Summer Program Immerses Students in Italian Language and Culture

by Anna Maurer

Summer Program Immerses Students in Italian Language and Culture

Learning a new language can be difficult, but students interested in studying Italian over the summer have the opportunity to participate in a new immersion program at Mason. The “Little Italies” program was developed specifically for Mason students and features intensive language instruction, daily Italian lunch hours, and trips to Italian cultural events in the Washington, D.C. area.

“‘Little Italies’ is an immersion program in that it aims to reproduce certain aspects of the study-abroad experience,” said Kristina Olson (Modern and Classical Languages). “While nothing can duplicate the experience of education abroad, a domestic immersion program in a language like Italian that boasts a culture which is a vibrant presence in numerous American spheres, can help students to develop linguistic and cultural proficiency.”

The program’s class sessions will meet for two and a half hours each day, Monday through Friday, and will include opportunities for student directed conversation. The format for the class sessions will be much the same as that followed in other language courses at Mason, which focus on conversation while teaching grammar and vocabulary.

Following the class sessions each day is a required lunch hour, at which students will share an authentic Italian meal. Students will be given topics to converse about in Italian during the lunch hours, which will take place on campus in the same room as the class sessions. The menu for the lunches will include a variety of regional dishes from different parts of Italy as well as some Italian-American dishes.

“What we think of as Italian cuisine is not what Italians eat,” said Olson, who explained that Italian immigrants had to cook with the ingredients that were available to them when they arrived in America and altered many of their dishes as a result. “Italian cuisine is not a single repertoire of dishes or even a single system of production. It varies from region to region and these variations reflect important social and economic differences. To understand these wonderful variations in Italian and Italian-American cuisine you must have some understanding of history and this is the kind of content that can easily be conveyed to a student with even elementary-level experience in Italian instruction.”

In addition to the daily lunches, Little Italies will include excursions to places and events in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas that demonstrate Italian and Italian-American culture. Students will visit Little Italy in Baltimore and the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C., will attend events such as the Festa Italiana, and will view Italian films and performances. At the same time, they will continue to develop their conversational abilities by speaking only in Italian.

Olson hopes that the students in the program will develop a sense of community as they study together and attend the lunches and excursions and that the experience of learning the language will be meaningful for them. “It is easy to think of language instruction in quantitative terms as the measured acquisition of grammar rules or vocabulary. But languages have historical and social meaning. The goal of this course is to produce language in a meaningful way.”

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