Monday, August 28, 2017

A conversation between an ESL student and her teacher

NYLC student Beatrice Broglio 

Beatrice Broglio is a dedicated student who sits in the front row of my Post-Advanced Listening and Speaking class. She always raises her hand, ready to participate. 

Beatrice comes from a small town in northern Italy. One of her goals is to attend university here in the U.S. She is a writer who hopes to become a journalist or a lawyer, depending on where her heart takes her. 

by Ivan Brave

I learned that Beatrice loves to travel and has experienced leaving her hometown more than once. In our interview, she talks about moving to Milan, so she can study at the university there. She also talks about coming here to New York City, to improve her English. She shares her thoughts on what it means to be a great student and what she considers the qualities of a great teacher. In the end, we agree with her, and anyone who wants to explore a new and exciting city or who wants to become a better student will find her advice about moving to New York City useful.

Beatrice met me at noon after class on Tuesday to answer a few questions and to share her story for the blog. We were at the Upper West Side location, not in its sun-drenched lounge, for there the buzz of students allowed us no room. Instead, we talked in one of the smaller classrooms off to the side. She sat comfortably, was personable, and seemed excited about being the first student I was about to interview for New York Language Center. Below is a transcript of our conversation.

*Note: The transcript was edited only slightly, for the sake of brevity and to maintain the natural flow of our conversation.


IB: What’s your favorite word in English?

BB: My favorite word? Serendipity.

IB: Serendipity? Why?

BB: Yes. I like it because it has a very strong meaning. I can read it the same in Italian and in English, and the same in other languages. I think it expresses something that I usual do, like when I look for something, and finally I find something else.

IB: When was the last time you felt serendipity happen?

BB: I don’t know when the last time was I felt it. It’s just my way to be. You just feel it.


IB: Aside from being cultural centers, what was the first similarity you found between Milan and New York?

BB: Finance. I know that it’s not so deep, but if I have to think of one or two things concerning Milan, I have to think fashion and finance, things you need when you apply for a job, and here in New York it’s the same. It’s business.

IB: You left your home twice: first you left Crema for Milan, and then you left Crema for New York. Are you used to moving away, or is it still hard to leave your city?

BB:  No. It’s not. For me it’s no problem to move, to change. It’s good to be proud of your own city or your own country, but you have to be open to new experiences. So why not move from one part of the world to another.

IB: You sound comfortable with moving, so I assume you also keep in touch with your family. How do you keep in touch?

BB: With Crema? Oh my, with electronic devices. I know it’s not really “keeping in touch,” because it’s not going out, and being together. I use email, Whatsapp. But I rather go out, hug them, and ask, “Did you miss me?” in person.

IB: Do you use any other apps? I ask, because, maybe you could recommend something for someone who misses their family.

BB: Maybe Skype, because you can see the other person. With Whatsapp you just have the text. Whereas on skype, when you feel alone, you can see a familiar face and just feel better.


IB: What are your top five things to do here in New York City?

BB: Actually, I love culture. The museums here are amazing. The MoMA, the Guggenheim I have visited, and the MET. I prefer MoMA, though. There I saw the paintings I used to see in books, and when I saw them in person, I was like…“Wow.” Rooftops are great, too, just because you can get a view of the city.

IB: The MET rooftop?

BB: No. I mean rooftop bars.

IB: Anything other New York top activities, or surprises?

BB: This is a safe city. I feel safe. Milan is OK, for being a big city. But, I thought here I would have to, you know, worry, because New York is a bigger city, but no that’s not true. It is safe. Also, I like the people. Americans are so friendly. If you need anything, they can help you. Even if they don’t know you. For example, I was lost on the street, searching for the subway, and a woman just asked, “Hey, do you need any help?” Another time, I was crying, because I had a difficult call with my parents, and a woman came, and she hug me, and I was again like…“Wow.”

IB: That’s wonderful. Anything else you would recommend?

BB: I would recommend not to be shy. To just embrace whatever comes to you. To not fear this city, or the fact that it’s so big, or too big. Just go for it, and be confident in yourself.


IB: What makes a good teacher?

BB: As you told us in class, you are not supposed to talk to people, but with people. I think being a good teacher means you are able to not just tell students about grammar, or just give definitions, but when you can give to your students a “feeling”—when you can make them feel not just like international students, but as if they were American, people staying here, having this experience. Making students feel native.

IB: Interesting.

BB: Yes. At New York Language Center, my teachers, you and Jared, are young. And I think that is the best thing I could have had. Last year when I was at Cambridge, my English teachers were fifty or sixty, and that’s totally different. Maybe, older teachers can’t understand what you need, or you can’t understand anything in their class. Whereas when you have a young teacher he connect with you. And I don’t just say this for “captatio benevolentiae.

