LEARNING LANGUAGES ONLINE DURING LOCKDOWN

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Why study a new language now is a good idea

Cambridge Central Library

 

My experience abroad began a few years ago. From Naples (Italy) I moved to the Uk.  In 2013, I spent about a year in London and then, many years in Cambridge. Despite the difficulties that a completely new life, in a completely different country from mine, has entailed, now, I can say that these have been years of great enrichment. The first huge frustration I felt as soon as I was in Great Britain was of course the new language. For a sociable Neapolitan “communicator” and journalist who loves the Italian language like me, I can assure you that not being able to express myself with the surrounding world was a terrible feeling. The language we use completely permeates our life, our interactions, as well as our way of seeing things and our freedom. Without this fundamental tool you feel lost. Now, after many courses, some exams, a Master’s degree at the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and some work experiences in the UK, I can say that I am totally grateful for the path I have taken which forced me to master my second language. The motivation to learn is important of course. I admit that given my very low level of love for the new language at the time, it came to my rescue the fact that, to some extent, I find myself forced to learn and practice English by the kind of life I had chosen: a new working and personal life in England. After all, I had always wanted to be able to use the most widespread language in the world, the ‘wildcard’ language, as I have always defined it. I thought about it strongly when during a trip to Norway, entering a little shop in Bergen, I missed a pair of earrings that I wanted to buy, but which, due to my clumsiness and shyness, was secured by another English tourist, or when I found myself for work in New York (wonderful city I fell in love with) and I could not exchange more than a couple of sentences with some nice patrons in a pub. The same happened when a group of American tourists tried to interact with me in Italy, on the island of Procida where I was during my summer holidays. What a frustration it was. Of course, knowing English makes you feel like a citizen of the world, confident that you can communicate with anyone. The potential of a language that is so useful and influential even in the professional field, can seriously make you feel capable of crossing doors almost anywhere. English is the most widely spoken language in the world, used by more than a quarter of the world population. 

And therefore, I went from being too insecure even to order a coffee in any London bar, to working in a language school, as well as a European cultural center. At La Dante in Cambridge, where I have been working for a few years, I have certainly perfected my haltingly English, through phone calls, emails, marketing campaigns, presentations, social and cultural events and even radio broadcasts (the bilingual broadcasts of Radio Dante).

Cambridge, Uk

La Dante in Cambridge, which is one of the foreign branches of the Dante Alighieri Society, the Italian cultural institution that aims to protect and spread the Italian language and culture in the world, has allowed me to continue to have the fundamental bond with my country and its culture I needed,  and at the same time to come into contact with cultures different from mine in an environment made up of people who love languages. ‘A different language is a different vision of life’, said the Italian film director Federico Fellini. It is definitely true. Language learning, in addition to the pleasure and opportunities it provides, is also known to be linked to a better mental health: it prevents cognitive decline by reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia, for example. This is because people who speak at least two languages ​​develop their temporal lobes, which allow for the formation of new memories. This increases the number of neurons that make up our brain. In addition, people who speak more than one language become better at ‘problem solving’, at better analyzing their environment and at carrying out more activities simultaneously (multitasking). These are undoubtedly some of the benefits that bilingual or multilingual people can enjoy. Neuroplasticity, that is the ability of the nervous system to modify itself to form nerve connections, is greater in children, but the brains of adults can also be shaped and improved. So it’s really never too late to challenge yourself and have a super brain! You think that most of the students of Italian at La Dante in Cambridge are really ‘very adults’, mostly retirees or academic professors. They are passionate, good at always making new progress, and are more than awake and active.

BBC, Cambridge, Uk

 I personally got a taste for it too and, since this new era of smart working and lockdown began, I took advantage and started studying Spanish with online courses, always with mother tongue teachers from La Dante in Cambridge. Nothing more pleasant. Even after a busy day of work, nothing is more comfortable than staying in the warmth of your own home, without having to travel in the cold or for a long ride by car, etc. I take a seat in my living room for a couple of hours with classmates of all nationalities (in my class at the moment there are two Turks, one Russian and one English for example) and my very nice Spanish teacher. Leisure, together with the feeling of using your time productively in something that contributes to your personal and cultural growth, do the rest. Obviously I am looking forward to going to Spain to communicate with the locals in the local language, but for now, safe from viruses, I prepare myself for that moment.

 I conclude with a quote from Francois Vaucluse who said: ‘Forgive them who speak only one language: they do not know what they do’. My wish for this new year to you is therefore to commit yourselves to learning a new language or to practice and deepen a second or third language that you already know or that you had started learning at school.

