Breaking Down the Language Barrier: Teaching English in Rome


Image Courtesy of CUA

This is an independently submitted op-ed for our Quill section. Views and statements made in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Tower.

By Elliana Arnold

In an Italian neighborhood settled to the west of the Tiber River and close to the Catholic University of America’s (CUA) Rome Center, the sound of children’s voices echoes throughout the halls of Scuola Pubblica Elementare Francesco Crispi. 

On Tuesday mornings, the young students fill the fifth-floor rooms, which display their creative artwork on the walls and from the walls clotheslines strung across the ceilings. It was in this lively atmosphere that I had the opportunity to teach English to three fifth-grade classes each Tuesday morning during my time studying abroad in Rome. 

As an English Secondary Education major unable to take any education courses while in Europe, I hoped to still volunteer with students in some capacity. Initially, no such volunteer program existed for CUA students, so I proposed the idea of tutoring English to Italian students to our Public Relations and Programming Coordinator, Chiara Baldussi. Due to her dedicated and persistent efforts to set the project up by reaching out to nearby schools and organizing all the paperwork, the Francesco Crispi School welcomed me into their classrooms in October. 

Every Tuesday before classes, I would arrive to teach English for three hours. The teachers were excited to have me in their classrooms and showed great kindness to me upon arrival. Many times, they provided me significant freedom to structure the lesson plan however I wanted, allowing me to introduce many creative activities. Other times, they requested certain topics, which led to our solar system and Christmas-themed lessons.

The students were also very eager to have me join them in class. Many of them jumped at the chance to show off their English skills, excitedly volunteering to read the short stories and to answer the accompanying comprehension questions. When we read a play version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the fifth graders’ hands shot up to read for each of the roles. 

They also particularly enjoyed the fill-in-the-blank song lyrics activity, a listening exercise, which challenged several of them. By simultaneously listening to music in English from artists like Taylor Swift and Pentatonix and by following along with the sheet of lyrics, they tried to identify the missing words from the lyrics. Many of the students requested to hear the songs over and over again, fully involved with this little piece of American culture. 

Being in the classroom with these fifth graders was such an incredible experience. Several loved to chat with me and asked me all kinds of questions during their free time, and many gifted me with Christmas cards the last week I was with them in December. 

From independently leading lessons to creating fun, engaging activities that would excite the students, this volunteer project gave me a unique opportunity to get some field experience related to my major and interests. I loved getting involved with the Italian neighborhood near the Rome Center, and I hope this may be a project that will continue to be offered to CUA students studying abroad in Rome in the future. 

Image by Elliana Arnold

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