IB: “Captatio benevolentiae?”

BB: It’s a phrase in Latin that means, “To catch goodwill,” as in, I am not only saying this to flatter you.

IB: That’s funny. And thank you.

BB: No problem.

IB: Moving on, in your opinion, what makes a good student?

BB: It’s not just about being smart, but it’s about how much you want to be a part of the class. And even if you can’t understand anything, you don’t have to be shy. But, you have to remember “I am here, and all my classmates are in the same situation.” They might be from different parts of the world, but if you really want to enjoy this experience you shouldn’t be full of fear. Just say “I am going to do it, no boundaries.”

IB: You keep going back to this idea of being shy…

BB: Yes, yes, because I was like this before. It didn’t bring me anything at all. I was always by myself, and not enjoying the experience. But now I know I have nothing to lose.

IB: You have nothing to lose, you say, and has your learning improved since?

BB: Since coming here three weeks ago?

IB: I mean, since you gained self-confidence in your learning.

BB: Definitely. Yes. Because you are open to something new. You don’t know what you are going to face the next week, or the next hour, but if you only tell yourself you are worried, say to yourself, “Oh no,” then you won’t learn anything at all. For me, when I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, everything changed. For me, the idea of perfection, no. I don’t like it. When you start to accept how you are, and that you can be who you really are, then learning works.


IB: You are an advance student. What have been some challenges that you have left behind, that back in the day were difficult, but that now you feel ok about?

BB: I like to argue a lot. In fact, I like to find the negative aspects of things to keep an argument going. But here, in school, you have to be balanced, because if you want to improve, you have to share your ideas, and you have to find a “half-way” in a group. I used just say, “I know this,” and it wouldn’t work. But, again, what is so great about this school is we are always working pairs and in groups. And that’s what I practiced.

IB: You learned to share?

BB: Yes.

IB: So it’s not just about English, it’s about learning?

BB: Yes. It’s about discussing.

IB: Next question. What are some challenges you still have?

BB: Sometimes I prefer others to talk, but not because I don’t feel confident, but because I don’t want to overwhelm them. I don’t want to be the strongest of the group. So I say, “You talk to me.” But this is not useful to my English. Because sometimes it’s helpful for me to talk, especially formally, not just informally, which is how some group discussions become when I don’t talk. I have to face this challenge.

IB: Your problem is letting others talk?

BB: No, I always let my partner talk. My challenge is not being considered too aggressive, because I love to do this. But sometimes I do the opposite, and let them do all the talking. But sometimes I am let down, and I don’t practice my speaking. So I remind myself that I am not native, and that I need to talk more.

IB: Do you have any advice for beginner, or intermediate students?

BB: First of all, don’t give up. Say to yourself you can do this. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. It’s about being sure that you have a teacher, and that he or she is here to help you. You want to go for it.


IB:  All right, last couples questions. You come from a law background, and you want to go into journalism, and you have a blog. Do you want to talk about that?

BB: Well, actually I have two blogs. The first is “L’ora d’aria”. ( ) Ora is hour, and aria means air. “The Hour of Air.” I started it with some friends from university. We talk about different topics, from lifestyle to literature, and books and movies and cartoons.

IB: I read it. You wrote an article about interviewing an author who, as he changes cities, changes his habits, changes his way of life, he rides a bicycle. I was able to translate it on google.

BB: Really?

IB: It wasn’t the best translation, and there was a pop up at the top that said, “Not 100% correct,” but it’s all I had. What’s the other blog?

BB: The other one I created by myself, as a secret blog, and it was how I became interested in journalism. I started this blog to see if I could be a good writer. No one knows I am writing on it. I use a fake name.

IB: What’s the name of the blog?

Beatrice laughs.

IB: You want to keep it secret?

BB: Other people can find it. It’s on Wordpress. And, well, it’s just stream of consciousness. I don’t talk about books, or cartoons. It’s, when I feel sad or happy, I write on it. And when I received good feedback, I wondered, “Why can’t I be a journalist?” So that’s why I started to think about journalism. Also, I love Elena Ferrante.

IB: Have you read her in English?

BB: In English? No. Laughs again.

Faculty member Ivan Brave teaches mostly at the NYLC Upper West Side location. He also chaperones for activities and shows students interesting parts of town. His passions include learning, writing, languages, and philosophy, and he believes that the best part about teaching is when a great teacher and a great student meet to accomplish their objectives. You can read more of his writing at  

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