Learning Italian in PMB

2008-11-21 00:00

“You say ‘Italy’ and people respond with ‘pizza, Mafia and mandolino’,” says Graziella Maggesi Moyes. “It’s funny at first, but after a while it becomes irritating. There is much more to Italy.”

Earlier this year Moyes, who speaks English with a delightful Italian accent, founded the Pietermaritzburg branch of Societa Dante Alighieri (SDA), the worldwide organisation founded in 1889 to promote Italian language and culture. Named after Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), author of The Divine Comedy, the society also provides a meeting point for Italian expatriates as well as a springboard for those wanting to learn more about Italy.

Moyes studied languages at university in Florence and, like Dante, regards herself as a Florentine. After getting her degree she went into the exporting business. “I did that for 42 years. But I was always teaching in my spare time. It was my great passion to teach. When I retired I thought I will devote time to what I really like — teaching.

“I don’t just teach the language but mix it with culture. That makes it more appealing to students. It becomes a shared enthusiasm.”

So how did she come to share that enthusiasm in Pietermaritzburg? “You don’t know what life will bring along,” she laughs.

Moyes first began teaching Italian full-time in 2004 in Costa Rica. “I have a friend who lives there who would telephone me every Christmas and say come to Costa Rica. I told her ‘Next year you won’t have to phone, I will really come’.”

Moyes spent two years in Costa Rica and during this time her friend suggested getting in touch with people with similar interests via the Internet. “You meet such interesting people and exchange information about your home countries,” she says. And that’s how she met Tony Moyes. “He also worked in the exporting business — he had travelled and loves music and literature. After one year I came here to meet him and his family. I enjoyed everything, the person, the family and the country.

“Here there is space and colour and nature,” she says. “I have been back to Florence but there I missed Pietermaritzburg.”

The couple married and once settled in Pietermaritzburg Moyes applied to the SDA in Rome for permission to open a branch in the city. Permission granted, the local society was launched in January this year at Varsity College in Scottsville. However, the demand for additional classes has seen the society transfer to nearby premises in Alice Grange Road.

Three levels of Italian courses are offered: beginners, intermediate and advanced. Each course consisting of 32 hours tuition broken up

into twice-weekly lectures of two hours each. So far 88 students have enrolled. Among them is Kim Fardella, who is married to an Italian. “I have more family in Italy,” she says. “Next time we go to Sicily I want to be able to stop nudging my husband to find out what they are saying.”

David Moon lived in Rome for six months. “I stopped my Italian when I came back. Now I’m able to start again. Also, learning a language is an excellent memory-training tool.”

Jenny Cornish has an Italian partner “so there is a pressing need to learn the language, especially as at some stage we might live in Italy”.

Earlier in the year, Moyes travelled to Italy to qualify as the only Italian lecturer of the SDA in South Africa to be authorised to lecture at the highest level, for the PLIDA examination. “This is recognised by the Italian government and students who pass can go direct to Italian universities,” she says.

Moyes also lectures seminarians and nuns from St Joseph’s Seminary at Cedara so they will be able to communicate in Italian when they travel to Italy to complete their theological degrees.

As well as students, nearly 100 social members have joined the society which hosts a monthly function with an Italian theme and food. Moyes hopes the society’s premises can also be used to showcase local cultures. “Culture has no borders,” she says. “I would like to create an Italian centre open to everybody. South Africa has such a treasure of cultures.”

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