The main purpose of learning a second language is communication. Grammatical accuracy is a necessary part of linguistic competence, but it must be integrated with communicative competence, that is the ability to use language effectively, in different situations and circumstances. Our main object, must therefore necessarily be, to enable students to interact in the second language, where interaction includes listening, comprehension and oral expression, both essential oral communicative skills.
Communication in a different language has practical advantages, but we feel that language study can also broaden cultural horizons: the language we use, and the way we express ourselves reflect our social, historic and cultural environment/context as well as our education, upbringing and personal experiences. Teachers of a second language cannot avoid transmitting a part of the culture that language represents. Learners must be brought to view the study of a second language as a means to an end, as a way to understand and appreciate a different lifestyle, a new way of thinking and acting, maybe also of eating and drinking, working, relaxing. The knowledge of a second language opens up a whole new cultural horizon made up of Literature, Art, Music, Architecture, Philosophy, the Performing Arts, and enhances our understanding of those we are already familiar with. The comparisons and contrasts born of the encounter with new ideas cannot but enrich our own personality and culture.
Our aim is to develop communicative competence in our learners in real life situations: because real life is so varied, we base our teaching on a variety of approaches and strategies. These include pair work and group work, research projects, journal writing, discussion groups, analytical viewing of movies, games, lectures, and multiple intelligence techniques. We try to diversify our teaching methods as much as we can, in order to reach students at every level and to adapt our approach to the individual personalities. Our approach is always centered on the student’s needs and expectations: we think it is very useful to ask the students at the beginning of the course what their expectations are, and for this purpose we have developed a short questionnaire in English, usually with multiple choice questions and a few open ones. We thus acquire some initial information regarding our learners: whether they have already studied a second language, and to what level; what opinion they have, if any, of the teaching strategies adopted; above all which strategy helped them or motivated them most. This basic profile of each student, which may be modified as we get to know them better, helps us to build learning modules and to set short- and medium- term objectives within their reach, so that we can tailor our methodology taking into consideration the real students that we have in class.
Our language courses include a number of activities which may be considered “full immersion” in the linguistic and social context in which they are living. The students play an active part in the life of the city by assisting in a community service program, which not only allows them to come into direct contact with the social background but also to listen to and use the language they are learning in different circumstances.