Learning a language reminds me how hard it is to be a student – and how rewarding it is to learn something new.

Learning a new language to challenge myself

Growing up in an Italian family, I always had a solid understanding of the basics of the language: ‘ciao’, ‘mangia’ and ‘grazie’ were commonplace in my vocabulary. However, when I travelled to Italy and stayed with family, I found that I was struggling to form sentences and have meaningful conversations. I vowed then and there to start learning Italian properly.

Naturally, I returned to Sydney and the busyness of everyday life and university overtook all my best intentions.

When I began teaching in 2018, I struggled to balance my time effectively between work and rest. I would bring home marking and lesson planning, or the emotional struggles of students would play on my mind. I quickly realised that I needed to have something built into my schedule to force me to switch off from school. So, I decided to go back to school myself.

I researched different Italian language classes in the area, and after a few sessions with a wonderful Italian tutor, I enrolled in classes at Co.As.It. in Leichardt. I have now been attending lessons every week for the past few years and I absolutely love it. Whilst there are costs associated with the classes, it is an investment in myself. Learning a language is hard, but certainly rewarding, and it’s taught me a few important lessons that have greatly improved my wellbeing and my teaching.

First, it has reminded me how tricky learning is. When I’m frustrated that my students haven’t remembered the rhetorical device that I mentioned last week, I’m always conscious of the fact that I still can’t remember the conjugations of the conditional tense that my teacher has focused on for the past month. However, I always feel a sense of pride and excitement when I correctly formulate a sentence or remember a vocabulary term. The confidence boost that comes with success greatly improves my mood.

Second, it has reminded me how busy we really are. Now that I have homework again, I always think twice about setting work for my classes to complete, and certainly never ask for a big task due for the next day. Despite this increased workload, I love being able to consolidate my learning and revisit my lessons throughout the week with activities. The answerability that comes with homework means I don’t just switch off after each class, but I continue to make time for myself throughout the week.

Being accountable for my wellbeing requires scheduling in time for my goals and passions outside of the classroom. As part of this accountability, I pre-pay for a term’s worth of Italian classes which creates a commitment to myself and my learning. Additionally, whilst some days it might seem easier to check a few essays, I force myself to swap the marking for my Italian homework or my lessons.

Learning a language has allowed me to make new friends, connect with my family culture and challenge myself in new ways. And it keeps alive my dream of moving to Italy, teaching English in a small village, and living on a diet of pizza and pasta.