Student or Language Assistant? How About Both?

By Daniela Cundro, Italian Language Assistant I still remember the day I arrived in the United States of America. It was the 24th of August, and “Welcome to Los Angeles” was written across the wall. I was crying.

The day before, I had been in Siena, the small city in Italy where I use to work and live. Suddenly, here I was in Los Angeles! A new life was beginning! As the Italian Language Assistant for Scripps College, I will be making my life in this wonderful place until May of next year.

You probably don’t know what it means to be a “language assistant.” We are something of a rare breed. We have student visas and, while we’re here in the United States, we assist in language departments’ conversation classes. As an Italian Language Assistant, I’m a “teacher” from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. every Monday, assisting students to learn Italian in their conversation classes. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., I’m suddenly a student again and attend my digital photography class.

There are two important aspects connected with this double life: the first is that I can empathize with students when they don’t understand Italian. As a foreigner, I understand that lost-in-space gaze. I do the same thing when I don’t understand English during my classes! The second important aspect of my role as language assistant is that I understand how much more difficult it is to study any topic in a non-native language. I was reading a pedagogy book when I saw that there exists something called a “Language ego” that informs others that “you are what you speak.” This means that certain linguistic factors influence the way that the performance of a student is perceived, particularly in terms of class participation. I feel this, and this helps me relate better to my Italian students and make an effort to be more comprehensible for them.

My wish to encourage them “to try” came from a problem of mine, not of them, and the strange thing is that I’m more able to help them than myself! Foreign students appreciate it so much when I tell them, “Don’t worry, it’s the same for me!” I think students recognize that I’m sincere in saying this, and they are comforted. I’m discovering that I love teaching Italian to the foreign students. It’s so exciting to see how much they really seem to love the Italian culture and language! Because of all the growth I’ve seen in my students’ abilities to speak Italian, I’m starting to feel like I might be able to transmit all the Italian words that I know straight into their eager minds! It’s a source of great satisfaction for me. I would sincerely like to thank Scripps College for giving to me this precious opportunity!