BENVENUTI A FIRENZE! (Welcome to Florence)

By Sonja Burrows

At Middlebury, the Office of Digital Learning and the School in Italy launched a project that we are very proud to have jointly created: a “pre-immersion” website where novice-level Italian language-learners who are preparing to study abroad in Florence can ready themselves for their language immersion experience before they arrive in-country. (If you are wondering what “pre-immersion” is, see here).

The School in Italy’s pre-immersion website, created with a WordPress installation on the MiddCreate platform — Middlebury’s Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) initiative supported by my office — contains an abundance of useful resources for survival language learning, cultural awareness raising, familiarization with the city and its environs, and also an introduction to Middlebury’s signature Language Pledge, which is a personal commitment on the part of language-learners to use only the language they are studying during their experience abroad. The reason we partnered with the School in Italy to create this space is that for the first time since the inception of the program in 1960, students with no previous Italian language background began to participate in the program in 2016. In order for novice-level Italian language students to make the most of their experience in Florence, we created this digital learning space to help them jump start their language acquisition by providing them with the opportunity to learn as much as possible before their arrival.

Our office was inspired to partner on this project with a vibrant team of passionate individuals from across the Middlebury institution; the School in Italy, the Office of International Programs, the School of Italian, and Media Services all contributed expertise, insight and perspective to help create a meaningful learning environment. This team of creative people had a wonderful time brainstorming our learning space and then translating it into a compelling digital environment where real learning happens. If you visit the pre-immersion website, you will be greeted with beautiful images and inspiring videos, as well as many learning opportunities.

One unanticipated though welcomed side-effect of the creation of this project was that our team came to understand that our pre-immersion website might prove useful not only to novice-level Italian language-learners, but also to students of any language level. The resources we created in this digital space, though designed with beginners in mind, support any students preparing to travel to Florence regardless of their level.

A notable highlight for our team in the development of this pre-immersion website was the collection of inspiring student-generated video interviews about the Language Pledge. The idea behind these videos was to invite current or past students to provide real, honest advice to incoming students about their experience using only Italian while studying abroad. In the Language Pledge section of the website, you will find a series of brief interviews with students who candidly explain their experience with the Pledge. They answer questions about what the Language Pledge is, why it is important, and how it helped them to learn Italian. They even explain what they do when they can’t find a word in Italian! (You’ll have to watch the videos yourself to see their entertaining and insightful answers).

We invite you to visit our pre-immersion website to see it for yourself. Our group looks forward to upcoming and ongoing revisions to this learning space so as to continue to prepare students in the best and most effective way possible for their experience studying abroad in Florence.


This piece also appears on Middlebury’s Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry

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