Francamente: An Interview with Amanda Minervini
By Kenneth Reeds, department of foreign languages
The latest addition to the Department of Foreign Languages is Visiting Assistant Professor Amanda Minervini. An Italian native and fluent speaker of German and English, Ms. Minervini has recently finished writing her PhD thesis at Brown University. During this academic year she has been teaching Italian language and culture classes to, what we hear, are great reviews. Lingua Franca recently sat down with her to ask a few questions.
What are your first impressions of teaching at Salem State University?
I did my B.A. in a State University in Southern Italy, and at SSU I felt at home since the first day. I remember walking in my very first class, fifteen minutes before 8AM, and being very surprised because most of the students were already there, ready and alert. The students here at SSU strike me as dedicated, very hard-working and with an excellent sense of humor! I only wish they came more often to office hours.
What’s it like to study Italian in Professor Minervini’s class?
I have asked my students this very question! The replies were anonymous: “the atmosphere is relaxed, and given the many occasions for group interactions, we make new friends. We also act, draw, listen to music, and watch videos of crazy Italians speaking at the natural speed, which is usually well above any conceivable speed limit.” The students say that Italian grammar is “difficile” at times, but in class we spend time domesticating it, and placing it in context so that it is easier to remember. Placing grammar in context is also a good occasion to learn about Italian culture. For instance, we learned how to describe people starting from the traditional Italian masks of the Carnival: since it was the week of Halloween, we also compared the Italian Carnival and the American Halloween. Needless to say it, there were treats, or “dolcetti.”
In Italian Conversation we went to an exhibition about Venice at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, read a graphic novel and interviewed the author via Skype, and had a lunch and dinner together. During the first week of December we will have a “gnocchi lab” where we will learn how to make potato gnocchi and then eat the fruit of our efforts with two different sauces. Mmhhh! We are all looking forward to it!
You’ve learned several languages during your life; how do you think this has changed you?
Thank you for this great question. I am sure you agree with me that studying languages makes people more receptive to nuances and to completely new concepts, from both real life and literature (Jouissance! Schadenfreude…). I think that learning languages taught me not to rest on habits but to think differently, including different perspectives in my own thought-process. Every new language has really opened up a new world to me and I am still eager to learn new ones. I also have learned to appreciate the child-like feeling of being at the beginner’s level, when you have to struggle again to say simple things, but then comes the absolute pleasure of having become able to do it. From my love for learning languages, I got the idea to become a language teacher, and am so grateful for this strike of genius.
The department is currently enrolling students in the new World Languages major which includes the option to study Spanish, French or Italian. Considering that you’ve dedicated a good part of your life to studying language and culture, what would you say to a student who might be interested in the new major?
The new major in Italian is a terrific opportunity for our students – and I can proudly say that one of my students of ITL 101 was the first one to sign up! Being exposed to new cultures makes you think about your own culture very differently and more broadly. Italian culture is very important in the United States, not just for heritage students, but for anyone who would like to work in the fields of translation, food, tourism, fashion, and design. Italy has such a rich culture. Every day I meet people of various ages who have studied Italian and would like to improve it, and when they discover I am Italian, they ask me all sorts of questions about my country. The enthusiasm for Italian culture will never stop to astonish me. I think that besides all the other benefits, our future Italian majors will be able to share this great feeling.
At this stage you’ve lived in the U.S. for 9 years, what are your impressions?
There are noticeable differences between New England and California (where I also lived), and I am still sorting them out. But if I had to generalize, my long-lasting impression with the U.S is a diffused workaholism, an absurd health system, and a peculiar dating culture (in Italian there is no proper word for “dating”). However most Americans do not perceive these things at all, and this is why I warmly advise an immersion in other cultures.
What do we need to know about Italy that most people seem to miss?
First of all: one would have to be crazy to put all that garlic on a bruschetta [a word my students can pronounce to perfection!] Second: there is no such thing as “Italian Dressing” in Italy. Third: Dante and the Renaissance have left us incredible works of art, but Italy has been continuing to produce great minds and masterpieces of which most people here know nothing. Despite the current strangling economic crisis, there is a considerable artistic and philosophical ferment in Italy right now, but only very few books are translated into English, and it is only very rarely that a film, not to mention a theater piece, makes it to the U.S. Italy is also a country traversed by inexplicable contradictions and weakened by a low birth-rate and a continuous drain of “minds.” In my classes, I put every effort to open up these lesser-known sides of Italy to my students. I consider it my mission.