Thursday, February 29, 2024

“I believe that when you’re having fun you learn way better and way faster!” An exclusive interview with Pietro Spanghero

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

L’Idea Magazine: To teach Italian through the use of songs is not a new idea, but you seem to have taken it to a different level. You created a YouTube channel named “LIS- Learn Italian Songs, Learn Italian with Songs”. What prompted this idea?
Pietro Spanghero: I’ve always used songs to teach and to learn foreign languages. The idea for my YouTube channel had been buzzing around my head for years but it materialized in January 2020. I was on a short vacation in Milan and I had the occasion of hearing many tourists who were trying to speak in Italian, and sometimes struggling with the language. At that moment I thought that the project that I had in mind could be useful for many people and I started putting the pen to the paper to make a definite plan for my lessongs.
Soon after that, because of the pandemic, we were all homebound for long periods of time, and it was then that I had the time to concentrate on writing the complete scripts of the first lessongs and the arrangements of the songs.

L’Idea Magazine: Is there a specific age you are targeting for these Video Lessons?
Pietro Spanghero: This is a very interesting question and something that I had not thought about, until after starting the first uploads on YouTube.
In my mind, my channel was intended for all age groups. But of course, the style of my videos and the songs I choose to translate will determine the age composition of my audience.
So in my last few videos (some of them are “under construction”), I have decided to broaden my range of songs, going from opera arias to songs of the last few years, and therefore trying to offer something appealing for different age groups.

L’Idea Magazine: Are you using only a genre of songs or have you diversified to appeal to different groups of learners?
Pietro Spanghero: Well, the answer to this question directly relates to the previous one.
Musically speaking, as one can clearly see after watching a couple of my videos, I tend to change greatly the original arrangements of the songs, sometimes creating completely new tunes where the only thing that remains like the original song is the lyrics.
Language-wise, I try to choose songs with clear lyrics, and, more recently, I am focusing on songs that dwell on a specific area of the lexis, or on certain grammar topics, such as a verbal tense.

L’Idea Magazine: You were trained as a musician (you hold degrees in classical and jazz double bass and play a lot of instruments), a teacher (you are a certified teacher of English as a second language and also teach Italian to non-native speakers), and an interpreter/translator, so you are more than qualified for this venture of yours. Do you believe people learn more and retain better their knowledge in a creative, entertaining environment such as the one you have produced?
Pietro Spanghero: Yes, I do believe that when you’re having fun you learn way better and way faster!
Of course a bit of “boring stuff” is required when you start to learn a language.
Learning some basic vocabulary and survival grammar is required to kick start the language learning engine.
But then, as soon as you start feeding your brain with interesting and motivating content, the learning improvement can increase exponentially.
What I am doing with my lessongs is replicating what worked for me.
It might not work for everybody, I’m well aware of that! However, it is what I would’ve wanted to have when I was learning English, and what I would like to have now for the new languages that I’m learning.
I know that the translations of LIS sound odd, unpoetic, and a bit clumsy, but understanding what the singers are saying word by word lets you understand how the language is structured, and all the repetitions, chorus after chorus, contribute to impress that structure in your mind.

L’Idea MagazineDo you expect your program to be used by schools?
Pietro Spanghero: As a matter of fact I did a Google search of English-speaking countries’ schools where Italian is taught, and I sent links to my channel to every school I could find.
It would be a great thing for me if my lessongs were used in schools!!!

L’Idea Magazine: Do you also write your own songs? Do you believe one day you could write a textbook for the Italian language with grammatical references to and examples from songs?
Pietro Spanghero: Well, I don’t actually write songs with words; the music I write is instrumental, mostly jazz.
A book structured entirely around Italian songs is a great idea, thanks for suggesting it! I had never thought about it, but I sure will!

L’Idea Magazine: What image of Italy and Italians do you believe you are presenting to the viewers through your videos?
Pietro Spanghero: I’d like to think that I’m presenting an image of Italy and Italians that is not stereotyped.
I’d like my viewers to become curious about some aspects of Italy that are not the usual commonplaces through which Italy and Italians are perceived in other countries.
Of course, there is a lot of “Italianità” in my videos, how could there not be? I speak about spaghetti, espresso, soccer, and all things Italian, but I intend to delve into less trodden aspects of the Italian culture more and more in videos to come.

