New Audiences for Italian: Learning a language through Intercomprehension

One of the factors that have to be taken into consideration when teaching a language is the ethnic reality, an element that can turn into a plus if used the right way.

California State University, Long Beach, has one of the most successful Italian programs in the country. In January 2012 the University received a $100,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for French and Italian for Spanish Speakers.
The 70-80% of the students in their language, literature and culture classes consists in fact of Spanish speakers, and high chances are that many other schools may have the same high percentage of Spanish speaking students in their language classes. How can this affect and make the difference in teaching and learning the Italian language?
Intercomprehension is the key. Intercomprehension refers to the spontaneous phenomenon of reciprocal comprehension between speakers of related languages, an element that accelerates the acquisition process if supported by adequate teaching methods. The project French and Italian for Spanish Speakers transcends the traditional barriers that separate the study of language from content courses in other disciplines; content and language are instead taught in tandem, enabling students to read cultural texts of all kinds from the onset of language study.
The one-day workshop Italian for Spanish Speakers, hosted by the IIC in Los Angeles and co-organized by The George L. Graziadio Center at CSULB, the Consulate General of Italy in Los Angeles and the Italian Cultural Institute, closed the series of events for the Italian Language Week. It gathered Italian faculty in high schools, colleges and universities, together with members of ACTFL (American Council on Foreign Language Teaching), MLA (Modern Language Association), AAIS (American Association of Italian Studies), CICIS (California Interdisciplinary Consortium of Italian Studies) to introduce them to Intercompre-hension-based teaching methods.
Participants have been encouraged to discuss the new approach to languages, have been given guidelines to apply the methodology of intercomprehension, and had the chance to establish a network of collaborations for these new projects.
The NEH grant will provide CSULB with funds to expand the program. It will bring language-teaching faculty together from four Southern California institutions to explore Intercomprehension methods; Content and method specialists will offer insight from the theory and practice of Intercomprehension in France, Italy, Mexico and Spain during the grant cycle.
CSULB will become the California center of this new approach to language studies, and hopefully will be a model to look at for the teaching of foreign languages in the future.

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