 

INFORMATION ON ONLINE COURSES

E-learning is as much, if not more effective than in-person lessons. The language courses of La Dante in Cambridge take place on Zoom with the help of Google Classroom and the use of the new online school platform, PLATEO, where all students can easily interact with each other and with teachers. Furthermore, with this new platform, all users, in addition to teachers, can easily share documents, videos, language tests and many other files to improve the learning experience and push all skills to the best.

 Since La Dante is a European Cultural Center, together with language courses, it also offers all its students many cultural events and extra activities, completely free to offer an experience as immersive as possible (conversation classes, cooking classes, aperitifs online, film club). The teachers, of English, Spanish or Italian, are all qualified native speakers who use an effective communication approach that encourages the students to speak in the language of study as much as possible.

Courses can be individual or group. The collective classes are formed by a few people in order to guarantee a higher level of individual attention to each student.

 

For more information or to register for English courses, english@ladante-in-cambridge.org, WhatsApp +44 7887 606227

For Spanish courses spanish@ladante-in-cambridge.org – – WhatsApp +44 7887 606227

For Italian courses for foreigners info@ladante-in-cambridge.org – WhatsApp +44 7887 606227

www.ladante-in-cambridge.org Radio Dante www.radiodante.org

 

The benefits of learning a new language and playing tennis

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In Cambridge the special partnership between the sport organisation Cambridge Tennis Academy and the European language school La Dante in Cambridge

Whatever your age, the health benefits of playing sports and learning a foreign language dramatically improves your quality of life and slows any age-related cognitive decline.

This is an established fact and is what inspired the special partnership between the Cambridge Tennis Academy and the European Cultural Centre La Dante in Cambridge.

The CTA run by Rob Ellis since 2015 delivers tennis for everyone: quality groups and individual coaching, tennis camps and fun competitions all year round.  The organisation is mainly based at Chesterton Sports Centre and delivers coaching at many more venues across Cambridge, working in partnership with Cambridge City Council, Head UK and park-tennis too. Its main aim is to help children and adults play and enjoy their tennis through a fun and inclusive programme for all ages and abilities which also includes free Fridays and Saturdays Social tennis for children (for more info visit the website https://clubspark.lta.org.uk/cambridgetennisacademy). The very special benefit of playing tennis is that this sport challenges your mind and your body at the same time: the game keeps the players’ mind occupied while the entire body gets an excellent workout. As a matter of fact, tennis can be as effective as jogging or an aerobic class (just consider that playing tennis for one hour burns about 600 calories.) Here are some of the benefits you might not know. It lowers blood pressure and body fat, improves metabolic functions, and increases bone density. It also improves muscle tone, strength and flexibility. It helps reduce stress and keeps your mind attentive. Other than its great physical advantages, tennis is also a good way to meet people and to spend time together, and being a non-impact sport makes it suitable for every age.  Do you know that physical activities improve learning a second language tooRecent studies* have shown that working-out enhances learning a completely unfamiliar L2 vocabulary. It is well known that according to the research learning a new language is very beneficial for brain health regardless of when you start. This might be one of the reasons why the partnership between the Cambridge Tennis Academy and the European Cultural Centre La Dante in Cambridge works so successfully.

 Learning a foreign language, in fact, boots brainpower because it makes your brain absorb new complex patterns, it improves your thinking and decision-making skills, and it also increases networking skills. One of the most positive aspects is that it keeps the mind sharp for longer preventing dementia and Alzheimer (according to many studies for monolingual adults, the mean age for the first signs of dementia is 71.4, for adults who speak two or more languages, the mean age for those first signs is 75.5). Your memory and your first language improve as well.

As well as the CTA, La Dante in Cambridge offers services for the good of the community and its members (more info at ladante-in-cambridge.org). The European centre, a cultural association not-for-profit, runs languages courses with native teachers (English, Italian, and Spanish) for every level and for every age (the youngest student is 4 years old and the oldest one, Margaret, at the age of 90 has never missed a lesson at school). Founded by Giulia Portuese-Williams 12 years ago, La Dante shares with Rob Ellis’s organisation the same philosophy offering to its members free side business activities, such as seminars, bilingual lunch, and language contests. From the partnership, an interesting project focused on this winning combination has arisen. The English language courses at La Dante in Cambridge will be accompanied by tennis courses at the Cambridge Tennis Academy to permit the students to immerse themselves in the true British culture and socialise with native speakers while playing.  Learning a new language in Cambridge and playing tennis have never been more enjoyable and effective. So why do not invest in yourself and get started with sport and a new language?

