Learning Italian with subtitles

For five days a week, four hours a day, Emanuel Yekutiel ’07 relentlessly worked along with Natasha Philllips ’07 to perfect his Italian accent and fluency in an Italian language course at UCLA in 2004.

When school started that year, the new Italian speakers approached French teacher Simona Ghirlanda and proposed an idea.

“My friend and I took a great interest in Italian, and we asked if we could create a language program,” Yekutiel said.

Despite a few setbacks, Yekutiel and Phillips eventually got their idea to become a reality with a directed studies class approved for this year.

Yekutiel and Phillips approached Ghirlanda with the idea of creating an Italian language program, because her upbringing by Tunisian and Italian parents in Italy made her a perfect fit to teach the class.

After talking it over with President Thomas C. Hudnut and Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra, she realized that it would be easier for them to simply start a club that catered to those who had an interest in Italian culture and who also would like to learn the language.

About 10 to 15 students ended up joining the club, and all who joined had to buy a large textbook.

“The fact that they went out, researched and bought this expensive book shows you the dedication that these people have towards learning this language,” Ghirlanda said.

The problem: the club could only meet during the designated activites period. Due to its only being a club, it could not have quizzes and tests.

“Some of my students were frustrated because we were only able to meet 15 times during the year, and weren’t able to learn as much Italian as they would have liked,” Ghirlanda said.

In order for it to be easier, Ghirlanda and the rest decided that it would be best to make the club an Italian cinema club.

 “This year it’s an actual cinema club and we discuss movies in Italian culture and at the same time learn about the language, but in an easier environment,” Yekutiel said. This proved to be a successful idea, as the club has seen its membership increase.

Ghirlanda also created a directed study class, garnering even more members.

When Ghirlanda chooses a movie, she goes out of her way to find one that has some entertainment value, but at the same time gives an in-depth view into Italian culture.

 “The club is very fun and the movies are great, but at the same time, it’s a cultural immersion because we are truly learning about Italian culture,” Yekutiel said.

The movie that the club is currently watching, “Caterina in the City,” centers on the life of an adolescent Italian girl who moves to Rome and has to make choices that greatly affect her life. 

“The real appeal of this movie is that it showcases the life and decisions that an average teenage Italian girl will have to go through.”

During the movie, if the students are confused, Ghirlanda will pause the movie and explain what is going on from an Italian perspective. 

 “These kids have such passion for the Italian language, and I can easily allow them to make all the decisions in this club,” Ghirlanda said. Yekutiel attributes the club’s success to Ghirlanda being a “force of nature.”

“She worked very hard for us to get us where we are now, and without her this whole thing would not have worked,” he said.