and when you are waiting for the train or bus take one out, look at the English version and think what the word would be in the language you are trying to learn. Turn the card - where you will have written the foreign equivalent - and see if you are right. If yes, put it in the other pocket, continue till all cards have gone from one pocket to the other.

There is another interesting technique that is driven by your desire to learn but also the interest that you have in the text selected.

Find yourself a blog/website/magazine/etc that is of interest to your and is written in your chosen foreign language. This is fine even if you are a beginner, just choose a short one to start. Don’t be afraid! Your aim is to understand the very general idea of the piece. Once you have read the first time, read again and this time underline all of the words that you think you understand – even if you are not sure – and even if you think there are none: you will be surprised. Then take a break. When you are ready, read again and do the same exercise. The more you read, the more words you will underline, and before you know it the general meaning of the article will no longer be a mystery.

Complement the work that you do in your class and you will be rewarded with faster learning.

Learning a foreign language as an adult: my experience

best way for adults to learn a foreign language

Best way for adults to learn a foreign language

There are a lot of people who believe that it is not possible to learn a language as an adult. They think so because there are a lot of misconceptions about learning as an adult, for example, that the adult brain is no longer able to learn, that you can only do it if you live in the country, that it will take too long, that it is too difficult, etc.

I am however convinced that it is possible. And you will probably think: of course you say so considering your profession as I have been teaching Italian to adults for many years. But the interesting thing is that I’m not only convinced but I actually know that this is possible and this is because I have done it myself.

I was born in Italy and lived there until my late 20ies. Until I was 25 I didn’t know a word of English.

I of course knew that English was very important for my working career, whatever I was going to do, but I was busy at University and therefore I thought, I’ll do this later.

When later came I was already 25, I started going to a once a week class organised by the local library. When I started I remember that I had the impression to have been starving for it. Everybody seemed to speak it – although I didn’t know at what level - and references to it were everywhere. So I was hungry for it and therefore my motivation was sky-high. And interestingly enough it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t learn. Not because of arrogance but because everybody seems to be able to speak it and flaunt it and therefore I thought why not me?

I studied for two years going once a week to my class but this was not enough for me.

I would search out ways of learning outside of the class, reading anything that I came across, using my dictionary to extend my vocabulary and then record the family of words and how to use them in sentences. When after two years I travelled to London my English wasn’t particularly good but it was much, much better than when it was non-existent. After a short holiday, I went back to Italy. It took another two years before I actually moved to London for good and during those two years, I kept going to classes, researching, writing, etc to learn more and more. When I finally moved to London for good I had a good working knowledge of the language.

So my message is be hungry for it. Understand your motivation. Be confident: I have done it, so can you.

Don’t only rely on going to your class but try to find ways of working outside of it.

Motivation and fun: the crucial elements for learning a new language

how to motivate yourself to learn a new language

How to motivate yourself to learn a new language

Have you ever thought how great it would be to start learning a new language, but never really did anything about it?

Perhaps you were not sure where to start from or thought that you were never good at languages at school, or perhaps you have tried and have been disappointed.

I’m a teacher of Italian to adults at Parla Italiano, I have taught students for many years and I have noticed how many students have been surprised about how much methodology has moved on and now enables people to learn quicker, to really speak in the language and even to speak from lesson one. Long gone are the days when you needed to learn by heart words and conjugation without ever using them in class or even never utter a word.

In learning a language there are four different skills (speaking, listening, writing and reading) and each needs to be exercised in order to be learnt.

So if your main goal is to speak then your class should be mostly focused on enabling you to speak and provide you with opportunities for doing so. Therefore expect to do speak as much as possible in your class.

There are two elements that are crucial for learning: the first one is motivation.

Learning is a process and as with anything else, the more you put in and the more you get out. If you want to learn, first of all identify why you want to learn and then get specific, this will help to strengthen your will. For example, if your motivation is to be able to speak the language on holiday focus on this and specify to yourself exactly what you want to accomplish with it, what are the situations that you want to feel comfortable with the language, what level you would like to achieve, etc.

There are many different types of motivation, for example, understanding a new culture or being able to speak to family and friends or simply to socialise.

Whatever your goal is, there is now an added benefit recently proven by psychologists and linguists research. This is that learning a language is a true workout for the brain and that learning a new language changes your brain network both structurally and functionally. Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger. This is why it is never too late to learn and it can be beneficial to the young as well as to the older students.

The second crucial element for learning is to have fun and be able to relax.

We know that the more people are able to lose themselves in the process then the more the brain is capable of absorbing and processing information. For example, a lesson could be aimed at having students play a chosen game in the target language. In order for the student to have fun, the teacher has to plan and carefully structured the lesson so that all the necessary language has been provided to enable the student to put it into practise and play. When somebody is absorbed by what they are doing they are able to relax and also speak without feeling so self-conscious.

Find your motivation and find a class that gives you a chance for fun and your doubts about learning will be a thing of the past.