why shouldn’t we play in the university classroom?

Students took their midterm exam on October 25. Meteorological phenomena stopped northern New Jersey in its tracks for a week: power outages, commuter interruptions, and gas shortages all played factors in our institution’s decision to keep the University closed until November 5th. Despite the wonderful ways in which technology kept us connected throughout the worst parts of the superstorm (read this great post wp.me/p2hiSW-ib /), I couldn’t impose technology on my students to keep them practicing Italian. Even if 75% of students had access to the Internet and various other technologies, trying to continue “business as usual” (via online tools) was not an option. Anyone who experienced the impact of the storm understands this.

So 14 days later, how does a language professor proceed? Which of my students, given the events they had just experienced, would be able to recall talking about past events in Italian, recalling the conjugations of the tense, the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, and irregular past participles? I tapped into some creative juices and I decided to that playing would be a good way to reintroduce them to the classroom and the language after an unexpected absence.

The game: Tombola (Bingo equivalent)

The main board (il tombellone): I provided students with a list of 40 activities  (which I would use as caller) that they may have done during the aftereffects of the superstorm. The question to them was “Since the university was closed, what did you do?” There were a list of daily activities, including getting up, getting dressed, showering, sending text messages, chatting, sleeping, as well as looking for gas, grocery shopping, online shopping, relaxing, being bored, etc.

Students were given a blank board, resembling an Italian cartella rather than the Bingo game card.  Image

Students were then asked to fill in 5 of the 8 spaces per row, and shade in 3 per row (like free spaces). They were allowed to use any of the 40 activities in any order. The only requirement was they phrase it in the present perfect. I modeled a few of them… “Io ho bevuto molto vino” and “Io non mi sono depilata perché sono stata a casa”. In addition to getting a few laughs, I modeled both transitive and intransitive verbs. It started the recollection process for many of them. As they completed their game card, they helped each other recall vocabulary and verb conjugations.

Once they had completed their first task, I had shared with them the rules on how to win. I asked what they knew about winning in Bingo. Students told me (in Italian) that it was getting a line horizontally, vertically or diagonally, and also the whole card. I wrote the words terno, quaterna, cinquina on the board. I asked them how many spaces they needed to get in a row to win. They recognized the number base in each of the words, and so once it was clear, the game began.

I called out each activity; I had each activity on a slip of paper and pulled them out randomly from my bag one at a time. I formed a question (Chi ha dormito molto? Who slept a lot?) and students marked their card and some even raised their hand if they did the activity. If they shouted terno, quaterna, cinquina, they were required to read out their activities to the entire class and I would confirm the win (or in a few instances, tell them they hadn’t won!). We played until all 12 prizes had been won. When we were close to the end of our activity, students were anxiously calling out the activity they needed for a win.

This entire activity took about 35 minutes (of a 75 minute class) from start to finish: 2 minutes to introduce the activity; 10 minutes to write out their 15 activities on their game card; 3 minutes to explain how to win; then 20 minutes to play and verify their win.

Students were excited, engaged, and had great fun. Their disposition had changed dramatically from the start of class to the end of it. They walked in with heads hanging low as a result of the superstorm and snowstorm (which was the day before, on Nov. 7). For a little while, they were able to forget about it by reviewing, practicing and playing in Italian. Playing Tombola helped also transition into the next part of the lesson, which introduced new material via an Italian song.

This isn’t part of the regular curriculum…perhaps games should find a more regular place in our teaching, even at the university level.

7 facts about me

I have been tagged by Seth Dickens for the ‘Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me’ Edubloggers thing. I’ve done a couple of these in the past so forgive any repetitions for those who’ve read my past lists.

