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Learning the Lingua: in Lucca: 2 wks at Lucca Italian School (May 2014)

Learning the Lingua: in Lucca: 2 wks at Lucca Italian School (May 2014)

Jun 3rd, 2014, 01:14 PM
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Learning the Lingua: in Lucca: 2 wks at Lucca Italian School (May 2014)

Summary (For those who don’t want to wade through the long version that I will post):

After debating about which language school to attend in Italy, I settled on Lucca Italian School (LIS) http://www.luccaitalianschool.com/. I chose Lucca because I had never been there and the good train connections to nearby towns made the location even more appealing (more about that later). I had an incredible experience and hope I can convey what attending the school was like in this TR.

I have about 8 years of Italian under my belt. I have studied with community ed, attended courses at the university and met with a small group and tutor. I have got the grammar down but Italian just won’t come out of my mouth. After two weeks at LIS, I still cannot speak Italian fluidly. However, some things I knew became clearer and I learned some new strategies for studying Italian back home (e.g., I picked up “Dizionario Italiano per Stranieri” an Italian dictionary with explanation of Italian words in Italian). And I did recharge my batteries in regards to studying Italian. Mainly, though, I had an excellent time enjoying Lucca and meeting new people.

My fellow students were a mix of ages, although most were probably over 40. There was a nice mix of nationalities. The classes I was in had between 6 and 8 students. There were fun activities available in the late afternoon, if you wished to join (some for a fee).

The teachers spoke only Italian to us, even during the optional activities. Some students tried to speak Italian out of class while others needed the break from Italian. (I wish I had followed one student’s example in seeking out a non-English speaking student to have lunch with, thereby forcing the conversation to be in Italian.)

The teachers employed a mix of education strategies and were well prepared: worksheets, conversation partners, songs, games. One bit I thought was fun and helpful was having one conversation partner witness a crime and then describe the crime scene to the other partner, the investigator. A game based on the “Taboo” board game was also very instructive and fun. The hours in class flew by!

I am glad I chose Lucca, although I never really did take advantage of the great train connections! I was so engaged by Lucca that I was happy to stay there and explore. The cathedral has some fine art (including the exquisite funeral sculpture of Ilaria del Carretto by Jacobo della Quercia). The church of San Frediano was interesting, with a fine mosaic outside, and inside, a Della Robbia, a Romanesque baptismal font and the mummified body of the local saint, Zita. Also interesting was the Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e Reparata, where you can explore the archeological digs underneath the church and see Roman and medieval era remnants. There are a number of Puccini concerts available, for those who enjoy opera. Of course, there are the walls, which are a pleasure to stroll around, enjoying the views and the bicyclists, joggers and walkers passing by. We were there for the on-going celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the walls and got to see antique vespas, Fiats and Ferraris drive through town.

I also thought Lucca was a good choice for the opportunity to practice Italian. The main streets, San Paolino and Via Fillungo, seem to attract the most tourists. But step away from those areas and there are many small stores where the shopkeepers are willing to patiently hear your request in Italian and answer in kind. I enjoyed trying my Italian out in the many small shops where I bought cheeses, wine, and other groceries to stock my Lucca apartment. After only two weeks, it began to feel like home.
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 01:30 PM
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Brava, mama_mia. Having done 3 separate weeks at 3 different language schools in Italy, the one thing I wish I'd been able to do is to spend longer there! I'm sure that 2 consecutive weeks is 3x better than 2 separate weeks - do you agree?

looking forward to reading more about your experiences.
annhig is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 01:42 PM
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I found after 2 weeks I was getting into the rhythm of thinking in Italian while walking around town. Even when I sent texts or emails to my husband, I was constructing them in my head in Italian first, and until I realized it was not necessary!

So 2 consecutive weeks was good and of course more would be better.
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 01:51 PM
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I meant to add in my summary that a few of the students I met were youngish (50's?) widows. I thought a language school would be a good way for someone used to traveling with a spouse to dip his/her toe into solo travel. You have a group of people available to socialize with--or not.

