Hali Rando is a new friend who like me, is a big fan of studying abroad to learn a foreign language. She is an American from Boston who now lives in England and who works for Education First (EF) Study Abroad. Through EF Study Abroad she helps adults, students and professionals find opportunities to study the language where it is spoken including Italian in Rome. Hali is well educated and has a background in the psychology and
biology of language and social relations; she has an ScB from Brown in Human Biology with honors work in language perception; she has an MPhil from Cambridge with research in the genetic correlates of language diversity in Ethiopia. On the lighter side, she also writes fiction! She has travelled in Italy and above, is a photo of her in Sorrento. Hali tells me that one of her favorite Italian phrase is the surprisingly useful “mi dispiace, pero ho bisogno di studiare / I’m sorry, but I have to study!”
Hali Rando è una nuova amica e come me, è appassionata del concetto di vivere all’estero per imparare una lingua straniera. Lei è americana di Boston e adesso abita in Inghilterra e lavora per Education First (EF) Study Abroad. Attraversa EF Study Abroad lei aiuta adulti, studenti e professionisti a trovare occasioni per studiare lingue dove sono parlate, compreso l’italiano a Roma. Hali è ben istruita e ha una formazione accademica in psicologia e la biologia delle relazioni linguistiche e sociali; ha un ScB da Brown in Biologia Umana e con lode in “lingua e la percezione”; ha un MPhil da Cambridge con la ricerca nelle correlazioni genetiche della diversità linguistica in Etiopia. Sul lato più leggere scrive anche romanzi! Ha viaggiato in Italia e sopra, è una foto di lei a Sorrento. Hali mi dice che uno dei frase italiane preferite è questa perché è molto utile: “mi dispiace, pero ho bisogno di studiare.”
In her guest post, Hali explains why it is important to study abroad and immerse yourself in the culture of your target language…and she has the science to back it up! Here is her guest blog:
How important is it to learn a language where it’s spoken? It would be easier, after all, to just curl up on your couch after work, put on your headphones, and start learning Italian with Rosetta Stone. You’ll definitely pick up some Italian this way, but there is a very strong argument to be made for learning Italian in Italy, where you can really experience the language as it functions in daily life. After all, you wouldn’t order in a pizza and call that Italian cultural immersion.
Anyone who ever suffered through a high school language class has an intuitive understanding of the limitations of studying a language in your home country (or anywhere that it’s not spoken natively). It’s hard to commit to a foreign language when your entire life – other than a dreary 40-minute period once every school day – is in English. The same theory applies to your Italian-software-couch-sessions, unfortunately. Your Italian immersion is isolated for a short period every day, which makes it hard to integrate Italian into your life and thoughts.
That’s where the advantage of language immersion comes in. If you’re living in an Italian-speaking country, suddenly everything you do becomes a big Italian adventure. Checking into a hotel? You’ll need to know how to answer autobiographical questions. Want to buy some bread? Suddenly the Italian words for numbers are useful and relevant. Trying to invite a new friend to join you for dinner this weekend? Thank heavens you know the future tense and the days of the week!
While language immersion intuitively makes sense as a language-learning strategy (you’ll get to practice a lot – like all the time– and you won’t be able to hide from the verb tenses or vocabulary that scare you), there is also a strong brain-based argument to be made in favor of learning through immersion. If wandering around a country that speaks a language you’re not fluent in doesn’t quite suit your fancy, you can also study through an accredited school (like EF’s study abroad programs) or head out with a supportive group on one of Melissa’s tours to Venice, la Basilicata and Puglia.
Recently, researchers trained people to learn a simple, made-up language that was carefully designed to function like a real language. Some participants learned this language through classroom-style instruction, while others learned it through immersion. Then, they measured electrical currents in the brain while participants responded to sentences, some of which contained errors. The researchers compared these patterns of activation to those found when people perform this task in their native language. While both groups showed more native-like currents as they learned the language, the people who had learned through immersion processed the language more like a native speaker than the other group. Immersion, then, might be better for developing an intuitive sense of a new language – which is going to help you speak it much better than remembering a string of rules would.
There’s more: if you’re in Italy, speaking Italian can help you feel more connected to the people around you. You’ve probably got lots of friends at home, and meeting other travelers is great, but it’s also wonderful to feel connected to other speakers of your new language. Studies in social psychology have shown that people like people who are similar to them, and it doesn’t really matter what that similarity is. In computer game playing, research shows that game participants tend to be more generous towards another player when they feel they have something in common— even if that’s just sharing a birthday. This suggests that “having something in common” is a major way to feel like you’re on the same “team” as someone else – and “having things in common” with fellow Italian speakers is a lot easier if you can actually spend time with them and immerse yourself in Italian culture. If you’d like to get the warm fuzzies and a new sense of community from your Italian studies, you’re probably not going to get them from Rosetta Stone (unless maybe you can convince yourself that you have the same birthday).
There’s one final reason to study Italian in Italy, and it’s the most obvious: Italy. If you’re interested in learning Italian, it’s probably because you already feel a connection to the food, culture, or literature – or maybe your family’s own heritage. Someone who uses an English guidebook and rushes from the Tower of Pisa to Pompeii and eats exclusively in English-friendly restaurants, won’t really experience the true Italy. In the same vein someone, who struggles through La Republicca and Italian language tapes on the morning train ride, surrounded by the English-speaking commuters, won’t really experience a true language learning experience. In the latter case, the effort is admirable, but nothing can compare to exploring a language through culture and culture through a language.