For more info  01223315191 – ladanteincambridge@gmail.com – ladante-in-cambridge.org

Pinocchio Project at La Dante – Overcoming the challenges of raising bilingual children

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When it comes to learning a foreign language, every child is different and each of them needs a specifically tailored programme throughout their language learning process in order to be able to improve.
When parents speak different languages, there will always be a majority language – the one that is also spoken at school and by the community that surrounds the child. The parents who speak the minority language might have encouraged and supported the learning of their own native language from an early age. Unfortunately, they often find that at the age of 5, when children start going to school, they stop using the minority language.
Why does that happen? It’s because children are practical and they quickly understand which language is more useful in their everyday life – and that makes it easy for them to decide to neglect the minority language. To prevent this from happening, the parents have to be able to show them the importance of their second language, and they can do it by surrounding them with other children who speak the same language, creating an oasis where speaking the minority language is necessary – and fun!

What’s special about children’s courses at La Dante?
At La Dante, we made it our primary objective to create a sense of community. We want children and parents who come here to feel we are an enlarged Italian family in the heart of Cambridge, where learning comes naturally and where they can borrow Italian books or Italian movies and enjoy their time with other children who share their background. La Dante has been supporting families in this way since 2008 when the school was founded for this exact same reason. We have seen an incredible number of young learners studying for and successfully passing GCSE’s and A-Levels or IB exams with exceptional results… but remember it all started when they were kids and just enjoyed playing in Italian with their friends.
Raising a child bilingually is not easy – and that’s something our Director and Founder, Giulia Portuese-Williams, knows very well. Her sons, now at university, have gone through two different paths in their learning: one, Lorenzo, has always been enthusiastic about his mother’s language and thought it was “really cool to be Italian” once he discovered – at secondary school – that “girls love it”. While for the younger one, Luca, he didn’t see the point in speaking any language other than English, as “none of his friends at school spoke any Italian”. When he was 10, he completely dropped it. Giulia gave him the space he wanted, but she never stopped talking to him in Italian, until he started showing more interest and spontaneously chose to start learning it again when he was 14 years old. Giulia often took them on trips to Italy to visit friends, family, and certainly, their Italian nonna had a major role in keeping them attached to their Italian roots. She was the one who truly inspired them with her octopus salad and delicious food from Southern Italy. Luca and Lorenzo both came at La Dante to join our Italian classes to consolidate both written and spoken skills. They both managed to acquire a good level of Italian and confidence in speaking Italian and now they are both fluent.

How do you develop your communication skills with children?
We know that children are only capable of brief attention spans. Our Italian teachers are trained to vary the topics of their class often enough to keep their interest high while developing all four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) at different levels.
In small classes, children thrive and develop the Italian language from a very young age. Joseph, for instance, was just 4 when he first joined one of our classes – he is now 5 and has an incredible control of language: he loves making hot chocolate with the teacher when he starts his lessons and he speaks with a perfect Italian accent.
Our teachers take into account the age and needs of every young student and their personal and linguistic skills in order to develop a programme that gives them the confidence necessary to communicate in the language.

What children classes is La Dante currently offering?
We currently run two beginners’ courses, which are aimed at two different types of learners. The first group includes children from 4 to 5 years old and the second group is intended for children from 6 to 8 years old. Both these courses focus on the communicative approach and place particular emphasis on developing their speaking skills.
All children have the possibility to learn Italian while having fun with their friends through games and creative activities, under the supervision and the guidance of our native Italian teachers. They get to know every child and give constant feedback to parents.
Who is the Pinocchio bilingual project aimed at?
Our brand-new Pinocchio bilingual project is aimed at children who have already achieved some level of fluency in Italian skills but need to practice their writing skills and to develop their knowledge of Italian culture, as they would if they were living in Italy. In September 2018, the new classes will start following a programme based on consolidating Italian grammar, becoming acquainted with Italian traditions, and learning the basics of History, Arts and Geography.
La Dante is currently the only school that is providing this important educational service to the Anglo-Italian bilingual community in Cambridge, UK.
What happens in the classrooms?
In our children’s courses, children are exposed to basic Italian vocabulary and learn some simple sentences: they learn how to describe their daily routines, how to talk about their favourite food, to ask for their favourite pizza or pasta, how to talk about what they like to do in their free time, how to ask for directions, how to speak about their family and so on. Our Italian teachers make an extensive use of realia (real objects, photographs, games, role play, rhymes, songs, creative media tools, online resources and textbooks) to enhance the children’s skills.
As for the bilingual classes, the programme is different: we use a textbook to give the course a better structure and to enhance their knowledge of Italian culture, History, Geography, and Arts, as well as introducing elements of grammar in a structured way. Italian teachers use a wealth of textbooks used in Italy which will consolidate grammatical skills over time. Parents’ support and encouragement are extremely important in inspiring children and in helping them with homework at home. But don’t forget: at La Dante, we believe “learning through play” is the best and most effective way to learn.
The warm and welcoming environment at La Dante is where children make friends and have fun on Saturdays while learning one of the most beautiful languages in the world!
Come along to find out more – it is never too early nor too late for your children to learn another language! Give them the gift of fluency, they’ll be thanking you for life once they grow up.