New Language, New Life

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At MSU Languages, we usually tell the language stories of Michigan State students. This time, though, we’d like to share the story of the person behind the campaign: Luca Giupponi. Besides leading MSU Languages, Luca is also an Educational Technology Specialist here at MSU—he works with language professors to incorporate technology in the classroom and develop online courses. Though he’s now spent years studying the science behind language learning, his first exposure to the process was firsthand—and his first experience with language teaching happened by accident.

Bergamo, Italy (Image by Luca Giupponi)

Bergamo, Italy (Image by Luca Giupponi)

The story begins a couple of years after Luca moved to the United States from his home in Bergamo, Italy. He came to the U.S. to continue studying trumpet performance; after a couple of years studying and taking lessons, he enrolled in a more comprehensive undergraduate music program at Arizona State University. As he prepared to start his freshman year, he knew he was short on money. So, he visited the university’s Italian department, hoping he might find a job tutoring or something similar. Instead, he found a man who offered him a teaching job, completely out of the blue—an evening Italian 101 course that started the following week.

The offer seemed crazy to Luca, considering he’d never even attended a university class, let alone taught one. “I didn’t even know what a syllabus was—I didn’t know anything about the culture of a university.” Still, he accepted the job, and it eventually ended up changing his career trajectory. He made it through his first year of teaching with a lot of mentoring help from the rest of the faculty. Eventually, he started to get the hang of it; by his third year, Luca saw a new future for himself in language teaching.

Of course, before being able to teach a second language, Luca had to learn one himself—though the approach he had used was slightly less structured than the classes he later taught. In high school back in Italy, Luca was enthralled by the David Letterman show. There was an Italian satellite channel which showed a couple reruns every day, and he watched them religiously. “To this day, I credit that as my most impactful learning opportunity.” The statement may seem ironic coming from someone who specializes in language education, but it speaks to the benefits of additional language immersion outside of the classroom. The English subtitles helped him understand the meaning, while listening to the speakers was the way he became familiar with the sound of the English language, as well as a lot of mannerisms and slang terms that weren’t taught in a textbook. When he got to college, he noticed he was picking up on more of what his American friends said than fellow international students; though he didn’t understand why at the time, he eventually tied it back to his early exposure to the language through Letterman.

Luca hiking in the mountains near his hometown.

Luca hiking in the mountains near his hometown.

Luca’s experience attending a university in the U.S. gave him more than a new career path—it gave him a reason to stay in the United States. “In many ways, I felt more at home here than in Italy.” The transition across the language and cultural barrier wasn’t easy, especially in the university setting—college was something the other students had been preparing for their whole lives, and they seemed to know what to expect; he, on the other hand, was in a foreign world. However, with his quickly developing language skills and the help of friends who welcomed him into their community, he began to find a home—and continues to find a home in the academic world today at Michigan State.

Luca with his wife Annie and daughter Sofie.

Luca with his wife Annie and daughter Sofie.

In addition to finding a community here, Luca’s says that his perspective on language learning has also shifted since that first year teaching Italian courses, when “I went into it thinking that we all learn the same way.” In the process of teaching others, he’s learned that we all approach language learning in our own unique ways—and that’s okay. Luca says he developed a lot more empathy and patience for his students and others around him. This wasn’t the only new perspective he learned here either. In fact, he found the process of immersion into a new country, language, and culture—the access to so many new perspectives—addicting. “I think for me, part of the reason why I jumped with both feet into this is because of all this access I was getting… you feel like you’re being reborn, recreated.”

Though he admits to occasionally daydreaming about moving to another country to experience this feeling again, Luca is still not far removed from the experience. This year, he began a Doctorate program for Instructional System Technology, furthering his expertise in the educational field. This work is personal for Luca, because it helps others begin the process he went through years ago, and he knows the importance: truly effective language learning leads to rebirth.

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