Madeleine Hodson talks about her experience with the ab initio course.
I started studying Italian B, the course specifically tailored for beginners in September 2012. I had previously studied German and Spanish, and although my knowledge of Spanish helped me in learning Italian from scratch, the course at Leeds is tailored in such a way that it is possible for students with no previous knowledge of a foreign language to take it.
The course is structured in such a way that in the first year of Italian, you have 4 contact hours per week, which is more than most other foreign language courses. These lessons help beginners work through the programme, and by the end of first year most are usually at an A2 standard. When I had my first lesson of Italian in year one, I have to say I was overwhelmed and unsure if I could keep up with the workload. But the way this course is taught means that the students will improve without noticing it, and the weekly homework set helps the student to revise the certain grammar points learnt that week. By the end of my first year, I was surprised at how much I had improved.
In year two, there is an addition of grammar lectures, alongside the smaller tutorial classes, which are really useful, as they help the student really hone in their knowledge of the Italian grammar. By the end of year 2, students should be at a B1 or B2 level.
The third year in Italy is definitely one of the highlights of the Italian B course at Leeds. Most students opt to study at an Italian University, and this year abroad improves the students knowledge of Italian immensely. I returned from my year abroad with a higher level of speaking, and most importantly, I had more confidence with the language which aided me in my final year of learning.
In the fourth year, the beginners and the advanced students are put together for speaking, written and grammar classes. By this point, all of the students are at a similar level, so those who started the programme ab-initio, are not trailing behind the advanced students, but can often gain higher marks than those who took the advanced course. The fourth year is more intense, with weekly homework but is structured in such a way that the exams are all in the summer, so the students have the whole year to improve their language before sitting the final exams.
Overall, I would like to stress is that it is possible to start Italian from a beginners level at Leeds and acquire a high level of the language whilst getting a lot out of the programme. You are not at a disadvantage if you have no knowledge of Italian before you start the programme, as it is structured specifically for those who have never studied Italian before. The teaching staff in the Italian department at Leeds are very supportive and fantastic at what they do, and are the main reason that the students on the beginners course are able to learn and improve their Italian in such a short space of time. Alongside the language side of the course, there is the opportunity to study content modules, such as Italian history, film, literature etc. These modules enrich the students knowledge of the Italian language and culture, and personally for me, have made me much more passionate about Italy and its language. I believe the course is tailored so that the students get the most out of their studies, and regarding the language aspect, are able to improve quickly. I would also like to add that it is possible to study the Italian beginners course in any joint honours combination. For example, I studied Classical Literature and Italian, and found the workload manageable and also have found that studying a language has helped me acquire more transferrable skills that will be useful in the world of work like presentation and speaking skills. I would definitely recommend the Italian B course at Leeds to anyone interested in learning Italian from scratch if they want a high standard of teaching and to get the most out of their learning.