What a revolution has online teaching started in my life

Teaching languages had never come to my mind. What I knew since I was a teenager was my motivation to learn foreign languages. I was crazy about English idioms, couldn’t wait for the next study-holiday abroad, couldn’t count the days till my stay at a French family or to my month abroad in Madrid, during which I surprisingly learnt more than what I could imagine simply because I wanted to. I craved to learn idioms. And it’s a piece of cake, if you truly enjoy it.

I moved to Germany and studied for a Master’s in Intercultural Conflict Management, which was taught in English. That year made me realize how bad international English is, and how it was being deprived of its beautiful and witty expressions. All because we needed to get messages across in some uniform way and English was chosen for this unfortunate purpose. As I couldn’t do anything about it- it not being my mother tongue and having even partially contributed to the misuse of the language- I looked at my own native language: Italian.

I lived abroad in a country where I could barely say hello on the day I arrived. After finding italki, teaching Italian felt like the most natural thing to do to keep my country close to me despite the physical distance and to be in touch with people who, for various reasons, love Italy and want to practice it. Strangely though, it was not just ok but it was even quite a pleasure to talk with strangers over Skype teaching them Italian! What started as a hobby during my free time became my main job over the past three years to which I dedicated myself, and I know that I’m not the only one out there who can say so. Hundreds of people have actually seen their life paths unexpectedly transform by the opportunity to teach languages online.

Here are some of the things I found while teaching Italian on italki:
Italy is a country of contradictions, but foreigners seem to enjoy this rather than hating it as many locals (understandably) do. Some of my students say Italians are more aware of what being human means compared to those who like to depict themselves as people with the utmost integrity. We all have flaws, but apparently Italians have more than others… so there was no point in trying to mask them! Also, I realized that the interest for our history and our ancestors- namely the Ancient Romans- is quite abundant abroad especially in North America. I’ve spent hours and hours talking about Roman and Greek mythology with a university professor from the U.S. and a Canadian student of mine, and I understood that I can also still learn so much about my own roots from those who study it even from afar! I also spent some quality time helping students to organize their holiday schedules in Italy with their families and got to know their children even though just behind the screen. I actually met an Israeli student of mine during his stay in Berlin who finally gave up on their interest in German for Italian.

Over the past three years, I definitely learned more about Italian grammar and language structure by wanting to explain it clearly to others which also expanded my vocabulary. How great does that sound? Well, it sounds awesome to me! That’s why not only will I continue to be a tutor on Italki, but I will also become a professional teacher as soon as I get the CEDILS diploma for which I’ve been studying for over the past month at Venice University. What a revolution online teaching has started in my life, don’t you agree?

To conclude on a more philosophical level, here’s my take on why teaching languages is more important than ever before. Have you ever read “Which side are you on?” by film-director Ken Loach? Well, he argues that a lot is at stake if you don’t stop an unconscious drift toward the so-called “Bad English”, which is a poor apology for American English. If we don’t resist, he believes we’ll end up living in an utterly homologated world where diversity can hardly be found between formerly different cultures. “We shall protect those who are threatened”, is how he summed up him book.
Now, despite Italian being the 4th most studied language in the world, I still want to do what I can to protect it and to preserve its identity. And there’s not a more fun and rewarding way to do so than teaching it to international students from all over the globe.

Giulia Zeni

Giulia has been a member of italki since May 2013