Rita Fabbri and Laura Schiattone were our wonderful Italian teachers for the First period of Green light. Rita taught on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in Group A, and Laura tought on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays in Group B.
TBA21: First of all, what was your motivation to teach foreigners in Italy the Italian language?
Rita Fabbri: When I was a child I just wanted to work with people. I wanted to work in the public sphere and I really wanted to be in contact with people. When I grew up I found out I loved foreign languages, and that the role of the teacher fit me well. I’ve travelled around Europe and I’ve met a lot of foreigner friends to whom I’ve always tried to teach some italian basic grammar. In a way they have been my first students. I’ve graduated at Ca’ Foscari University and now I’m teaching Italian: my motivation is my passion.
Laura Schiattone: I always wanted to become a teacher. Recently, during the years of university, I realized that I wanted to teach Italian to people who really needed to learn the language to live in our Country. I want to help people in difficulty to reach independence and have a second chance in Italy.
TBA21: You both were the language teachers of the First Semester of Green light – an artistic workshop during the first two months of the Biennale.
You both already had experience teaching foreigners and asylum seekers and foreigners in general. If you would compare the work you already did at Uni Ca’ Foscari and within the Biennale, what would you say were the main differences?
Rita Fabbri: Actually, I’ve never worked at the Ca’ Foscari University but I’ve just co-worked as an assistant to Italian teachers to exchange students. Being a language professor can have different shades depending on the teaching setting. It’s mind-blowing how this profession can change depending on where it takes place. Teaching to exchange students is light years away from teaching to asylum seekers. First of all, the teacher must consider that many asylum seekers hadn’t have the chance to attend school in their homelands, and that a nourished percentage of them doesn’t know, how to read or to write. The teacher has to create different teaching paths that can match with every learning need, without excluding the ones, who can’t read and without holding back the fast learners. Second, when you teach to asylum seekers you (must) know, that for them Italian isn’t a choice but a vital need. They need to speak the national language to get a job, to earn money, to integrate, in a few words: they need to know how to communicate to live. They don’t learn the language to amuse themselves, on the contrary they take the learning very seriously. The teacher must be aware that he or she has a social responsibility towards other people.
Laura Schiattone: I would say, the main difference was the more relaxed atmosphere. In my previous experiences, I usually had to check the students’ attendance and convince them to come to school, whereas at the Biennale, people came because they wanted to and they felt the real need to learn the language. I didn't feel the stress to control what the students were doing. I confess that this was very weird for me in the beginning, but then I got used to it.
To be completely honest, I felt that this was both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, the lessons were lighter and I concentrated more on what the students needed to learn in the eight-weeks course. On the other hand, I saw less continuity and I could not follow each students in their improvement, because some of them were coming every once in a while.
TBA21: Would you say a provided language class is enough for students or migrants to learn a language? Or is a proper contact to other people obligatory?
Rita Fabbri: Of course the students need to practise what they learn in class outside the class. This is true to all kind of language students, not only for asylum seekers. The activities in class are rarely enough to reach an autonomy level in any language, it takes practise, contact with the natives, films, music, and a good number of embarrassing mistakes in real life conversation.
Laura Schiattone: Language lessons are important as much as talking to and staying with native speakers. A student who both actively participates in the new Country life and attends a language course is more willing to learn faster the language. Spending time with native speakers is important to become fluent in the speaking and to better understand the language; but without the language lessons, the writing skills are not improved. Moreover, talking about refugees and asylum seekers, there is a real need to teach some of them to read and write and this cannot be done without school!
TBA21: How important is it to master a language? And why?
Rita Fabbri: It could take books to answer this question. Shortly, in the case of asylum seekers, mastering a language means great autonomy in the everyday life abroad. Actually it doesn’t take a master level to speak fluently a language, and it doesn’t take to speak fluently to be autonomous in a foreign country. Moreover, speaking a foreign language helps to be open-minded to understand different cultures, to be part of a growing multicultural reality.
