Betwyll in Canada

On 19 October, Iuri Moscardi introduced Betwyll in Toronto for the Week of Italian Language in the World.

Betwyll met Canada on Friday, 19 October 2018 in Toronto. Like every year, in fact, the 18th Week of Italian Language in the World has just ended. This event, organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation with Accademia della Crusca, Società Dante Alighieri and the support of the Swiss Confederation, celebrates the Italian language abroad.

In Toronto, a Canadian city historically hosting one of the largest Italian communities worldwide, the Italian Institute of Culture, along with the University of Toronto, the University of Toronto Mississauga and the York University, organized a one-day seminar on the educational role media have played – and still play  – in the diffusion and knowledge of the Italian language and culture, in Canada and in Italy. Among the speakers, Iuri Moscardi was invited to present Betwyll.

“Italian Language and Media”: the conference

The introductory greetings from Alessandro Ruggera, director of the Institute, Salvatore Bancheri, director of the Department of Italian Studies in Toronto, Emmanuel Nikiema, director of the Department of Language Studies in Mississauga, and Gabriella Colussi Arthur from the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics in York, were followed by two sessions. In the first, professor Silvana Ferreri from the University of Tuscia presented the linguistic history of Italy through the role media had in the diffusion and transformation of the Italian language. Subsequently, some representatives from US and Canadian media for Italian speakers shared their views in a round table moderated by poet Corrado Paina.

Social media and didactics

The afternoon sessions focused on the didactical use of social media. Firstly, professor Enza Antenos, who teaches at Montclair State University in New Jersey, took the floor. Professor Antenos has been a real pioneer in the didactical use of Twitter: in her Italian classes, she has been using it since 2008. Furthermore, she was the first to write academic papers on the use of Twitter at school. Micro-blogging on Twitter: Social Networking in Intermediate Class” was published in 2009 in The Next Generation: Online Collaboration in Foreign Language Learning, a book edited by Lara Lomicka and Gillian Lord. “Evolving Pedagogies for Teaching Italian: Che c’è di nuovo?” was instead presented at the first meeting of the Italian Teachers Association of New Jersey in September 2010. After describing the potential of Twitter for didactics, professor Antenos showed some of her students’ projects. She, too, took advantage of the rapidity and synthesis of the interaction on Twitter, asking her students to create an ad hoc account, different from the one they already had on the social network, and making them interact in Italian. This way, she could make use of the social network to practice writing, lexicon and grammar. Furthermore, using a second identity ensured her students to work with more ease: they were on the Twitter “stage” but none of their usual contacts knew it.  

Betwyll: from theory to practice

After professor Antenos’ speech, Iuri Moscardi introduced Betwyll, its story and purposes, especially in education and didactics. Since the 2013-14 social reading project on The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, the TwLetteratura method proved very useful in school. On the app Betwyll, its didactical purposes find even more space. First of all, the app can totally suit to the teacher’s needs, proving an excellent tool both in class and for homework. Furthermore, it allows to create virtual classes where to experiment with the students, generating a true learning community. A community that is likely to form also in Toronto, in early 2019, with the three universities engaged in a social reading project on Io non ho paura by Niccolò Ammaniti. The students will read the text on paper or ebook, to comment on it on the app, where they will find summaries of the book chapters.

The funniest and most useful moment was the app trial based on the first chapter of the book. The social reading activity in fact allowed to see the potential of Betwyll first-hand, arising curiosity in the participants: teachers, as well as PhD and Italian students of the city universities.

The Italian language in the world

The final speech by professor Salvatore Bancheri closed the seminar, taking stock of Italian studies in the world. Lights and shadows emerge when examining the figures presented during the States General of the Italian language about the number of Italian speakers in the world. Our language remains the fourth most spoken worldwide, with almost 2 million students in 115 Countries overall. Nevertheless, it is also true that in North America there has been a significant decrease both in universities and in primary and middle schools. Despite the appeal Italian still holds – as the language of food, culture and fashion – it is clear that mere glamour is not enough to keep its use, and above all its knowledge, alive. In Countries such as Canada and the USA, the people of Italian origin are many, however – as in any other migration – the use of the language is lost in about three generations. It is thus necessary to find new educational solutions, primarily in school. This means to safeguard those departments providing Italian courses and to promote the presence of Italian through the most widespread means, which, especially for youngsters, are mostly based on digital technology. For such reason, we hope that the use of Betwyll can help and encourage Canadian students.

The seminar tried to find practical solutions to keep the study and the knowledge of Italian alive, both among the members of the original Italian community and among new enthusiasts. As these years of experimentations have confirmed, one of the strengths of Betwyll is its perception as a space where to learn by participating and having fun. We therefore wish that the Canadian students testing it in 2019 will enjoy it, too, as a useful and easy tool to discover – or rediscover – Italian in an innovative context.

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