The Charger Blog

University’s Tuscany Campus Offers Exciting Opportunities for Immersive Language Learning

Students taking an Italian class at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, regularly take advantage of the many unique experiences the campus’s location offers for them to learn the language.

November 10, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Left to right: Emily Kelliher ’24, Carly Brow ’23, Piero Ianniello, M.A., Sean Flatley ’23, and Fransheli Ventura ’23 at Mokha.
Left to right: Emily Kelliher ’24, Carly Brow ’23, Piero Ianniello, M.A., Sean Flatley ’23, and Fransheli Ventura ’23 at Mokha.

Carly Brow ’23 recently had dinner with her classmates and her professor, engaging in a lively discussion about their recent travels and experiences. Their conversation was all in Italian, over a meal at an Italian restaurant in the heart of Tuscany.

Brow spent the Fall 2022 semester at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, where students from a variety of majors study Italian and have myriad opportunities to apply what they’re learning in the classroom every day. Once a month, Brow and her Italian 102 class meet at a restaurant, practicing their Italian with each other, their professor, and their servers. Students say it’s a perfect – and unique – way to learn the language.

“It’s definitely fun,” said Brow, a psychology major. “It’s challenging, and it’s something different. It’s cool to go to dinner as a class with our professor, and it’s great to learn in a more intimate setting in a restaurant.”

‘An easygoing environment’
Fransheli Ventura ’23 shows off her dessert at Mokha.
Fransheli Ventura ’23 shows off her dessert at Mokha.

The four students in the class met their professor, Piero Ianniello, M.A., at Mokha, a popular restaurant on the students’ meal plan that’s a short walk from campus. Prof. Ianniello guides the conversation, giving students a different prompt each time they meet. Students then take turns responding and asking each other questions.

During one particular class meeting, students were encouraged to describe a time when they felt afraid. They then shared their stories in Italian. One student, for example, described encountering a bear in the woods when in the United States.

“It forces us to use our Italian,” said Fransheli Ventura ’23, a criminal justice major. “It’s great because we immerse ourselves in the culture, and living in Italy makes it easier to do that. Even if you don’t understand everything someone says, you’re improving your vocabulary, and you’re learning.”

That’s what Prof. Ianniello, who has been teaching at the University’s campus in Prato since its inception a decade ago, is hoping for. He describes his teaching as “not traditional,” and he enjoys finding new ways to keep students learning while having fun.

“I want to engage my students and make the classes lively,” said Prof. Ianniello, who teaches Italian language and culture classes. “I like to create an easygoing environment in class because students do their best in an environment like that.”

‘It’s especially valuable’

Prof. Iannello kept the conversation going while also helping the students improve their grammar. They extended the conversation to the setting in the restaurant, reviewing the Italian words for the objects they saw around them, and to Italian culture. Prof. Ianniello hopes these lessons will enrich the students’ experience abroad, both in and out of the classroom.

“I like connecting with students,” said Prof. Ianniello, an award-winning writer who has published several novels. “I get to understand each student’s personality, and I can meet them where they are. When they’re abroad, they look for a reliable and trustworthy adult, and it is important to me that I play that important role for them.”

Students enjoyed the opportunity to have class at Mokha, laughing together over dinner as they conversed in Italian. They say it’s a great way to learn a new language and a unique opportunity while studying abroad.

“It’s especially valuable in a city such as Prato,” said Brow, the psychology major. “It is a less English-speaking city, and a great place to learn.”

Fransheli Ventura ’23 and Emily Kelliher ’24 (front) in class.
Fransheli Ventura ’23 and Emily Kelliher ’24 (front) in class.