Italian-Brazilian Rafael Tronquini, communication manager at Europass Italian Language School, talks to The Florentine about what’s new at the popular institution in Florence, including reduced class sizes, online offerings and innovating education for the months ahead.
The Europass Italian Language School team
The Florentine: Is your language school open for face-to-face teaching at the moment? If not, when do you expect to be open and what measures will be in place to ensure social distancing?
Rafael Tronquini: Our school reopened on July 6 for face-to-face lessons, with a special visit from Sara Funaro, city councillor for welfare, health, reception and integration, and other distinguished guests. During June, we made all necessary preparations in accordance with the Italian government’s regulations for Covid-19 response. With a reduced class size, students have been enjoying an even more intimate language learning experience. The first group of students to resume activities in Florence came from various European countries.
TF: Are your courses being offered online and how popular are they proving to be with international students in Italy and in their home countries?
RT: At the end of March we expanded our online course offering. We have developed an Italian language online course called Europass Agile, a self-learning platform on which students can complete activities at their own pace. For example, if a student cannot attend a webinar at the scheduled time, they can access the recorded lesson later, whenever is best for them. Webinars are offered once a week for various levels. Each course lasts a total of four months and is led by a native-speaker teacher from Florence. We created Europass Agile in response to demand from students from abroad, who for various reasons are not able to travel to Florence to study the Italian language. We also offer live online courses for groups and individuals. During the summer, we offer online courses for teenagers. All courses use the proprietary learning platform developed by our team. From March until now, more than 100 students have completed our self-study courses, more than 150 students have completed our group courses, and 80 students have completed private lessons, joining us from a total of 20 different countries.
TF: What were your largest student nationalities before the coronavirus lockdown and do you think this will change in the future? Are there any student markets that are recovering faster than others?
RT: In recent years, our student population consisted mainly of students from European countries (Germany, France, UK, Spain and Austria) and the United States. Our community is international and multigenerational, with many students of Italian descent who are interested in rediscovering their roots. Today we also host students from Latin America and the Middle East, many of whom choose to study Italian first online before later visiting Italy. The European market has responded immediately to our online course offerings. Many former students of our face-to-face classes have chosen to continue their Italian language studies with us online.
TF: How have you stayed in touch with agents during the last few months and how are they supporting you to recruit new students as soon as the situation allows?
RT: Agents play a key role in the design of our new online and face-to-face products. We have developed our online courses for teenagers in response to requests from our business partners. Agents approach us regularly, looking to collaborate and to plan activities for 2021. Now more than ever, we are working to find creative ways to fulfil our customers’ dreams of studying the Italian language, whether in person in Italy or online from the comfort of their own homes.
TF: What are your student enrolments like for the rest of the year?
RT: Our website receives more than 70,000 visits per month, with 7,000 subscriptions to our newsletter. Interest in our courses in Florence for 2021 is growing, a sign of the growing interest in Italian language studies at an international level. We also offer a series of benefits for returning students who continue studying online and discounts for students of online courses for future face-to-face courses. This year, we have significantly increased our digital communications in order to stay connected with our students and support them in their continued learning of the Italian language. For example, we hosted a live streaming with famous Italian singer Eros Ramazzotti and our teacher Elisabetta Blini. At that time we started a Christmas campaign to further promote our online courses, and our team of teachers continues to develop new online courses in a range of subjects, such as Italian Art. Next year, we will offer the CELI Exam in our school, as well as CELI preparation courses, in Florence and online.