Laura Schiattone: I think no one can survive more than a few weeks in a foreign Country without mastering the language. Language is important to have a social life and to master bad situations that can and will happen to everyone.
TBA21: If so, how can the surrounding help that migrants improve their language skills.
Rita Fabbri: Listen to music, watch films or Youtube-videos, read store-signs, recipes on the internet or newspaper, overhear a conversation in the bus, talk to people in the streets: everything is useful to improve the language skills. A lot of these language hacks are free and doesn’t need more than a tiny everyday effort. The learner has to be curious and to get into the groove of the foreign language without fear of failing. Every single mistake is fundamental to grow and to improve yourself.
Laura Schiattone: If you refer to how the Country can help the migrants improving their language, I think that the best thing is to organize events and activities, that expect both foreigners and Italian people to participate. This is, for me, the best solution to both, include migrants in the Italian social and cultural life and to help them improving the language skills.
TBA21: How important was the Italian language for building a community within Green light?
Rita Fabbri: Italian was the second most spoken language in the community of Green light. The first one was English, as the staff and the volunteers chose English to communicate with the participants. Although it was important, as it was the object of the language course aswell.
Laura Schiattone: It was important, because we all had different mother tongues, but I would probably say that English remained the language that was spoken the most.
TBA21: In Vienna we were able to see after a course of four to five months the first recognizable progresses within the group of participants. But the progresses were like clearly recognizable then. What do you think, could you see some progress within the two groups ?
Rita Fabbri: The course has been much shorter in the Italian Green light- workshop. We had just two months and it’s hard to recognize tangible progresses in every participants. Moreover the classes didn’t take place regularly because the groups had to come across other workshops that took place instead of the language course. The result is that we had much less class hours than scheduled. However we saw a constant progress among those who attended regularly and who joined the class. We saw a lot of interest and curiosity towards the activities, and we were melancholic when the language class came to an end.
Laura Schiattone: Speaking about the Group B, the progresses could be seen in some of the participants: the more motivated ones and the ones who actively participated to the lessons and the workshops, were the ones that I could see improving.
Not all of them improved considerably (eight weeks is not so much time), but I could see them more confident about their capacities and more willing to try to speak.
TBA21: Some of the participants had to speak Italian with each other, otherwise they couldn’t understand each other. Could you see some progress there?
Rita Fabbri: Yes, I’ve seen progresses in the conversation between people who can’t talk any other language, but Italian. And it was also very exciting to see how they manage to practize what they’ve learned in class.
Laura Schiattone: I could see that everyone from Group B made an effort to speak Italian to each other to include all the participants in the conversation.
TBA21: What did you learn from your experience at Green light (presumed there was something, of course)
Rita Fabbri: Every teaching experience is useful to a teacher. With Green light I’ve improved my flexibility and my improvisation skills. The routine wasn’t part of the workshop so we had to adapt our teaching activities to other workshops that the participants had to came across. I’ve planned a syllabus but it has been hard to follow: I chose the path of improvisation, giving more importance to spontaneity. I tried to support the requests of the participants and to make sure they kept all the same pace. The important was not the velocity of the course, but the common rhythm held by each of the participants.
Everyday something new could happen and it has been a vibrating challenge to keep a good-quality teaching and to make the participant always feel at ease within the group. The environment was stimulating, the staff of volunteers helped us all along the duration of the language course. I’ve learned cooperation, and I really loved to work in such an artistic setting.
Laura Schiattone: I learned to be more relaxed and I understood, what people feel is important to learn (but mostly, what they expect to learn) in an eight-weeks course. Moreover, I learned that art is a useful means to bring different cultures together and help them cooperating to build something new together.
TBA21: Do you have any ideas for improvements regarding the language classes?
Rita Fabbri: Just give the language class a regular schedule with no other unexpected and overlapping activities. By doing so the teachers will be free to manage their courses and to use all of the hours dedicated to the language.
Laura Schiattone: I would give space to people who are interested in both the workshop and the language course, because group B had a lot of people coming every now and then. There are many people that can appreciate the importance of this artistic workshop and I would give them a chance!