Also meant to add my thoughts about how well the school was run. I received prompt and patient replies to my inquiries, even when I was changing my mind about dates and accommodations. The administrators and teachers go out of their way to make LIS a welcoming place--even tracking down an Italian whom one of the students had known but lost contact with. Just lovely people.
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 02:07 PM
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it sounds like a very good school, mama_mia. I too have been impressed with the schools I have attended and I will certainly add this one in Lucca to my list of possibles for the future.
annhig is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 07:27 AM
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Thanks for this report. I recently completed a week of classes in Rome, and hope to do a week (or two) at a different school/location next year. I'll certainly check out this one -- sounds like it was a great experience!
jmct714 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 07:55 AM
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Thank you so much for telling about your experience. I'm so wanting to do a week or two at a language school in Italy.
KayTKay is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 07:59 AM
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If a person had basically no language skills in Italian, would they have been in over their head, or did they have absolutely beginner classes?
Sassafrass is online now  
Jun 4th, 2014, 08:29 AM
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if you excuse my butting in, Sassafrass, most italian language schools have beginner classes, but unlike classes for those with some italian, they usually require beginners to do at least 2 weeks and to start on a specific day.

the latter is required by the school in lucca - see their dates and prices page:


IME schools are very good at grading their pupils and trying to match them to the right level as that way you make most progress, and hopefully, come back and/or tell your friends!

Kay - if you get the chance to go to a school, do it - but do try to attend for 2 weeks. I have found that after a week I am just getting into it and then i've had to go home.
annhig is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 09:20 AM
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As Annhig noted, the beginners start on a specific Monday. I got the impression from talking with the beginning students that they had not taken formal classes previously. At most, they may have listened to CDs, if that. So, don't hesitate to jump in.
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 04:50 PM
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Here's a day by day description of my weeks in Lucca--hopefully informative for those curious about how the school week went and hopefully not too boring.

After arriving in Rome (FF miles), I spent two nights in Pistoia. I enjoyed walking around this lovely town, despite the overcast and rainy weather. On Sunday, I headed to Lucca and to the apartment for my home stay. The home stay was arranged by the school and when I pulled up in my cab, shouts of “ciao, Denise” came from the balcony as my host, M, and another student greeted me. I elected to do the home stay the first week to get more opportunities to speak in Italian. (M only spoke to me in Italian, but I suspect she could speak, or at least understand English. I was grateful that she was patient with me!) I chose to do “room with kitchen privileges” because I did not want to feel locked into dinners at certain times. But M kindly prepared a wonderful soup for us that first day and J shared her dinner with me.

I had my own room but shared a bath with the other student, J, who kindly showed me the way to the school (5 min walk) and then showed me a bit of Lucca that afternoon. J has returned to LIS several times, sometimes for as long as 3 months. I am jealous of her progress in Italian, but when I hear how she works at it, it is understandable. Back in the U.S., she attends classes, listens to and reads Italian online and skypes, among other things.

When I arrived at the school, I took a brief test and was assigned to my group, an advanced class. There were 7 of us the first week: 3 U.S., 2 English, 1 Australian and 1 Swiss. Our teacher, Susanna, spoke only Italian to us. We began class at 9:15, took a 15 minute break at 11:00 (where everyone headed to one of two bar/patisseries steps away) and then resumed classes until 1:00. Although I have a solid background in grammar, my speaking abilities are poor. A few of the students who have spent time previously in Italy were more fluid speakers. I never felt awkward in class, though; the teachers and other students create a very welcoming environment. Everyone was there because they love Italian; being in Italy practicing Italian made us happy!

The school offers optional afternoon activities. Some have a small (and I always thought reasonable) fee; others have no charge. The first day, I participated in a walking tour of Lucca. The teacher who led the tour gave some history of the city, but she also pointed out places where we might want to go for wine, groceries, bread, etc.

Both the school and the apartment were outside the walls of Lucca but an easy 10-15 minute walk into the historic centro. That evening I went for a walk on walls, which encircle the city and are over 4 kilometers long. The wide path (wide enough for cars) is flanked by trees; at various points, the bastions jut out. While walking, I bumped into another student, JT, who was jogging on the walls (you will see walkers, joggers, bicyclists, surreys, dogs). We agreed to meet for dinner. The rest of my time in Lucca would go like that—chance encounters with other students and then a plan to meet for an appertivo or dinner.

The next day (Tuesday, wk 1), we worked on conjunctions like tuttavia, nonostante, pero. We usually did a combination of learning activities in class: worksheets, conversations with another student, preparing a paragraph or two, playing a game. I was anxious to learn these conjunctions since they seem to make sentences flow better. My favorite word is “allora,” which seems to be a catchall transition expression. In the afternoon, there was a movie in Italian.

