January 8, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
Modern Languages professor Tom Means recently took his Italian 200 students to Sole di Capri, a neighborhood restaurant where they experienced Italian language and culture all at once.
“I went there ahead of time to make the sure the owner, Eduardo Erezo, would be there and agree to work with us,” said Professor Means. “It seemed he got a kick out of it, and spoke only Italian to the students.”
Sole di Capri owner Mr. Erezo is all for this kind of learning. “It helps the students and improves their Italian,” he said. “I could understand them fine, they did very well.”
Means agrees. “Sometimes they would speak English but Mr. Erezo would speak Italian back to them. This seemed to embolden them to try again, in Italian.”
A Tribeca “gem”
Sole de Capri, formerly known as Capri Caffé, is on Church Street between Chambers and Reade, just a couple blocks from BMCC’s main campus.
“It’s a tiny little Tribeca gem, where I’ve been going for years,” said Means. “They always greet me, “Buon giorno, Professore!”
He prepared his class for the visit, with pre-activities that highlighted Italian phrases used in a restaurant setting.
“I made sure the students were all comfortable with negotiating the menu,” he said. “They memorized what we call ‘chunks’, or two or three words together, such as ‘Posso avere…’, which means, ‘May I have…’, and then with a partner, they wrote dialogues using those phrases.”
In addition to preparing everyone “to interact fluently with the waiter,” he said, “we also did some role-play in class.”
After the trip, he felt confident that “advanced development of functional skills, such as ordering, requesting information, confirming information, and others, in Italian, was achieved.”
This is an Italian 200 class, “our third in a 4-semester sequence,” said Professor Means, adding that the class trip was made possible by an Enhanced Learning in the Classroom (ELIC), grant through the BMCC Office of Student Affairs.
A few of the students had been to Tuscany, Italy, as part of BMCC’s Study Abroad program. For most, though, “this grant enabled them to get as ‘close’ to Italy as possible,” said Professor Means.
“I call it, ‘experiential learning’ because they’re using their knowledge of the language, through their experience.”
Part of the experience involved being a resource for each other.
“There was definitely peer-to-peer bonding at the restaurant,” said Professor Means. “Some of the students stayed to have coffee afterwards, and continue practicing their use of Italian.”
When the students left the restaurant, he said, “they definitely had the satisfaction of accomplishing a task in the target language.”
They also gained new vocabulary. “They were asking questions about items on the menu they’d never seen before,” he said, “like ‘acciuga’, which are anchovies.”
For business and pleasure
While understanding Italian provides valuable context for art and culture from antiquity to the present—both the Roman and Renaissance periods center in Italy—college business majors are increasingly interested in speaking Italian.
Italy has the seventh largest economy in the world, and thousands of U.S. firms have offices in Italy, including IBM, General Electric, Citibank, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
There is also, of course, the food. Regarding the class trip to Sole di Capri, “It was experiential learning at its most…delicious!” said Professor Means.