UC Riverside to Offer Italian for Spanish Speakers

Program is part of national trend to accelerate learning of Romance languages by Spanish speakers

Clorinda Donato

Clorinda Donato

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Spanish-speaking students taking Italian at UC Riverside will be able to complete the language requirement in three quarters rather than four in a new language track, Italian for Spanish Speakers, which launches this summer.

Clorinda Donato, professor of French and Italian at California State University, Long Beach, will present a lecture and workshop on “intercomprehension” — the technique of teaching Italian and French to Spanish speakers — on Feb. 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Humanities 2412, the Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages Department conference room.

CSULB began offering Italian for Spanish speakers in 2009, and similar programs are beginning to appear across the country, said Nicoletta Tinozzi Mehrmand, lecturer and Italian language coordinator at UCR.

Donato is the George L. Graziadio Chair of Italian Studies at CSULB and has been awarded the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques for expanding French culture throughout the world.  She is the principal investigator for a three-year NEH grant, “French and Italian for Spanish Speakers,” and is a specialist of 18th century encyclopedias.

“The initiative of new courses at UCR of Italian for Spanish speakers attempts to serve better our student population,” said Thomas Scanlon, chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Foreign Languages. “It is a smart way to accelerate student progress by building on their language skills.”

Mehrmand, who has taught Italian at UCR for more than 20 years, said that offering Italian for Spanish-speaking students will help them acquire new language skills faster and enable them to complete the language requirement in less time.

“About 70 percent of students in my classes are Latino,” she explained. “Spanish speakers in my classes already have a passive knowledge of Italian that non-Spanish speakers do not. We will use their knowledge of Spanish to accelerate their learning of Italian. There are many similarities between Italian and Spanish, but our classes are not set up to talk about those. When I meet after class with students who are having a hard time with verb tenses, I ask them, ‘How would you say this in Spanish? It’s like this in Italian.’ Then it clicks.”

Students who complete both courses offered in Summer Session may enroll in the fourth and final quarter of Italian during the regular academic year, Mehrmand said. Interested students must take a Spanish-language placement test before enrolling. Summer Session registration begins in May.

The summer courses, which will enroll up to 25 students, will be taught differently than traditional language classes, she explained, with students comparing and contrasting the languages in a way that will help them “appreciate the similarities and underline the differences.” Traditional language classes are not designed to do that.

Although Italian is not perceived as a language with much opportunity for use on the West Coast, in an increasingly global society, knowledge of Italian can expand career opportunities in international trade, Mehrmand said, adding that Italy is establishing more partnerships in science and the humanities with universities and multinational corporations. American companies such as AT&T, IBM, Motorola, Citibank, and GeneralElectric, for example, have offices in Italy, she noted.

At UCR, one recent graduate uses her Spanish, Italian and Japanese language skills to assist tourists in a Las Vegas hotel, and another who works in a Southern California restaurant has found her knowledge of Italian a valuable asset, Mehrmand said.

Learning another language offers a different perspective on other cultures, she added.

“Idiomatic expression gives you a way to understand the mentality of another culture,” she said. “For example, in the U.S. people say, ‘I shot myself in the foot,’ which is kind of a ‘Wild West’ metaphor. In Italian you would say, ‘I hit my foot with a hoe.’ That’s more of a farmer expression, which gives the idea of a rural society. They mean the same thing. Back in the day, these expressions were part of the reality of both countries.”

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
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Additional Contacts

Nicoletta Tinozzi Mehrmand
E-mail: nicoletta.tinozzi@ucr.edu

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