At different times through the year, LIS offers additional packages that combine morning Italian lessons with afternoon activities built around cooking or walking. The first week I was there, the walking program was available, but I chose not to participate because I wanted afternoons free for trips (yes, trips that I did not take anyway). However, one of the students in the walking program opted out of a Cinque Terre hike and I took her place.

Angelo, one of the directors of the school, picked us (6 students) up early that morning for the drive to La Spezia. From there, we took a train to Levanto, where we would begin our hike. It was a steep uphill climb but rewarding as we skirted the coast. Finally, Monterosso al Mare came into view and we began the equally steep descent into town. We had a nice lunch at La Barcaccia and then brief visits to the old town and, later, Vernazza. Both places were crazy crowded with tour groups and student groups. Then back to relatively peaceful Lucca.

Thursday’s optional activity was “Myths and Legends of Lucca”—a walking tour followed by an apertivo. The charge for this was 10 euros, I believe. Antonella, the teacher who led this tour, spoke slowly enough so that even the newer students followed her stories. Later, I met a group of students and teachers for dinner at Mecanate. Wine, good food and chatter flowed freely.
I was sad to see the first week end. Although I was learning a lot, I felt the need to drop down a class and cement some of the things I already knew, before venturing into new territory. There was no problem with adjusting my placement. I am not sure this would always be the case as the classes grow more crowded in the summer; but then there may be more classes and more levels to begin with.

Some students had activities planned for the weekend, but I had plans to move into an apartment and do laundry! I was able to check into my lovely apartment in the centro early (http://www.myflatinlucca.com/en), so I wandered by the market that is held every Saturday along the walls. There were the usual stalls of clothing and household items, but only a few fruit and vegetable vendors. I managed to get some delicious apricots and strawberries though and use some Italian.

Sunday, I strolled around town, checking out some used book stalls, and then bumped into a student, D; while we were talking, a parade made up of young people from the contradas went by, so we watched them for a bit. That evening, I met my old roommate J for a performance of “Tosca.”
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 05:20 PM
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That all sounds like a lovely dream. We spent a few days in Lucca once and loved it. It would be a great place for language school. I've thought about it before, but you really did it, gives me something to think more about. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Sassafrass is online now  
Jun 5th, 2014, 06:54 AM
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Thanks, Sassafrass. I think it is a great way to get a more in-depth experience--it forces you to slow down.

Here's the rest of my report, including what for me was a highlight--a cooking lesson and dinner:

Monday (wk 2) Back to school and a new group: 1 Canadian, 2 U.S., 1 German, 1 Brazilian, 1 Swiss. Our teacher, Eva, kept us busy with some games and exercises. In the afternoon, I again strolled through town, checking out things I had missed on previous strolls. I tried to study every day, and that day I decided to stop in the Anfiteatro for a Spritz (Aperol based apertivo). The Anfiteatro is an oval shaped piazza, lined by shops and restaurants/bars and on the site of a Roman amphitheater that once stood outside the Roman era walls. However, I did not get much work done because of the apertivo and the people watching.

Tuesday (wk 2) may have been the highlight of the school week for me. The optional activity was a dinner prepared by the students under the direction of Eva, my teacher, with the assistance of Antonella, another instructor. We worked in one of the classrooms that had a rudimentary kitchen attached (2 burner stove, sink and toaster oven, I think). Eva managed to herd 10 students of various nationalities and abilities through a meal of bruschetta, pasta with zucchini, leeks and saffron, rolled turkey breast stuffed with pancetta and frittata and simmered in a wine sauce with olives, and a dessert made with mascarpone, amaretto and chocolate. We all had a hand in the chopping of the vegetables and also in making the pasta dough and either running it through the machine or cutting by hand. The food was unbelievably delicious. I consider myself a good cook, but I cannot imagine directing 10 wine-infused students in Italian under those conditions!

Wednesday (wk 2) and I finally took one of those trips I had planned when I chose Lucca. I had been so busy enjoying the company of fellow students, participating in field trips, or just exploring Lucca that I did not feel the need to leave Lucca. But I forced myself to travel to Montecatini and was joined by a fellow student, P. Montecatini Terme was a refreshing change of pace, architecturally. It is a spa town (“Terme” for the spring-fed baths) and one of its hey days was in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. There is a good bit of art nouveau/Liberty style architecture. We also explored Montecatini Alto, the old town that is reached by a funicular.