L’Idea Magazine: Other than in these videos, do you still practice and play musical instruments? Do you perform in public?
Pietro Spanghero: Yes, although family life, a full-time job, and working on my channel (!) don’t leave me with much free time, I still try to practice double bass and bass as much as I can!
And yes, I perform in public regularly and it’s something that I love to do!

L’Idea Magazine: Now that you have created this program of videos, and I am sure there will be many more to come, how strong do you feel about your “Italianità”, the fact of being and feeling Italian? How much do you believe has your being Italian influenced your life and career’s decisions?
Pietro Spanghero: Working on my channel has significantly changed the way I feel about my “Italianità”!
I confess that, since I started choosing deliberately what music I wanted to listen, in my early teens, my tastes and interests have always been directed outside of Italy, particularly overseas (the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, …). As a side effect, I started disparaging and belittling all things Italian.
This way, for too many years I ignored many gems of the Italian culture, musical and not. L.I.S. represents for me yet another way to feel more in contact with my Italian identity.
As for the second question, I think that my being an Italian in love with the culture of English-speaking countries has greatly influenced almost all of my life.
I loved American and British music a lot, and that was a huge motivation for improving my knowledge of the English language. That in turn led me to study English at University, and it later led me to become a teacher of English as a second language.
But being in love with music also pushed me to study it seriously, thus becoming a music teacher and having the chance of translating CD booklets, liner notes and song lyrics into English, and to be an interpreter at music clinics held by musicians from overseas.
So, I guess my “thing” is being as a sort of connecting link between Italy and the English-speaking world.

L’Idea Magazine: Any dreams?
Pietro Spanghero: Well, I’m afraid if I tell you my dreams, they won’t come true!
All joking aside, for now, I really hope that my channel can grow: Making these videos requires a lot of effort, but it pays back!
I get to be in contact with people with whom I share the same interests from all over the world: for example, I met you of L’Idea Magazine!

L’Idea Magazine: If you could meet and talk to any person from the past or the present, anyone, who would that person be, and what would you like to ask?
Pietro Spanghero: This has nothing to do with being Italian or with music, and I have to tread lightly here, but I’d really like to meet the people who wrote the Bible (Old and New Testament) and ask them for some hermeneutical insights.

L’Idea Magazine: Could you attempt to define yourself with three adjectives?
Pietro Spanghero: (Very) Imperfect (but) honest(ly) enthusiastic

L’Idea Magazine: Besides music and language, do you have any other interests? Hobbies?
Pietro Spanghero: There are many things that interest me, and that, unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to devote to (ending sentences with a preposition is not one of them, I always find time for it).
So I’ll answer with some I’d like to have more time to.
I’d like to have more time to hike the Alps, which I have at just an hour and a half drive from my place.
I’d like to have more time to practice karate, which I started just six years ago, and the pandemic and birth of my second child put on indefinite hold.
I’d like to have more time to learn how to draw (my current level is “Stick man (but are those arms or legs?)”: It’d be extremely useful when teaching.
Read more books, go to the cinema, the theater, learn how to fix my Vespa…

L’Idea Magazine: A message for our readers?
Pietro Spanghero: What a responsibility! What could I say….? I’ll play it safe and go with “Subscribe to the channel”!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Tiziano Thomas Dossena is the Editorial Director of L’Idea Magazine. He is the author of “Caro Fantozzi” (2008), “Dona Flor, An Opera by van Westerhout” (2010), "Sunny Days and Sleepless Nights" (2016), "The World as an Impression: The Landscapes of Emilio Giuseppe Dossena" (2020), "Federico Tosti, Poeta Antiregime" (2021), and "La Danza del Colore" (2023). Dossena is the editor of A Feast of Narrative anthology series and co-editor of Rediscovered Operas Series books on librettos.

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