In 2006, I decided to go to a language school and study Italian. I had already had a good intermediate level in Italian at that time, but I understood that I needed some guidance. While I could read, watch TV (ergo listen), study grammar or vocabulary at home, I still needed somebody to do conversation with. So I started to explore what language schools had to offer. In Florence, it was no problem to find Italian courses for foreigners. However, this experience turned out to be shocking.

At one school, I asked the ‘consulente’ to show me their long-term plan for my level, but they didn’t have any. I was even asked to write one, which they would have followed in my individual course for 35€ per hour (10 years ago!).

At another school, I joined a class where everybody was at a different level. So I took one part of the group (those less prepared than me) and while the teacher was dealing with the stronger students, I improvised an Italian lesson for the others. I really enjoyed it, but I was a paying client.

At a third school, I found a conversation class for B1-B2 students and I couldn’t wait to start the course. The lesson was scheduled at lunch time (we all worked, so this time was the most convenient), so our teacher arrived straight from the dining table… and he was nearly asleep. Then he asked some questions, like what we had been doing or what we thought of Florence. We answered them, then he asked more questions and then our hour ended. Well, this was a lovely chat, something I usually did/do with Italian friends in a coffee bar, but I pay max. for the coffee. This was NOT a conversation lesson. It missed 3 important things:

  • target language provided
  • structured social forms
  • feedback (ergo error correction).

This all happened 10 years ago and I’m sure that language schools in Florence have improved a lot. Still, I’ve had many situations where qualified and experienced English teachers entered classroom to do “only conversation” without any preparation.

While improvised lesson conduct might happen in emergency cases (substitution), on the long run they fail giving students the language they need to move from a lower level to a higher one and even if they offer language points, they are not structured enough to be retained. Not giving proper feedback takes the chance from students to notice, recognize, understand and later avoid their mistakes.

 

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