UCR launches Italian courses for Spanish-speakers

Courtesy of UCSB
Courtesy of UCSB

Starting summer of 2014, UC Riverside will be launching two courses of “Italian for Spanish Speakers,” a fast-paced system which will allow Spanish-speaking students to learn Italian in three quarters to fulfill their language requirement; a fourth quarter is open for optional enrollment. Undergraduate students must test out of Spanish four (SPN 004) and into Spanish five (SPN 005) through the language placement test to be considered eligible for the courses.

“All students who want to enroll in the first of the two courses of Italian for Spanish Speakers (ITAL120A) need to take a placement test in Spanish,” said Dr. Nicoletta Tinozzi-Mehrmand, UCR lecturer and coordinator of the Italian language program. “In the summer, we will be offering ITAL020A (first summer session) and ITAL020B (second summer session). After ITAL20B, students will be able to enroll in the regular ITAL004 usually offered in the fall.”

Instead of the regular four-quarter language track, eligible students can complete the Italian language requirement through ITAL020A, ITAL020B and ITAL004. The first two courses will use a relatively new method that originated in Europe called intercomprehension — a form of communication where individuals use their own language to understand that of another. Intercomprehension will utilize the familiarity of the Spanish sentence structure that native speakers already have in order to accelerate the learning process.

Dr. Mehrmand’s Spanish-speaking students understand her when she speaks Italian, but she says, “They don’t know why they understand.” That’s where intercomprehension comes into play. It will focus on identifying similarities and differences between the Latin-based languages of Italian and Spanish. “We start from scratch. We start from the basics and very simple sentences,” she explains.

Being a native speaker of Italian and learning Spanish in Rome and French at UCLA, Mehrmand understands the usefulness of the intercomprehension method when learning languages with the same linguistic foundation.

“I went to a workshop (for intercomprehension) and they gave me a (passage to read). One in Catalan and one in Portuguese — I’m not trained in any of them — and after some suggestions I read and understood the whole thing,” she said. ”That is intercomprehension: use what’s similar and with a few tools you can understand.”

Dr. Mehrmand feels that teaching Italian through the standardized four-quarter system to students who have a background in Spanish stunts their learning process. “Why teach them obvious stuff?” she questioned. “Because I have students that understand everything and then the problem is because they understand everything … they get bored and maybe they don’t want to study at that point.”

Milene Marin-Gallegos, a second-year political science major, threw her support behind the idea of establishing this kind of course track. “This is a great way to help Spanish speakers learn a language that’s so similar to ours,” said Marin-Gallegos. “If I had this in high school when I was taking French, I probably would’ve learned it a lot faster and paid attention in class because it incorporates a language I already know.”

Cal State Long Beach is the only other school on the west coast, besides UCR, that will offer Italian for Spanish Speakers courses. UC Santa Cruz is also considering offering this class sometime in the near future.

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