This is the second article in a 3-part series based on an interview with my teacher and editor of my articles, Eleonora Vieri. Last week, Eleonora gave a first-hand account of the pandemic in Italy. This week she talks about her childhood, education, and how she became a teacher of Italian for foreigners, not only for Americans but also for many others of different nationalities. Next week she will talk about her approach to teaching via Skype, which is particularly important during these times of social distancing.
As I mentioned last time, she is an excellent teacher both for conversational Italian and for grammar. Plus, she incorporates so much of Italian history and culture in her teaching. If you are interested in learning Italian –at any level, at any age—or practicing with a charming native speaker, check out Eleonora’s web site: www.italianviaskype.net or email her at email@example.com.
“I was born in the region of Italy called Umbria in the town of Castiglione del Lago, which is on Lake Trasimeno. I still live here and I consider myself lucky, not only because of its history and traditions, which is true of every corner of Italy, but also because of its natural beauty. (Of course, I am biased!) Its beauty seems even more pronounced to me during this pandemic.
“This area shares a border with Tuscany; in fact, our traditions and language intertwine here. In addition, my Tuscan father immersed me in the traditions, language and family of the Tuscan Maremma (a coastal area on the Tyrrhenian Sea). As a child, I was a good student, but also a little rascal, especially at home. I loved playing outside and living in the countryside, where it was normal to spend your afternoons outdoors.
“I loved to play jokes on my grandfather, and he, as a good grandfather, naturally played along. I can tell you many stories. He used to go to the bar every day on his bicycle to stay in shape. Sometimes I hid his bike or deflated his tires. Once I sewed his pajama pants so that his feet got stuck in them. (I don’t know if he became angry with my grandmother for giving him such strange pajamas.)
“I was also his teacher. He was born in wartime in 1907 to a peasant family. He had gone to school for a short time, but farmers did not have enough money to afford certain services at the time of sharecropping. He was a smart man, who imparted in me a love for plants. He was, in the area, the best pruner. In winter afternoons when we didn’t play cards, he was my student “for fun,” along with my friend Riccardo, who was two years younger than me. I think all of this was the seed.
“After attending the scientific high school, I spontaneously chose the language department at the university. It was the right choice for me and became a beautiful, interesting and exciting journey. I had a love for language at the time, and the love of Portuguese was intoxicating, erotic I dare say, eros in the true sense of passion and care. I also loved the study of linguistics. It all gave me a strong boost of creativity and energy.
“I concluded the course of studies with a thesis in Portuguese, in cognitive linguistics. I had the opportunity to continue my research at university, but I was probably not cut out for this. Or rather, I did not want to spend more time in the company of books or theory alone. And I didn’t want to continue studying a language and culture that were not mine, however much I liked them. It felt forced and seemed to clash with my nature.
“In the meantime, the idea of teaching Italian to foreigners had been percolating for some time. So I started at a private academy for foreigners in Umbria. As often happens in Italy for new graduates, it took months of unemployment until the phone call arrived. So here is where I started to, as we say in Italian, “to make the bones,” that is, to solidify my career path. It was a great job learning to teach the language and the grammar. Even though you are a native speaker, you don’t always know the reasons for expressions or their history. And believe me, students come up with the most incredible questions and need a clear and precise answer for everything. But language is complex and answers not always certain.
“Then I enrolled at the University for Foreigners of Siena. I undertook a specialization to teach Italian to foreigners. But, in reality, you learn to be a teacher continuously. Even today, my students are my best teachers. Then slowly, year after year, you put the pieces together because teaching is not only about imparting ideas and facts, it’s an alchemy I would say—of linguistic, cultural, and human issues, as well as of theory. And you develop your own personal style. Becoming a teacher was the realization of that seed that I mentioned earlier.
“In my spare time, I delight in wine. It’s impossible to live here and not to enjoy wine or at least to know a little about the “lord of the territory,” which has lived throughout Italy, from north to south, since the time of the Greeks and Etruscans. I took a course with FISAR, which is an Italian federation for sommeliers. We sommeliers serve at events, parties and gala dinners whenever the federation needs us. For my language students, I also teach about wines and organize tasting lessons.
“Wine has also become a nexus of friendship and a way to explore unknown territories.”