Emily Kearns is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2015, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A communications and business major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.
In her post below, Emily interviews visiting professor of Elementary Italian 1, Jenny McCord from the University of Pittsburgh.
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After last week’s post about my favorite class at CAPA, "Elementary Italian I", I was inspired to interview my professor, Jenny McCord. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is lucky enough to be spending her semester here in Florence doing what she loves!
EMILY KEARNS: What college did you attend and what did you study?
JENNY MCCORD: I went to the University of Virginia and studied Psychology and Italian.
EK: When was the first time you visited Italy and where did you go?
JM: I went during the summer of 1998, after my sophomore year in college with my family. It was my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary and we visited Venice, Siena, Florence and Rome.
EK: What is your favorite city in Italy and why?
JM: Bologna – it is a university city with a generally progressive population and strong social justice initiatives.
Photo: Canal in Bologna by Gennaro Visciano
EK: What sparked your interest in the Italian language and how long did it take you to become fluent?
JM: The spark? I fell in love with a pizza maker from Naples named Peppe when I was in high school. I started taking Italian classes in college so I could understand him when he was angry and communicate with his family.
Fluency is a tricky concept. In language acquisition we usually talk about proficiency and communicative, intercultural competencies. I think when most people use the term “fluent” they mean highly proficient? Able to understand native speech/text in a variety of contexts and also to negotiate meaning in all tenses, with concrete narrations/descriptions as well as abstract meanderings…
Knowing intimately another language and culture is a long-term adventure, and like all forms of awareness, there are always ways to continue to grow.
In addition to learning grammatical structures and vocabulary for linguistic proficiency, there is also cultural proficiency that enables you to make sense of what you are hearing and reading. We (adult learners) never really attain native fluency, but with love and attention we better understand other languages and cultures, increasing our proficiency.
Language is like a kiss partner, you have to pay attention, spend time together. I’m planning on a life-long relationship, but even after 20 years I often find myself not understanding every corner of a conversation or being able to express exactly what I mean with humor and precision. Pazienza.
EK: How did you get this opportunity to travel abroad with students?
JM: I have been teaching Italian for the Department of French and Italian at Pitt for ten years, and have been fortunate to teach in Rome during many summers with the Study Abroad Office’s summer program. This year they offered me a job working with Pitt students in Florence through CAPA: tombola!
EK: What is the biggest challenge and biggest reward of teaching students Italian?
JM: The biggest reward is laughing in class together over students’ creative responses or at home when reading their essays. Italian students are off the hook hilarious. This has to be the best job in the world!
One challenge in teaching language is when you encounter reactions of aversion to ideas/behaviors/structures that are new. With the language you hear comments like, “that’s so weird/strange,” and when we are abroad, even rejections of different cultural expressions that usually suggest a student’s lack of familiarity/comfort with diversity.
It’s important to try and transform our assessments from “weird”/rejection into “oh that’s new to me”/curiosity. I think all teachers and friends, coaches, parents, try to offer guided support that helps form a trusting bond but also encourages open-mindedness and exploration, an interest in always learning more so as to make informed decisions about our preferences.
Photo: Studying in Florence by Scott Kidder
EK: What are some of your favorite things about being involved with CAPA?
JM: The people I have met there. CAPA Florence is a wonderful blend of energy, humor, kindness, patience, cool. They are all extremely resourceful and well-connected in the local fabric, so our students have endless opportunities for home-grown cultural excursions and lectures, activities and tours. I love coming to work and seeing everybody, also the teachers who give classes there; CAPA Florence is a fantastic learning environment and friendly, welcoming home away from home.
EK: What are the differences between teaching at Pitt and teaching in Italy?
JM: At Pitt I see the students every day of the week for an hour of class, which I prefer over our two (longer) weekly lessons here in terms of creating rapport and language acquisition, but then again at Pitt I don’t have the pleasure of running into students in Piazza Santo Spirito!
EK: What is your favorite and least favorite aspect about the city of Florence?
JM: My favorite aspect about the city: i fiorentini, le piazze, and making local relationships. My least favorite aspect: the high volume of students living here who choose not to study the national language, to improve their understanding of this generous city that hosts us.
EK: Any pieces of advice for how we should spend our last few days in Italy?
JM: Stay in Florence! Talk to the Italians who were part of your Italian soggiorno, thank them for their cappuccini and panini, suggestions and courses. Continue to build a life-long relationship with your Italian family; you will be back before you know it!
Thanks Emily and Jenny!
Emily’s journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.