THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT AND SPEAK ITALIAN
The benefits of bilingual experiences in young children have been researched and documented for years. A plethora of resources exists to support parents and caregivers who are trying to establish a bilingual home for their little ones
The benefits of increased cognitive development, cultural awareness and sensitivity and wider literacy skills are often clouded, however. The reality of implementing strategies at home that are both consistent and successful in developing bilingual capacity is quite overwhelming. For many out there who don’t have second-language skills or are confused about how to implement such an approach at home, turning to professional support is often the answer.
I spoke with Giusi Galbo, ‘Star Leader’ of Bravissimi, a bilingual school based in Melbourne offering immersion opportunities for young learners and speakers of Italian. With 28 years of experience in the field, her insights offer hope to those seeking support and inspiration, as well as guidance for those already trying to raise children in a bilingual home.
Giusi, how do you feel when you walk into Bravissimi each day?
I feel so blessed when I walk into Bravissimi. I feel a sense of fulfilment when I see our little students' eyes light up, smiling during the lessons. I find this really rewarding, and the beauty is that they are learning our beautiful language without realising it.
Did you always dream of opening an Italian school for younger learners?
I always dreamt of being a teacher and I realised this dream in Italy where I taught for many years in primary schools in Como. When I moved with my family to Melbourne I began working as an Italian teacher for private schools as a tutor for students aged 3 to VCE level. I was so keen to open a school for younger learners not only because I love my job, but also to disseminate our language, tradition and culture. We are so lucky that we have such a wonderful culture, and we can immerse ourselves in the art, architecture, music and food that have flourished for centuries.
What does a 'typical' lesson at Bravissimi look and sound like?
The scope of a typical lesson at Bravissimi is to create a language environment inside the class where young students can find motivation, with catchy music and games to be engaged by and interact with. Kids learn best in a prepared environment. I follow the Maria Montessori philosophy and methodology. This method believes that children learn best in an environment equipped with resources and opportunities to actively learn and explore.
Why should parents and caregivers bring their children to Bravissimi to learn?
At Bravissimi children are fully immersed in the Italian language. They are exposed to a language development-friendly environment for easy learning with the Montessori methodology, which is ideal for any child as far as studying a second language is concerned.
A Montessori education program gives every child an equal opportunity to learn a second language effectively. This is made possible by providing the right environment for language development, such as learning materials and daily routines. The best thing about this methodology is that the teaching staff uses Italian baby songs and Italian alphabet songs with interpretations in the second language of choice to teach the little people. This approach makes it easy for children to understand and interpret what they learn fast.
Why do you think Italian, as both language and culture, is so exciting for younger learners?
Because children love to do things themselves, and in our culture we have so many fun traditional things to make. From history, the special monuments like il Colosseo, they love to play with terra cotta and learn about our famous artists, pittori, scultori, and paint all the different masterpieces while using the Italian language. It’s so fun!
Italian cuisine is famous around the world, and our little chefs like to make homemade pasta and traditional sweets from the different regions of Italy. Our little Bravissimi chefs love to cook!
Why is Italian so easy for younger learners to 'pick up'?
Because the young mind is ready and eager to learn. Children learn from their environment and they are always absorbing new information. They can learn any language. It's very easy for children between 0-5 years of age.
Language plays a major role in enhancing communication in humankind. A child’s language development starts during the infancy stage where they communicate by making different sounds. By the time they are 6 months old, they may not understand some facts about Italian culture but begin to babble using certain syllables in an effort to communicate.
What is the greatest challenge for parents and caregivers who are trying to maintain a bilingual home for their children? Do you have any advice for them?
What I suggest is for the parents who speak fluent Italian to speak the language with the child at home and everywhere. It’s not rude to speak your language in an English-speaking environment, because you can just say to the people around you that you are speaking in your child’s grandparents' language.
I believe in the ‘one person, one language’ approach. For the parents who speak only English, I usually send them weekly language support so their children can practise the language at home.
Why do you think the study of Italian continues to be so important in Australian society today?
Because the Italian population in Australia is very big, considering all the families that moved here a long time ago, and in the last 10 years. We have so many young families coming from Italy and they definitely want to keep the Italian language, culture and traditions alive in Australia. In fact, at Bravissimi I also offer an advanced program for children who are fluent in the language and who want to attend an Italian school that follows exactly the same program as the primary and middle schools in Italy. That way they can continue to learn as if they were in Italy.
Giusi, what are some advantages of studying Italian?
It would be an immense satisfaction, value and the sense of accomplishment speaking the language of your heritage and of your culture. Also, a classic Latin language such as Italian provides students with an insight to culture rich in traditions. From parents and nonni who want to keep their cultural heritage alive, to those who want to give their kids a global advantage.
Italian is also studied in many primary and secondary schools as well as universities all over the world. Learning Italian at such a young age will provide the upper hand for your child to succeed in their studies as well as in their personal lives and careers.
What's your hope for the future of the study of Italian in Australia?
I really hope that the Italian language continues to stay alive in Australia. I think it will because it's not only the Italian families who love to learn the Italian language, but also many from different backgrounds. That’s because many people know the benefits and the amazing life-long gift they will give to their children.