The interview with Alessandra, six years in...
As well as leading the Italian Experience Cotswold company, Alessandra combines this with working for the prestigious Oxford University, Marlborough College Summer School, the Ministry of Defence and most recently the production of Italian exams for the Ministry of Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office. I caught up with Alessandra in Summer 2023 for an update – at the six-year point since the company began.
Ed: “Has a lot changed since those beginning days of 2017 and your first set of participants?”
It has. Our first workshops were great exciting and scary at the same time, and we soon realised the demand for classes was there and in particular for our ‘Italian, naturally’ approach. Our participants liked the mix of teaching methods, the style, culture and enjoyment of classes and workshops. In many ways this reflected Italians and Italy. Stylish and warm!
After the first years, we moved into longer courses and started to expand the numbers of levels that courses covered. In 2020, we switched to online at the start of the pandemic and our participants stayed loyal to us and we all coped as best as we could. For many, the promise of returning to Italy was a source of hope. I shall always remember Andrea Bocelli performing outside to the empty city of Milan or Diodato singing in an empty Arena in Verona. The zoom platform grew more sophisticated, and this has transformed how people feel about online. We now have breakout rooms to talk together as participants, we can highlight, take notes, play videos – listen to excerpts- everything you would expect in a classroom. We never looked back.
I suppose the other change was that online allowed our participants from far afield to join easily. My participants now in 2023 even take their course from abroad – by joining the group from their phone on holiday. I say to them sometimes ‘please don’t join from the swimming pool sipping cocktails and making others jealous in the class’!! It is a lovely aspect though when they join from Italy.
Ed: “I know the original inspiration from the language school was from regular training you undertook in Rome’s DILIT International House Language School, do you still receive training from them?”
Oh yes. The training is among the best in the world and so innovative. Many features of my classes are from this, and you won’t find the techniques with many other language schools. Sometimes, I train in person in Rome and at other times it’s online. I particularly enjoyed the popular music one…learning words from song lyrics …that surprised me!
Ed: “Is it true you recently worked for Andrea Morricone, son of Ennio Morricone, at the O2 arena in 2022?”
This is true! I was invited to assist the choir director Stefano Cucci in translating Ennio’s wonderful orchestral pieces for the Crouch End Choir in London. We had rehearsals and I had to convey the power and atmosphere of the western genre in simultaneous translation. Andrea Morricone joined the O2 Arena in October 2022…I think it was near 20,000 capacity and although my role was non-musical- I like to think it made a difference and Stefano was able to achieve the perfect harmonies of the choir that he wanted! An amazing night.
Ed: “What does your Chartered Linguist status mean for your participants?”
The Chartered status is like a guarantee of quality – perhaps if you were joining The Italian Experience Cotswold for the first time. It is an assurance. You have to have selection tests for Chartered Linguist status – based on your expertise, qualifications and experience. It means the tutor is highly capable and works to the highest standards across English and Italian.
Ed: “What has been your most satisfying moments in these six years?”
Each stage of the journey has been satisfying, for different reasons. At the beginning – seeing the new concept come to life and reading the feedback of our first workshops. Moving to zoom in the pandemic was special. We could see the difference and positiveness that Italian classes gave people in their lives at that time.
The Ennio Morricone rehearsals were unique. And where we are now is special. The Italian Experience Cotswold is expanding – Steve has joined in a wider role and the photoshoot in Sardinia recently made us all feel like VIPs!! I suppose my greatest satisfaction is still hearing the stories of participants using the language – for work, holidays or qualifications and knowing that my language school made a difference.
Ed: “What is the difference between the courses and workshop days?”
Courses are the most popular part of what we do. They are tailored to different levels and normally around 8 weeks in length through the year. We are proud to have participants who stay with us learning and progressing up the levels. We love to hear stories of holidays and experiences in Italy as participants grow in confidence and realise the impact the course is having! Our course groups are small, supportive and friendly. We would rather restrict numbers than compromise on quality- you won’t find our courses packed with fifteen participants waiting their turn to practice conversation!
Ed: “So what’s an average number of course participants?”
I would say five to seven.
Ed: “And the workshops?”
These are designed as stand-alone and carefully curated days to the level of participants. They are in person from our Alba House base in Oxfordshire and this is nice to keep the personal face to face contact. The content includes grammar, conversation and culture as well as exercises and listening activities. We have found the Saturday morning format to be popular and this summer we have branched out into a lunchtime picnic included as well!! Participants numbers are normally around four per workshop and they are great for conversation practice too, as I always keep my English spoken to a minimum.
Ed: “You said that Steve and yourself recently undertook your first photoshoot in Italy – what was that like?”
That was fabulous, it was like a celebrity experience. We were followed by a camera and lighting crew around Iglesias – a picturesque medieval town nestled in the mountains of Sardinia, Italy. It’s our home base when we are in Italy. The streets were full of people, the clouds and twilight gave it a unique feel and the camera team spotted the best locations. We have over 1,500 followers now on social media and it was time to update our look and to convey the fun that is being in Italy. The backdrops were quirky, elegant and classy all at once. I hope you like the pictures!?
Ed:” I do. And swift changes of clothes?
Yes, just a couple of swift changes and the photoshoot was in a cooler part of the day!
Ed: “What new plans have you in mind for growing the Italian Experience Cotswold?”
This summer 2023 we have new workshops in person as it is still helpful for language development to meet in small groups, learn and converse together. We are adding an organic delicatessen picnic lunch to the workshop, and we are looking forward to these at Alba House. In 2024 we are starting to plan Italy language vacations and watch out for some news on Italian citizenship learning too! We have more levels and courses than ever before.
We realise our concept is evolving and growing and that makes me proud from those early days!
Ed: “ Brava, brava Alessandra and ‘complimenti’ as they say in Italian!
Grazie mille. A presto!