The rules say you have to:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog
  • Share 7 facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged

Here are my 7 facts:

  1. As a child, I used to sing at weddings, on stage with the live band…my parents would always buy 45s (anyone remember those?) of new Italian songs and play them incessantly. By the time I was 2 or 3, I was singing Il cuore è uno zingaro at weddings (not very appropriate, eh?).
  2. I saved my neighbour years ago (when I was in university and still living with my parents). One hot summer afternoon, my mom sent me to drop something off at her house and when I got there every shade was pulled, every light off and every window closed. I peeked through the sliding door in her kitchen and saw her sprawled on the floor. I managed to open (I don’t know how) her living room window without breaking it, slid inside and called 9-1-1. Not truly heroic but helpful.
  3. As a part-time university gig I worked at CompuCentre (a Canadian chain of computer stores in a mall) for minimum wage & commission. It took me at least 4 months to sell my first computer (actually sold 2 of them that same day). Customers would come in and “talk” to me about computers, but would by them only from the male employees because apparently I wasn’t “geeky” enough.
  4. I’ve don’t like video games…never have. I don’t know if it is a hand-eye coordination thing, or rather I don’t like to play if I can’t win thing…
  5. My first teaching assignment as a graduate student at my alma mater was an introductory Italian course. There was only one professor who was an expert in second language pedagogy but he did not train TAs unless you enrolled his course. The senior lecturers who led the program did not provide any training either and it was baptism by fire. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was not going to teach Italian the way I had been taught it but it took me a quite some time (and some grad courses) to learn strategies and techniques for language teaching.
  6. I enjoy physical labour. This is something I inherited from my father. Although I do enjoy it, I’m not good at it. I walk away with cuts, scars, scrapes, bruises and other injuries that I won’t mention here.
  7. My dad was a white hat (i.e., foreman) of a construction corp. in Toronto pretty much since he immigrated to Canada. He was very much a “hands on” worker and I admire him for being able to, even after he was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease, be productive and accomplish so much. So now every time we are in Toronto and do something that requires us to drive by one of the highrise complexes or skyscrapers that he worked on, he starts his “I was working on this building when…” tour of Toronto. He remember precisely the year, the company with which he worked and the memorable family event that occurred while he was there.

Now I choose my 7 victims:
AJ Kelton
Laura Nicosia
Claire Siskin
Sarah Robbins
Sharon Scinicariello

Gina Miele
Michael Heller

to learn italian or english? both…

One of the greatest rewards of teaching is when your students teach you something. I have taught one of the most challenging courses in my 4 years here this spring semester: Advanced Italian Grammar a.k.a intro to Italian linguistics. I attempted to present students to the scientific study of language, from phonology to morphology to syntax to sociolinguistics. Interspersed there was also the history of the Italian language as well as a unit on dialects. I was very enthusiastic about this course and we all know that a good dose of enthusiasm is contagious…

As part of the course requirements, my students were to keep a linguistic diary. I wanted them to consult various forms of media and reflect metalinguistically on Italian. These 10 journal entries for many were expected: influences of foreign words in the Italian language, phonetic and semantic variations of dialects, denotative and connotative significance in newspaper headlines, web, etc. Then, a few students surprise me: YouTube videos, movie clips, Italian corporate websites & advertisements to provide great examples of living language and how the scientific study of it is actually relevant.

One student used this as a sample of the development of oral proficiency for an Italian ESL (English as a second language) learner and takes this discussion to the concept of sociolinguistic awareness. The ESL student asks the Corriere della Sera’s resident expert of Italians why it is so difficult to understand spoken English. Beppe Severgnini (columnist, author) replies to this question:

L’inglese, come mi ha spiegato il guru Giles Watson con cui ho aggiornato “Lezioni Semiserie”, è ostico per l’orecchio italiano. Noi – come i francesi e gli spagnoli – parliamo una lingua “syllable-timed”, in cui la velocità di pronuncia corrisponde grosso modo al numero di sillabe che contiene. L’inglese è una lingua “stress-timed”: la durata della frase corrisponde al numero di accenti con cui chi parla sceglie di scandirla.

English, as it was explained to me by the master Giles Watson…is unpalatable for the Italian ear. We (Italians)-like the French and Spanish-speak a “syllable-timed” language whose pronunciation tempo is determined by and large by the number of syllables contained in an utterance. English is a “stressed-timed” language: the length of the statement corresponds to the number of inflections that the speaker wishes to articulate.


