Guest Column with Matthew Absalom

March 13 / 106

Students at  Liceo Copernico in Prato
Students at Liceo Copernico in Prato

Language teaching collaboration

I run an offshore University subject, Contemporary Italy Study Abroad, which is taught in Italy from November to December every two years, offering participants the unique experience of connecting with local students who are completing senior secondary school.

We work with the Liceo Copernico in Prato, where the group is based for three weeks. Prato is the second largest city of Tuscany and yet, because students reside in the historic centre, the feeling is of being part of a small, close-knit community. Not overrun by tourists, Prato offers a level of authenticity in the study abroad context which is difficult to find in other better known cities.

Connecting with communities in meaningful ways is one of the key indicators of success for short term international mobility programs. Additionally, the University aims to develop global citizenship and intercultural capacity in its students through the graduate attributes, and programs such as mine allow this to happen naturally.

The collaboration works on several fronts: academically, socially and linguistically. Academically, in the 2012 program students from Melbourne worked with students from Prato on a range of issues relating to the ‘city as a cosmopolitan space’. This allowed reflection on culture, employment, immigration, leisure time and schooling. Since the Italian students finish high school later, the age difference between the students was minimal. Melbourne students were hosted in the homes of the Italians and treated to meals and other family activities.

Students highlighted several aspects of the program they found particularly beneficial: The chance to interact with Italians as learners of Italian, not as tourists; the opportunity to grow as a group (academically and interpersonally); the independence they were given (to get lost, and then find their own way or ask for directions);  the intercultural exchange with the Liceo students.

The students also agreed the relationships they developed with many of the students through these projects was incredibly rewarding, and allowed them to use Italian more frequently even when in Australia.

The subject runs every two years and will next run in 2014. As well as three weeks in Prato, in 2012 the students also spent almost a week in Rome where we visited Cinecittà (Italy’s answer to Hollywood), had a lecture at Rome’s La Sapienza University, as well as a private tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.

The subject is organised around three major projects: the Liceo collaboration, a research project on stereotypes (where students define a stereotype and then research it by talking to a range of Italians), and a further project on linguistic landscaping (this looks at the way language/s is/are used in public spaces).

Matthew Absalom is a university teacher and researcher, professional linguist, Italian language coach, translator and published author. He holds qualifications in music, education, languages and linguistics, and his research interests cover Italian linguistics, computer assisted language learning, and languages education. Matthew has a reputation as an innovative and successful educator having been awarded a Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence in teaching during his tenure at the Australian National University and, more recently, being recognised at Melbourne in 2011 for his work connecting teaching to real-world contexts through the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence in Engagement award.

This was covered on the local TV station and here is the link to the segment which was televised on Jan 10:

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