After class Thursday, I had a private lesson with Antonella. This gave me a bit more confidence in speaking Italian. When I expressed frustration with my inability to speak, Antonella reminded me that it is normal and expected. We talked about strategies I might use back home. I met up with a few students for an appertivo at our usual place and a last dinner together.

Friday (wk 2). I was truly sad to see the end of this journey. The teachers at LIS were wonderful and I really enjoyed getting to know the other students. My goodbyes were quick, though, because my husband was arriving at the train station to join me on the next part of my trip. Hopefully, this was truly only “arriverderci.”

I finished out my time in Lucca with my husband, showing him my favorite sites, enjoying an appertivo at my usual place (the waitress knew to bring me a prosecco), and checking out two wonderful restaurants (Osteria Del Manzo and Canuleia, with its romantic courtyard dining). It was a busy weekend in Lucca, with many antique vespas, Fiats and Ferraris on hand for the celebration commemorating 500 years of the walls. (The museum next to the Guinigi tower has a good exhibit explaining the series of walls that were built, moving out as the city expanded through Roman times to the Medieval era and late Renaissance.)

Then on to Cinque Terre and Rome.
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 08:37 AM
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What a great time you had, mama. people sometimes look at me sideways when I say that I'm spending my holiday effectively at school but what they don't realise is how much fun it is!
annhig is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 08:52 AM
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What a wonderful experience! I've often had the thought of attending language school in Italy drift through my mind and reading this report seems like bliss to me!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jun 5th, 2014, 09:02 AM
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The only thing that would top my previous visit to Lucca might be staying in Lucca and going to this school! Thanks for the tips!
kwren is offline  
Jun 8th, 2014, 04:12 AM
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I am starting at LIS on Monday 16th June as a raw beginner and am feeling very nervous indeed.
The full immersion sounds daunting and am worried i will have bitten off more than i can chew, so to speak.
Ay words of encouragement at this point would be most welcome!
susierieg is offline  
Jun 8th, 2014, 06:44 AM
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Brava, mama_mia! Add this to my growing Italy bucket list....sigh.
TDudette is offline  
Jun 8th, 2014, 09:32 AM
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Thanks for the kind responses.

Susierieg, I am soooo jealous. I wish I was back at the beginning of my adventure.

I am sure you will have an enjoyable experience. There are no tests to stress over and you are not being graded on your Italian.

I am not sure what you mean by "full immersion." I was only in class until 1:00 each day, but I joined in some of the late afternoon activities, which generally were only an hour or two. The mornings flew by and I almost wish I had more time! Are you taking additional private lessons?

Whatever your plans, I would not stress about it. As an adult learner (I earned an M.A. in my 50s), I personally find it somewhat harder to retain things. But I appreciate and enjoy the learning process so much more than when I was a younger student.

You will find (and I am sure this is true of all the good language schools), that the teachers work to create a welcoming and supportive environment. They know the challenges that they face (short courses, students starting and stopping at different times, students with various levels of proficiency, different goals and different native languages, etc.).

As a student, it is helpful to keep these challenges in mind regarding your own expectations for what you can achieve in the course. I felt that my 2 weeks served as an injection of Italian, boosting my knowledge. I did not expect to speak fluently and probably never will, without an extended stay in Italy and a younger brain. But a longer period of study combined with more time practicing Italian and hearing the language will probably move me further along in my goals. Good enough.

Have fun!
mama_mia is offline  
Jun 8th, 2014, 02:38 PM
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good luck, susie. i'm sure that you'll have a wonderful time, making lots of new friends and having a few adventures.

as a beginner there are no goals except those you set yourself and we are all different - language learning is not a competition! so don't get discouraged if you seem to be getting on more slowly than others, or have other problems, none of that matters. you may find that you get it straight away, or that it takes time before the penny drops. And nothing you do is a waste of time, even if you are struggling - believe you me we ALL struggle, and as mama_mia says, it gets harder the older we get.

Finally there is nothing wrong in saying you don't understand - quite often other people haven't understood either but were too scared to say so - you will be doing them a favour!
annhig is offline  

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