Even more interesting are the “one-a-day for a month” reasons Severgnini provides to encourage Italians to learn English. I will highlight those that I found utterly amusing 😉 (all translations are mine…)

1 Perché siete stanchi di dire “Non parlo l’inglese, ma lo capisco…”.
1. Because you are tired of saying “I don’t speak English but I understand it…”

2 Perché parlare con le mani, alla lunga, stanca.
2. Because speaking with your hands, in the long run, is tiring.

3 Perché capirete come riempire quel modulo su internet (un terzo della Rete funziona in inglese).
3. Because you will understand how to fill out that online form (1/3 of the Web is in English)

4 Perché così, quando vi insultano all’estero, evitate di ringraziare.
4. Because when Italians are insulted abroad, you won’t thank them.

6 Perché in America saprete leggere i cartelli stradali (one way non è una canzone di Frank Sinatra: vuol dire “senso unico”).
6. Because in America you will know how to read street signs (one way is not a Sinatra tune:…)

14 Perché quando sentirete “Vorrei shiftare la vostra attenzione sul break-even del nostro business, un must che stressa la necessità di downsizing”, almeno lo sapete: vi stanno licenziando.
14. Because when you hear “I would like to shift your attention to our business’ break-even point, a must which stresses the necessity to downsize”, you will know that you are being fired.

15. Perché un po’ già lo parlate. No comment, in fondo, è una frase completa.
15. Because you already speak it a bit. No comment, is in fact a complete sentence.

20 Perché comunque è impossibile far peggio di quel ministro italiano che, a New York, ha chiesto “gamberetts and fagiols”.
20. Because it’s impossible anyway to speak worse than that Italian minister in New York that asked for “gamberetts and fagiols”.

26 Perché capirete le canzoni inglesi e americane, e vi renderete conto che spesso sono più cretine delle nostre.
26. Because you will understand American and English songs and realize that often they are more idiotic than Italian songs.

27 Perché se George Bush dovesse invitarvi a cena, potrete commentare la cucina della Casa Bianca (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).
27. Because if Bush were to invite you to dinner, you could comment about White House cuisine (Good heaven! How can you eat this junk, old boy? Now I see why you’re so nervous all the time and you ended up messing around in the Middle East…).

29 Perché un brasiliano, per chiedere a un tedesco in Italia di presentargli un collega francese per discutere dello svedese Ibrahimovic, parlerà inglese.
29. Because a Brasilian asking a German in Italy to introduce him to a French colleague to discuss the Swedisch Ibrahimovic will speak in English.

31 Perché è trendy, baby.

i keep warning my students about online translators

UPDATE: As of Jan 25 (9:25 when I checked), the correct translation now appears.

Less than 12 hours ago an interesting article appeared on gawker.com about Google translator & Heath Ledger’s death. Notice the translation image (from the site) translated Heath Ledger as Tom Cruise! Ha!

Needless to say that the error has not yet been corrected. Interestingly enough, if I just gave Ledger, no first name, it is not translated. Then, when I substituted another first name (mine for example), the translation of ledger becomes “libro mayor”.google22.jpg  

Apparently, a freudian slip by some of the geniuses at Google? Is someone having a little fun at work? 😉 

Something new for me

Through friends and their blogs, this novice blogger has discovered many things…and unearthed some unknown talents while so doing. Much earlier this year, a friend posted a quiz on American geography. After taking the challenge (which truly was a challenge because I am not American :P), I started to investigate the script of the quiz itself. Languages in general fascinate me, so automatically the structure of the language used to program the game also intrigued me. So after playing with the actual language used to program the game, I gave in to my wonder and curiosity and decided to “create” my own. OK, I’ll admit it is not very original (I just used the template provided and modified the responses, time and tweaked it a bit), I actually got the “interactive script” used in the original American quiz to work for my quiz.

And here is the end result: Le 20 regioni d’Italia / The 20 Italian Regions. I use it to stimulate my students to memorize the regions. Does it work? Well, for those who actually do it…yes. I would love to be able to record scores so I can actually “know” what my students are doing, however, that is a challenge I have not yet managed to work through.

If you are so inclined, try it out and tell me what you think :/