Italia Italiano. Leggi l'Italia, impara l'italiano.
Harvard University professor and applied linguist, Patricia Chaput, speaks and writes passionately about language teaching and about some of the ubiquitous myths that teachers of Second Language (target language taught in the country of the target language) and Foreign Language (target language taught in an area where the target language is not the language of communication) encounter almost on a daily basis. Among those is the myth that speaking should precede the other skills; reading may safely be postponed until later. In reality, reading proficiency should remain a high priority in any FL or SL classroom. Studies have shown that reading proficiency in another language comes about through the careful integration of all skills, and especially listening. In order to have them progress in reading, we should offer our students a variety of reading materials including electronic texts (email, blogs), technical texts, correspondence, journalistic pieces, and literary texts. Aware of these desiderata, language teachers continue their dedicated search for age appropriate, level appropriate readings that will, hopefully, engage the language student and that will also reflect authentic discourse, or nearly so.
Italia Italiano furnishes just such a resource for Italian teachers of both ISL (Italian as a second language) and IFL (Italian as a Foreign language). The magazine is available by subscription in hard copy format, or more ideally, in a hardcopy format supported by access to a dedicated website. Italia Italiano, produced in Italy by PuntoCom Publishing reveals clearly that the inspiration for this endeavour comes from experienced teachers and applied linguists with a deep understanding of the requirements and expectations of teachers and students of Italian. The writers, therefore, provide excellent, up to date material for classroom use that not only will appeal to the teacher but will also capture and hold the interest of students. Furthermore, this magazine will allow students to improve language proficiency in a variety of ways: clearly, proficiency in reading Italian, but also, the development of correct syntax and exposure to current lexicon. The illustrated issue that arrived on my desk for review presented eight readings for students of intermediate to advanced level Italian. Each reading comprises 800-1000 words on various topics that cover Attualita (L'Italia da terra di emigranti a Paese di immigrazione), Cronaca (Se un blog cambia il discorso della giustizia), Societa e Politica (Qualita della vita 2005: vince Trieste), Scienze e Tecnologie (Italia leader dell'agricoltura biologica), Il personaggio (Giovanna Melandri, la donna che guida lo sport italiano), L'Italia Nascosta (Mantova diventa una citta di corsari), Cultura e Spettacoli (Benigni e la Divina Commedia a Firenze, la cultura diventa evento) and finally, Sport ("Le Olimpiadi? Preferisco fare la mamma). For each reading there is a pre-reading exercise that introduces the theme of the text. Each article is followed by a selection of carefully prepared written activities: first, a comprensione del testo (usually a series of True/False statements) promoting skimming and scanning skills, searching for clues, and making inferences. Following is an exercise on the lexicon of the text (including synonyms), as well as a brief contexualized exercise that allows the students to provide in their own words an equivalent for some of the phrases or metaphors found in the text. Exercises reviewing specific grammar points (e.g., articulated prepositions, irregular verb morphology), accompany some of the texts. The issue closes with a glossary (in Italian) and an answer key to the exercises. The exercises invite in-class teacher led activities, group work among the students, and independent work at home, including valuable opportunities for pleasure reading. This latter is an especially important undertaking; studies summarized by Rebecca Costantino and Rebecca M. Valette have shown convincingly that allowing students to pleasure read in the target language, and providing appropriate materials, promotes proficiency.
Choosing the right text remains a difficult task for the language teacher, especially when an unedited authentic text may prove too difficult or too frustrating, or at a lower proficiency level, too childish for adults and post secondary students. I found that the readings of Italia Italiano introduced serious topics without oversimplifying them, as often happens when L2 readings are adapted for students. Furthermore, the up to date information of the articles will also bring contemporary Italian culture into the classroom.
Italia Italiano is enhanced by a web based version of its contents. Nor does this electronic version of the magazine disappoint. Completely downloadable, it can be used as hard copy or in an electronic language lab. But of far greater importance and pedagogical value is that each article is read aloud on audio files lasting five to six minutes. The voice of the person reading is clear, the pace is ideal for an intermediate or advanced student. The speaker does not resort to that classroom hybrid often referred to as "teacherese" which finds us slowing down, repeating, and compensating for deficiencies (perceived and actual) in the comprehension skills of our students. These audio files provide the ideal way to practice both listening and reading skills simultaneously, with correct pronunciation, appropriate intonation, speaking speed as well as Italian pause length. Additionally, the audio files, together with their written counterparts, serve well as a point of departure for a host of other classroom activities, written and oral.
I am confident that Italia Italiano will prove to be a most welcome and much utilized resource in the ISL and IFL classroom. Teachers and students will look forward eagerly to each issue.
University of Toronto