Babilonia at Taormina, Sicily
Each week at language immersion schools new students arrive and other students have gone home, such that the dynamics of the class can completely change from one week to the next. Just as you start to get used to your classmates you have to start over again. This week was the start of the 50+ program in which most of the new students starting are older. Personally I like having older learners around. I’m not so far from the 50+ age group myself (a scary thought!) and find older people more interesting than university students. The 50+ students are mixed in with the other students in the regular classes but have additional after school activities that are less strenuous. The program seems to attract a lot of older learners with my class swelling from 8 last week to 13 today. We were told however that this would be corrected tomorrow as there is not supposed to be more than 10 in a class. 13 really is way too many for an effective language learning environment. Many of the new students starting this week are French speaking and to my aggravation speak French to each other to clarify directions when we break into small groups. I was so aggravated at one point that I didn’t notice that one woman who had started speaking in French had had switched back to Italian, when I asked her why she was speaking in French – her accent is very heavy such that her French and Italian sound quite similar. To my embarrassment, my classmates informed that she was speaking in Italian. oops!
Two of the new students from the 50+ group live in the house with Helena and me. They are both from German speaking Switzerland and quite nice, with one of them speaking quite good Italian. I was sitting at a table by myself waiting for them to get their food when a young woman, presumable American from her accent, asked me in English if she could sit at the table with me. I said yes. She continued in English, not knowing where I was from. (At this point I had only said Sì) I told her in Italian that I preferred to speak in Italian. Her friend arrived and she actually talked to me in Italian. She was also American from Annapolis, about an hour and a half north of DC. Then the two of them continued in English. When my housemates finally arrived, I used it as an excuse to switch tables as there was not room for all of us at the small table. I’m sorry but I have no desire to speak English here. I found out later from my housemate that these two Americans are in her advanced class. I can understand why students at a lower language level revert back to their native language. It is tiring to speak another language all day, but if you speak Italian reasonably well why are you speaking English at lunch? The rest of the lunch hour I spent with Helena, my two other housemates Elizabeth and Katerina and a German man from my class, Eckard. We had great fun prattling away in bad Italian. Why would anyone make the effort to come all the way to Taormina just to speak boring English?
Helena had asked me this morning if I wanted to go see a concert with her. She had to say Elton John five times before I figured out who she was talking about. So after lunch I went with her and another friend of hers, Mirta from Switzlerand, to buy the tickets. The concert is being held in the Greek amphitheater this Friday.
The dinner conversation has picked up quite a lot with the addition of our two new housemates. As I mentioned before, Katerina speaks Italian quite well and keeps the conversation rolling. Her son (now 27) lost his heart in San Francisco having gone there for a four month long students exchange program four years ago. He fell in love with an American born young woman (25) whose family is from India and still practices traditional Indian customers. She knew from past experience that her Swiss boyfriend would not be accepted by her parents, so she has kept the relationship a secret for these past 4 years, even though they are very much in love and want to get married. Last year she was able to go to Paris for a study program, spending a week at the program and then sneaking off the second week to Zurich to visit her boyfriend and meet his family. Katerina likes her very much, but as a mother feels her son’s pain. How can this story have a happy ending?