If you’ve been following us at all you know we love traveling in Italy. We have traveled to Piedmont and Venice up north and Calabria and Sicily to the south and many points in between. And we just keep coming back.
One of our goals when we started traveling full-time was to learn the Italian language. We hoped we might learn some while picking grapes in Dogliani but the owners of the winery are Swiss German and with our fellow WWOOFers coming from several countries, English was the lingua franca at the dinner table.
We have both spent a considerable amount of time on Duolingo, but it can only take you so far.
So this past year we had a couple weeks without definitive plans and we thought, “What better way to learn Italian than by taking Italian classes in Italy?” We searched for options and were very fortunate to find Scuola Dante Alighieri di Siena.
Learning Italian in Siena
Dante Aleghieri (DA) was very helpful in answering questions and helping us register for the proper courses. We had a lot of questions and Valentina always answered promptly and helpfully. We finally decided on two weeks of beginner classes and added on some private tutoring.
One of the things we liked about the school is how flexible they were with dates and the length you stayed. We were able to take our language classes on the exact two weeks we had free.
DA is an Italian Language School that believes in total immersion in the language. We had taken placement exams but were still pretty nervous when we showed up for our first day of Italian courses.
Our morning classes were with Angela. She sat down with the two of us and started asking us questions in Italian. She was very kind and patient and after about 10 minutes she said, “OK, tranquillo, non panico, è bene,” and left the room.
She came back a few moments later with some textbooks and we spent the rest of the morning slowly building vocabulary and creating rudimentary sentences. On rare occasions Angela would speak a little English to explain something we didn’t understand but for the most part we spent those hours speaking and learning Italian. She was very patient and we left feeling very confident and excited about our opportunity to learn Italian in Italy.
Intensive Italian Course
DA is located right in the heart of Siena and for lunch we walked a short distance to Pizzicheria de Miccoli. We had some very tasty panini and were feeling so good about ourselves we shared a half bottle of Rosso di Montalcino to celebrate our success.
After lunch we returned to DA for our private tutoring session feeling relaxed and much more confident about our abilities. Our instructor in the afternoon was Claudio and he couldn’t have been more different than Angela. He immediately coaxed us to speak, in full sentences, answering the questions he peppered us with. It was a little daunting and I’m sure we looked like a couple of deer in the headlights!
He finally made us understand that his goal is to get us to speak. Make mistakes if we had to but use full sentences – subject verb, object – not just one word answers…ever! After a couple of hours of this we felt pretty beat up but also like we were really learning things. You can’t get this from Duolingo!
Italian Culture Courses
In the evenings DA offers some cultural classes open to all their students. We had a couple hours between our session with Claudio and our next class so we camped in the student lounge and did our homework.
Our cultural classes were with Alessia. She was also very kind and patient (and has a Ph.D. in Italian literature!) and spoke slowly so we could understand. This first lesson with her was a series of children’s poems that focused on pronunciation and phonetics.
Our Italian Courses
The following days followed this same pattern. Our morning classes met every day and we used the textbook to work through vocabulary, grammar, and conjugating verbs.
Our tutoring sessions with Claudio were great and he really pushed us to speak. We actually saw him in a little restaurant one night and he invited us to his table for a glass of wine and to meet some of his former students who were dining with him that night.
His sessions were only twice a week so we used the afternoons we weren’t with him to explore Siena. This medieval city is a stop on our Small Group Tour of Tuscany but you can only see so much in one day. We loved our visits to the Duomo Museum, the Bapistry, Santa Maria della Scala, and so much more. Siena is an amazing city.
Our evenings with Alessia were really fun. Some nights we did aperitivo or merenda together where everyone was encouraged to speak Italian together. Some of the other students were quite advanced but they were also very encouraging. A couple nights we watched movies in Italian with Italian subtitiles. Alessia would describe the plot of the movie in Italian and then we would watch it. It was surprising how much we would understand.
Our Italian Teachers
If you haven’t figured it out by now, we loved our teachers. Angela, Claudio, and Alessia. They were very different from one another, but all extremely good, and highly educated. The diversity is a strength of the school. They all were passionate about what they were doing and very skilled in the classroom. As former educators, we have high expectations for teachers, and we can’t say enough good things about them.
DA offers many levels of affordable housing, everything from private rooms to homestays. We elected for a homestay with breakfast and dinner included. Our Nonna Italiana (Italian Grandma) was Vanna. She spoke absolutely no English and she was fantastic! She cooked us breakfast every day and always had a big meal waiting for us in the evenings. It was sometimes exhausting to come home after a long day of school and still be pressed to speak Italian but it was the ultimate in Italian immersion. I would highly recommend this option.
We took our classes at Scuola Dante Alighieri in late April. Luckily for us it is not a busy time and our classes were quite small. Our fellow students were roughly in the same age group as us and hailed from Slovenia, Holland, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and the US. They were also like us in that they love the country and culture of Italy and were trying to feel closer by learning the Italian language.
The week after we finished there was a big group coming in from Brigham Young University. They have relationships with other US schools and I would imagine the summers get quite busy.
At the end of our two weeks we really felt like we learned a lot. Angela, Claudio, and Alessia were all top notch and the other teachers we met seemed equally good. Scuola Dante Alighieri is a first class institution and I give it my strongest recommendation. If you are looking for an intensive, fun, immersive Italian language school in a historic, gorgeous location, Dante Alighieri Siena has it all!
Would you like to visit Siena and maybe even take some Italian classes? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips in Europe. You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
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