May 2011 issue

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Italian position

Italian language providers report that student markets outside of the EU are starting to bear fruit, as visa issuance eases for some countries. Stable enrolments mean educators are getting creative with course offerings. Nicola Hancox reports.

We report a 10 per cent increase thanks to thought-out marketing strategies,” observes Tatiana Ivanova at Studioitalia in Rome. Taking a more social approach to marketing, the school now boasts a Studioitalia Facebook group with over 1,000 students, past and present. Ivanova explains that this medium provides them with the perfect platform to showcase upcoming events, photographs, video footage of lessons, not to mention tips on Italian language acquisition and she is confident such provision will help boost bookings over the coming year. “We expect to continue growing 10 per cent per year, provided visa terms and international polices remain unchanged,” she says.

Indeed, visa issuance has been a bone of contention for Italian language school operators, with students from outside the EU often struggling to secure entry into the country. However, Ivanova notes that visa rules have become a little more flexible of late, particularly for Russian, Turkish and Chinese citizens.

Alessandro Adorno from Babilonia in Taormina agrees to some extent, observing that the application process has become much “smoother” for Russian students. However, Chinese nationals are still being unfairly targeted by the government he says. “Study visas for Chinese students are suspected to possibly being a legal way for Chinese [students] to arrive in Italy and then settle or disappear,” he laments. Moreover, state universities such as the University of Foreigners (which has campuses in Perugia and Siena) wish to have total exclusivity on the Chinese market because of its potential, he pinpoints, leaving other education providers out in the cold.

Lorenzo Capanni from Accademia del Giglio in Florence, which experienced stable student numbers over the past 12 months, echoes Adorno’s frustration. “The current government does not seem interested in modifying the strict and sometimes absurd visa procedures going on in Italy nowadays,” he claims.

Italy has relied on its close proximity to fellow Western European countries for a regular fix of students. According to Italian language school association, Asils, seven out of the top 10 provider countries for 34 of its 38 members in 2010 were Western European (namely Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Austria). However, while 50 per cent of SorrentoLingue’s student body was European, the remaining 50 per cent hailed entirely from the USA.

Interestingly, according to the US Census Bureau, Italian is the fourth most commonly spoken language at home in America. Olga Stinga, Head of Italian Language at SorrentoLingue, backs up this claim, noting that their US bookings mainly comprise individuals learning Italian for pleasure rather than work or study.

The US also proved a major market for Università Degli Studi di Pisa. Overall, student enrolments were dented by the global financial crisis however, relates Luca Gamba. “I do not think next year we will have an increase in students,” he opines.

To date, Russians have proven to be a solid source of students at Studioitalia, representing 20 per cent of the total student body, says Ivanova. Latin American countries also performed well at this school, with this world region representing 15 per cent of all enrolees. “France and the UK performed the worst,” she notes.

What is clear is that there is no guarantee where source markets are concerned and schools report that they are keeping abreast of student course trends (see left), to help appeal to new and existing audiences. Developing an online profile is another area providers are keen to explore. Capanni notes a web marketing project is having a positive effect on enrolments. He explains, “We have developed our blog; so far we have published 1,800 posts with various content regarding our courses, grammar, language exercises, events, songs and so on.” Like Studioitalia, the school has also created a Facebook group that reaches over 2,500 individuals.

Too cool for school

Today’s language learner is looking for more than just a language course; they are looking for content that is fresh and innovative. “Our students are looking for Italian courses combined with activities and/or excursions and the place where we are located offers us many possibilities,” observes Olga Stinga at Sorrento Lingue in southern Italy.

Already boasting a cultural programme that incorporates ceramics and singing, the school recently added courses that “reveal the secrets of Mediterranean cuisine”. Stinga says, “Sorrento and its position, the new [school] location and the facilities we have help a lot.”

Meanwhile, Babilonia in Taormina, Sicily, has just launched a dedicated cultural centre. “It was my dream to have a cultural centre,” muses School Director, Alessandro Adorno. “While maintaining high calibre academic teaching qualities, our students gain wider cultural offerings and the chance to interact and integrate more easily with the local community.” Since it opened in June last year, the centre has hosted a number of events including book presentations by Italian authors, a cine-forum, art exhibitions, live theatre performances and a live jazz fest.

And Lorenzo Capanni from Accademia del Giglio in Florence relates that a programme combining Italian with art was a natural addition to their programming. “Italian language and art is a marriage which is quite natural here in Florence. Many students want to study Italian but also wish to learn how to draw and paint, while they visit Italian art museums.”

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