Various Ramblings from Taormina

Babilonia in Taormina, Sicily


Yesterday afternoon we had the longest thunder and lightning storm I have ever seen. Waves of rain and thunder kept passing through all afternoon and continued until the next morning. At one point the lighting was so close it felt like it hit the school and it knocked out the internet.  But now the beautiful blue Mediterranean sky has returned.

 When a Student Hijacks the Language Lesson

It happens. You have a lesson all planned out and one student completely converts the lesson into his own personal stage. In this case, the task was simply to go over the homework assignment on the future tense, when a young man from Japan started to ask question

after question, not understanding how formal pronouns are used. Then other students started having various doubts concerning pronouns and an hour later we were still discussing pronouns, the conversation just spiraling around and around with no one really understanding anything. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

This is really when an instructor needs to say stop and save the lesson on pronouns for the next day. Answering question after question without a coherent plan just turned the whole lesson into an unproductive mess. Although I have to say I really felt for the instructor having been there myself.

 My Classmates

Compared to the last couple of immersion programs I’ve attended this is a big school. Last summer in Spain there were never more than a few students in the entire school, and the same this past February in Argentina. But here at Babilonia in Taormina the classes are full, generally 8 students in a class, with a maximum of 10. Most of the students are female; my class for example has only one male, Tatsu from Japan. Yes the young man that frequently hijacks the class. He is really very personable but just doesn’t get the grammar explanations; always asking why and why isn’t it like this.

About half the students are from Switzerland. I thought this was strange at first until I remembered that a part of Switzerland is Italian speaking and Italian is one of Switzerland’s official languages, along with French and German. Many of the Swiss speak all three languages as well as English. Quite impressive.

The other students in my class are from Canada (French speaking), France and New Zealand.  I haven’t met another American at the school as they generally tend to take classes earlier in the summer, which is great for me. There is actually very little English spoken at this school compared to some.

There is also a very nice mix of ages. Only about half the students are university age, with the other half ranging in age from late twenties and on up. One Swiss woman in my class must be over 70.

Generally the students are learning Italian because they like to vacation in Italy or know people who speak Italian. All in all it makes for a very interesting and enjoyable group of people.

Day 5

After just five days here my Italian really feels like it’s coming together. I’m not so tired all the time and the fog is lifting from my brain. I don’t have to think quite so hard to speak Italian instead of Spanish, although I’m still slipping a lot. The small words are the worst, hay instead of c’è or ci sono, pero instead of ma, otro instead of altro and so forth.

We had a great dinner tonight of fagioli e pasta, basically a bean and pasta stew. Aurelio was very proud of his creation- as well he should be; it was excellent – showing us how the beans come fresh in the pod and have to be shelled and explaining the other ingredients: tomato, onion, pancetta and speck (another type of bacon).

 After dinner Helena and I went for one of our walks and Italian practice sessions. Our communication has improved greatly in these past five days. The conversation still breaks down frequently and I’m sure to anyone else listening to us it sounds a bit nuts and childlike, but we have a good time.

Tonight she told me an amusing story about one of her experiences at the beach. She often swims in the sea in the afternoons. Last Sunday she was at a small beach where there weren’t many people. As she is coming out of the water three men start quizzing her in Czech (they don’t know that she’s also Czech) about where she is from.

She really has no desire to talk to them so she just shrugs and says nothing. They finally leave but don’t go so far away that she can’t still hear them talking about her. It is all she can do not to laugh.

She then starts her homework and one of them tries again to talk to her in Czech asking her to go into the water with him and she pretends not to understand. Then the three of them start talking about her again wondering if she is mute. Again she has to muffle her laugh not to give herself away.

Of course as Helena was telling me this story there was a lot of negotiation of meaning and it took about three times as long as it would have in either of our native languages, but it couldn’t have been more fun.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Taormina, Sicily page.

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