Sunday, May 01, 2005

English in the Italian Language

One of the things that I find really interesting about teaching English to Italians is finding out where they obtained their previous English knowledge. Unlike the French, who go to great lengths to keep English language and culture from invading their own, Italians tend to embrace all things English. The Italian language is full of "adopted" English words. (Bar, privacy, beauty case, computer-to name a few). Often I'll be teaching a lesson, introducing what I think will be completely new vocabulary, and my students will shock me by already knowing the word. One such occasion occurred last week in my Level 2 class when I was presenting new vocabulary associated with "telephoning." I was miming the steps involved in using a pay phone.

Me: First you . . . *uses thumb and pinky finger to mime a telephone, then lifts "receiver" to ear
Students: Ah! *Shake their heads at me* (Their usual indication that they get what I'm doing but don't know the word in English)
Me: . . . pick up the receiver
Students: Ah. Pick up the receiver.
Me: Then you . . . *mimes putting coin into phone*
Valeria: Insert coin!! (She responds, thrilled that she knew the word)
Me: *look of astonishment* Huh? How do you know that word?
Valeria: Video giochi. (She responds in Italian. Video games, similar to slot machines, found in most bars in Sardegna)

Eliciting for previous knowledge is standard procedure in teaching English and usually I just respond with a simple "good" when the student already knows a word, but when it's a word that they would have never learned in class otherwise, it kind of throws me off. We all usually get a good laugh out of it.

A lot of their knowledge comes from songs. For instance when I was teaching my English 1 class "to be born," one of my students responded: "Bruce Springsteen. Born in the USA." Right.

Just the other day I was introducing the verb "to spoil" to a Level 2 student in one of my private lessons. We had just come up with a list of things that went wrong on our imaginary vacation.

Me: Did all of these things SPOIL your vacation?
Student: What means spoil? (The expected answer since I am teaching a new word)
Me: For example when you have milk and you keep it for one month, it spoils.
Student: Ah, spoils. Like spoils system. In government. In Italian we use the same word. There is no Italian word for spoils system.

English is everywhere in the Italian language. I have yet to meet an Italian student who is an "absolute beginner."

Sometimes though, the abundance of English words in Italian can get them into trouble. Sometimes they English use words differently than we do. For example in Italian they use the word "slip" and it means underwear. Of course, they just assume since the word is in English that that is the correct usage of the word. My personal favorite is the use of the word "footing" in Italian to mean jogging.

1 comment:

soUrcerer said...

I'm wondering if you ever discovered any particular resources, esp. online, that would help a teacher of English to know the special confusions and pitfalls that Italian students typically encounter.