Chennaiites’ tryst with Italian

In an era when learning a foreign tongue is seen as opening up opportunities in the world, youngsters are forever flocking to institutes that will give them this slight advantage. While German, Japanese and French institutes are established in the city, educating students and business people in the city for years now, Italian is a new draw. That is where this couple comes in.

Angela dell'Agnol and Dennis Cecchin, two Italian expatriates, live and work in Chennai. A somewhat mystical encounter prompted their one-way journey seven years ago, they tell us. Dennis had just gotten back from Mexico when an old lady came to him suggesting he visit India, because that's where everyone should go at least once in their lives. It didn't take long before the two followed the stranger's advice.

With a degree in Anthropology and a background in education, Angela found a teaching post after they came to India. After a few stints in various managerial roles, her partner soon followed suit. “I am half German, I thought to leverage my bilingualism as a teacher,” says Dennis. The friendly ambience of the Language Lab they work in, founded by the Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, breathes nostalgia in every corner. Homemade tea is served throughout the day, life-size maps unlock the secrets of the boot-shaped Mediterranean country. The reception of Italian classes in Chennai has largely exceeded their expectation. Since it all began, Angela and Dennis have been hosting language enthusiasts from all the walks of life in their lab: engineers, housewives, artists and youngsters. The courses are divided into beginners, intermediate, advanced and expert levels. In addition to this, big enterprises like Fiat, Banca Sella and ENI have increasingly embraced the initiative to pursue their profitable purposes.

What fascinates students

“Food, culture, history are what fascinates them [students] the most,” says Angela. And though Italian is spoken by less than 60 million people, about half the amount of Tamil speakers worldwide, there are many fields the language of Dante and Machiavelli can be applied to.

For instance, Chennai native Anupa has been studying opera since she was 8. She says that it's nice to know what she is saying with her music now. “I was singing in a foreign language, and the feeling was just not there. But when I started studying Italian I suddenly realised the meaning of words and their right pronunciation. This opened me up a whole new way of expressing myself. At the end of the day, singing is all about acting and unleashing emotions.”

At the Lab, Angela and Dennis are always keen to explore new educational methods beyond the sheer grammar. “There's no set formula for language teaching success. What we try to do is incorporate a cultural component in the process,” explains Angela.

Pride in freindship

The duo take immense pride in saying that relationships forged at school last with most of the students once classes are over. “Being a teacher in India is a unique privilege. Historically, teachers are role models students look up to. While having classes, you feel like you are in a way empowering each of the students. As we didn't come here with the idea of setting up a business, but rather to have a measurable impact on the local community, this makes us feel truly fulfilled,” says Dennis.

In turn, interactions with people at such a deep level are providing the couple with powerful insights into the local way of life. “Working as teachers in Chennai is like seeing India in a new light. It allows you to broaden the way you frame everyday things and to deepen the sense of belonging to community, together with all its beautiful intricacies,” adds Dennis disclosing a hint of gratefulness. “As long as the drive that first brought us here is alive, India will be our second home — and instilling love for all things Italian our commitment.”

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 5:34:38 PM |

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