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Inclusion And Language Learning

Inclusion and Language Learning

What do teachers and principals have to be concerned with more and more today? In this worldwide global world, first and foremost: inclusion. The concept includes language learning, the language of the new, welcoming country where children and families from precarious conditions, poverty and warfare arrive to with the dream for a better future.

And what does language learning mean? What is the secret? How can the language learning process be improved and accelerated?

Seven years as a school principal and 32 years as a teacher of English have taught me many things. I was influenced in both roles by my own experience as an Italian immigrant in the USA, which considerably opened my mind and increased my sensitivity. The Russian war on Ukraine enhanced this openness further with the arrival of families and children. Looking into their eyes induced us to manage accommodation for them in the territory and to open the schools of Eastern Rome for them immediately. I learnt a few essential words in Ukrainian to make them feel at home. At IC Antonio Montinaro we also organized a Lab of (Slavic) Philology for the freshman classes in our middle school with the participation of an expert from the Ukrainian community. It was indeed a very successful as useful initiative and it raised the awareness of brotherhood and inclusion. The fact that all Indo-European languages come from a common root really made a lot of sense to the students, who come from all parts of the world.

With the new Italian protocol for Inclusion (May 2022), school principals had the opportunity to meet the Minister of Education and make proposals. I was honored to personally hand my book to Patrizio Bianchi and the authors of Italy’s National Indications for the Curriculum. This book, Elena: On the Beauty of Dialect and Preservation of Culture is an account of my personal experience with my grandmother Elena, who took care of me while I lived in Chicago. My grandmother spoke a Southern Italian dialect, which inhibited my language learning process of the standard Italian language when we finally returned to Italy in 1972. But it also enriched my linguistic intelligence.

Is language learning an innate process or is it acquired through social interaction? Perhaps this is an eternal dilemma. While I was struggling with the complications of the Italian language, it never occurred to my teachers that my difficulties were largely due to the interference of two dialects: a Sicilian dialect and another southern Italian idiom.

Both were full of wisdom, folklore and certainly not exempt from important linguistic and historical influences. Grandparents are often significant in the upbringing of children and their learning about the values of life, but the strong relationship between children and their grandparents is unfortunately often undermined. Language learning is closely connected to emotions and empathy. Many of us can recall the strong emotions we felt towards our grandparents.

I remember the homesickness as a child, which must be similar to what immigrant children feel when they are uprooted like me, having to leave their home, their school, their own territory or country for one reason or another. As a school principal my heart bleeds for these children who have to deal with adaptation, discrimination and language learning and to this very day I pay homage to Mamma Elena.

Maria Rosaria D’Alfonso

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