Ciao everybody, welcome to my blog, Pronto, Maestro? A space that you can use to ask questions or find answers about the Italian language, learning Italian, finding the right Italian tutor online and in your area.
Italian is my cup of tea. I have a rich collection of certificates: BA, Masters, PhD, which have enabled me to get paid for torturing students in Italian at University level, several Colleges, businesses, and privately. I am also the founder of Italian Services, which provides language services to those needing an Italian teacher, a certified translator, or transcriptionist with clients in the Berkshire area and worldwide. C’est Moi: Il Maestro!
Ok, the boring stuff’s done. You are here because you have either decided to learn Italian or have been doing it already without making enough progress. So, here are some guidelines for taking your learning further.
Rule number 1. Avoid CROWDED group classes like you would avoid people affected by some plague. Why?
First of all, you are not livestock. No matter how good you are at learning languages, sharing the class with 20 or 30 people will dangerously hinder your progress. This will happen especially if you are a beginner, as this is the time where you will lay the foundations of your Italian. Trust me: don’t waste your time and money, waiting 20-30 minutes before it will be your turn to read out a sentence or answer a question, never mind about practising a dialogue out loud.
Secondly, those teachers are not paid for preparation and administration time: they simply cannot afford to reply in a timely manner or even at all sometimes to your emails or meeting requests for free.
Thirdly, you will not bond as easily with other students, who by the way may learn at different speeds than you. Therefore, do not expect individual treatment if you fall behind for some reason. There is a schedule to follow, and teachers cannot repeat a lesson every time one of the 30 students in the class misses a lesson.
Last but not least, are you sure the Italian teacher is not actually Slovenian or simply a former pizza maker? Unbelievable? Oh well…
Rule number 2. Make sure your Italian teacher has a clear DBS record, is a native speaker, is qualified and is experienced. Would you entrust your dentist’s mate with removing your wisdom tooth? If the answer is NO, then apply the same concepts to hiring your Italian tutor. Before you sign up for the course, do your checks: DBS, CVs, and certificates regarding the teacher’s profession and skills.
Which ones? Look first for higher qualifications like a BA or Masters or PhD in Italian and not in Engineering or Biology; if they don’t have these, check if they possess at least certifications to teach Italian to foreigners (such as DITALS, CLTA, CELI, and so on).
You need to make sure there is a linear path in their studies (e.g. moving into teaching from industry is generally something that makes me alert). Continuing development in tutors’ careers (e.g. publications, courses, interests, activities) is, on the other hand, a good indicator of passion, professionalism, expertise.
Walk on eggshells before you or your dearest have an uncomfortable experience with Dodgy Mario, who is more “hands-on” than necessary, before you entrust the Slovenian who spent 4 years in Italy or my auntie’s former hairdresser.
To sum up: don’t be so eager to waste your time and money, do your checks, and ask a friend, preferably an Italian one, to come along with you for the free assessment that the tutor should offer you, whether online or in person.
Rule number 3. Make sure there is chemistry between you and your tutor. How do I know?
The student-teacher relationship is not so different from a relationship. If you have ever been in a relationship with no chemistry, you’ll know what I am talking about: routine and comfort zone, no passion, never big emotional surprises. Get it? Great.
Let’s apply the concept to the student-teacher relationship: If your teacher puts their watch or phone on the table, run, run, run. If you two never go off on a tangent having a good laugh during the lesson, never do something unexpected; if you are afraid of disturbing your tutor with sending texts or emails about that doubt, funny thing, or whatever, THERE IS NO SPARK, run, run, run now! You will never learn Italian if you plan to rely only on those 90-minute weekly lessons: you need to embrace Italian culture and the ambassador should be your tutor.
Bloody hell, Maestro! Big group classes are so much cheaper than private tutors.
Are you sure?
A while ago, two couples, all friends with one-another, came to me and said: “we tried to attend a term at <name hidden to protect Dodgy Mario’s company>, we spent over £600 and did not get anywhere”. When I asked them why they didn’t look for a private tutor, they said they had thought that it would be expensive, but hadn’t realised that actually they could have a private group class for the four of them and thus the cost would be split by four. Yes, probably slightly more expensive than a class of 30, but you get what you pay for. If I only could show you the progress the same person can make in a class of 30 and in a class of 6, you would not think twice about how to spend your money. Not to mention that there is a high risk of quitting Italian at an early stage because the service and the entire experience was not personalised.
What do I do now? Ditch that language provider that treats you like a lamb heading to the slaughterhouse and find a tutor who does NOT rip you off.
How do I do that?
Rule Number 4. Do not let your tutor trap you in a never-ending 1-to-1 experience. Good tutors encourage students to join one of their group classes at some point, against their financial interests. If your tutors do not have classes, they may have just started teaching, they teach Italian as a side-job or they are lying to you to empty your wallet.
Rule Number 5. If your Italian tutor does not offer anything else but standard, only from the book courses, then your learning experience will be very limited. In addition to my 1-on-1 lessons and courses, I offer Italian language-themed workshops on cooking, cinema, music, slang, grammar, and more (check this out). It is fun and it is a duty. Good tutors make students forget for a couple of hours that they are not actually in Italy.
Rule Number 6. The spark. If the term ends with a barbecue, if you end it up with a cook and dine at some point halfway, if your tutor brings a homemade tiramisu to introduce a lesson about food, if there is no watch on the table, if there is a good buzz and you make friends along the way, you are in the right place with the right people.
And remember: Always trust your gut, it knows what your head hasn’t figured it out yet.