Le parole in bocca – an advanced Italian workshop

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Tutti a tavola ad imparare. Il cibo e la letteratura nella cultura italiana

This upper level language course for non-majors provided both a rationale for task-based instruction and a culturally significant means to implement it. Drawing on a communicative approach to language teaching (Richards and Rodgers 1986), the course aimed at advancing and enriching a wide range of communicative abilities. Students’ proficiency in grammar and vocabulary was expected to be between the intermediate high to advanced low according to ACTFL guidelines. I deliberately favored a focus on developing sociolinguistic, strategic and discursive abilities over linguistic proficiency in order to privilege the students’ active involvement in task based learning.

The principles of communicative language teaching have been described by Wesche and Skehan (2002) as:

• Activities that require frequent interaction among learners or with other interlocutors to exchange information and solve problems.
• Use of authentic (non-pedagogic) texts and communication activities linked to “real-world” contexts, often emphasizing links across written and spoken modes and channels.
• Approaches that are learner centered in that they take into account learners’ backgrounds, language needs, and goals and generally allow learners some creativity and role in instructional decisions.

The tasks associated with food preparation in Italy provided the organizing principle for the design of the course. The social interactions offered by a lab component in the Davenport student kitchen encouraged the students to work toward a clear goal, share information and opinions, negotiate meaning and receive immediate feedback on their language production.

The cultural and historical dimensions of food and its relationship to familial, regional, and national identities provided a point of departure for readings and discussions. We explored the “spaghetti dinner” of Italian-American immigrants with Giuseppe Prezzolini, analysed pasta adverts by film maker Federico Fellini, made a risotto with a “recipe” from Carlo Emilio Gadda, compared the “minestre” of Bartolomeo Scappi with those of Pellegrino Artusi and created futurist menus with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Manifesto and the film Foccaccia Blues prompted our foray into bread and pizza production, culminating in a study break for the students of the residential college which had hosted us over the semester.

Along the way, we staged a MasterChef competition, learned how to describe our own culinary traditions in Italian, and we advanced and enhanced our communicative skills.

Student comments:

” I loved that it was more than just an intellectual “what does (Italian) food mean?” seminar. By surveying a variety of sources on many topics in food production, distribution, and consumption as well as the ways in which one describes food literally and literarily, the course went beyond what I was expecting. The truly amazing portion was the cooking component–I learned so much and would have gladly spent more time in the kitchen than in the usual classroom. Everything we cooked was fun and instructional and added to my appreciation of the value of Italian culture.”

“HIGHLY recommend if you’re interesting in practicing your Italian and learning new vocabulary.”

“I would absolutely recommend this course to any student taking Italian. This is one of the best and most useful classes I have taken at Yale. Professoressa Chiodo’s addition to the course, by making it a course with a focus on food, absolutely rocked. Beyond being an Italian language/culture class, I found it to be an opportunity to learn what a joy cooking is and how wonderful the Italian culinary arts are. I brought home the skills and have been cooking Italian food with my mother, which is something I never knew or expected I even wanted to do. The class exposed me to many different ways of looking at food, but I think just giving students the chance to cook, and especially eat, the Italian food we prepared was a unique and inspiring twist on what would have been an ordinary course.” 

“This class is your reward for sticking through L1-4. Obviously this was due to Prof.ssa Chiodo’s individual style, but the whole semester was centered around the topic of food and its relationship with culture, language, and identity. Which meant that we spent just as much time cooking and eating (living what we were learning) as we did in the classroom discussing our brief readings. Top notch class. I now know how to make pasta from scratch, pesto, risotto, and minestrone, among other things.”

Works cited

Richards, J.C. and T.S. Rodgers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Wesche, M., and P. Skehan. “Communicative teaching, content-based instruction, and task-based learning.” Handbook of Applied Linguistics (2002): 207-228.

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