Federico Fellini was right: a different language is a different vision of life
Buon appetito, buongiorno, grazie, nonna, nonno, Pasqua, Natale… If you are born into an Italian family in Australia, these words become part of your vocabulary. They were so imbedded in mine as a child, I didn’t realise there was an English equivalent. It would feel odd to even think about calling my nonno, ‘grandfather’; I share this experience with many other Italo-Australians of my generation. It was only when I started school that I realised the correct English terminology, and the appropriate times to use my Italian vocabulary.
One can trace the continuation and growth of our generation’s interaction with the Italian language through programs at school. For many primary schools, Italian language was compulsory. I remember counting to ten, learning about Carnevale and how to say “il gatto mangia il topo.” During high school, language was compulsory until Year 9. Automatically I chose to continue Italian, firstly because it is in my cultural background and second because I discovered the importance of a second language after travelling overseas at the age of ten.
Language in general became an option for VCE and, after a brilliant Italian teacher in Year 9, (Grazie Signora Masciangioli – your name taught me the sound of ‘sci’), I was confident of taking it up further (a big thanks to Signora Pina Dunne throughout VCE who saw the potential in me).
Fortunately, after another family trip to Italy I was certain the Italian language was locked in and Saturday mornings spent at COASIT (Grazie Manuela) in Carlton, helped me maintain the motivation as if I were still there. Naturally in university, eager to become fluent and learn more, I willingly choice Italian as a Diploma of Language alongside my degree. It would add another year but I thought it was worth my extra effort.
It came as no surprise for me that most of the people who attended the Saturday morning class were Italo-Australians. As a matter of fact, I found it odd that a non-Italian would want to study Italian.
At La Trobe University I was even more dumbfounded, when I saw that the head of the Italian Section of the Arts and Humanities Faculty was a non-Italian. This completely changed the scenario of my pursuit of fluency in Italian. I was used to the comfort of been taught by a quasi- zia/nonna in an almost family circle, singing songs and writing letters to imaginary friends in Italy. It was fun, then it became hard work. I had to apply myself to following each lecture in order not to lag behind the study program. I admit that I benefited from it and found a non-Italian teacher has some special tips on how to learn the language.
Yet, speaking for the majority of Italian students at La Trobe, I say there is a missing link in the Italian education in Australia. We have recently formed the “Italiani di La Trobe Social Club” to nourish our desire to be immersed in Italian culture in and out. In my own free time, I speak with my nonni and amici at work, watch Italian news for breakfast and listen to classic and contemporary Italian music. I do it because I love it – learning and maintaining a language needs nurturing and care, just as a relationship does.
Unfortunately for non-Italian students such as Barbara Solisko, secretary of our sociial club, it’s hard to learn outside the classroom. She was not exposed to Italian speakers as much as she would have liked, and it’s difficult for her to find the motivation to continue. However, Barbara is a passionate member of the club and whenever possible she seeks to absorb the culture in any mode she can.
First year student Romina Alessi, born to two Italian migrant parents had a cultural shock as she expected a professoressa Maria or Lucia of some sort. Needless to say, her strong Italian roots and enormous exposure to the language outside the classroom, will see her through and possibly become a teacher herself.
The challenge ahead to ensuring a future for Italian language studies in Australian universities requires the current and upcoming generations of students to open their minds. The rewards for personal development and cultural enrichment offered by studying and learning Italian are endless.
As far as I am concerned, I can ‘see’ more and communicate at a deeper level with those who know or value the knowledge of Italian or another language. After all, as Federico Fellini once said: “A different language is a different vision of life.”