Love of language keeps students in tune with volunteer teacher

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Lois Muraro teaches two levels of Italian classes each Thursday morning. Photo by Steve Smith.
Lois Muraro teaches two levels of Italian classes each Thursday morning. Photo by Steve Smith.

Known to her students as “Luisa,” Lois Muraro has been teaching Italian classes at the Glastonbury Senior Center for the past four years. Muraro lived in Italy for two years on an Albright Scholarship, before returning to the University of Chicago. She taught language lessons in Illinois, but could not find a steady job doing so upon returning to Connecticut, and decided to change careers, going to law school and then working in the financial field.

However, she never lost her love for Italian, and upon retirement, decided to find a new avenue to share her knowledge with others. Seeing that there was a Spanish class at the senior center, she offered to add an Italian class to the selections.

Muraro has been teaching two sections of Italian per week (beginner and advanced, with 20 and 14 students, respectively) and said her students each have Italian names. Some have visited Italy, or are planning to, but for many of them, it's a way to connect with their family roots.

“A lot of people, including myself, either had parents or grandparents who came from Italy,” she said. “They didn't really teach us Italian. They wanted us to learn American English. We may have heard it when we were young, but never really learned the classic, standard Italian. Many people have those memories – those emotional connections – and just want to come in and learn what they can.”

Muraro said that many of the students also share stories of Italian relatives or friends, and it's been a great way for the class to bond.

“Many people will share things from their experiences about grandparents or the ways that they spoke. Many of them, when they came here, didn't speak standard Italian. They spoke a dialect, so we compare and correct them,” Muraro said.

Muraro said she has made friends with her students (and they with each other) and for some, it's become a second family. “We've gone to dinner and movies together,” she said. “We've definitely extended it beyond the classroom.”

Musician Susan Lowenkron said she decided to take the classes because Italian is the language of music, and because she wants to have a better grasp of the language before her second trip to Italy. She said Muraro has definitely helped her.

“She is most welcoming, friendly and encouraging,” Lowenkron said. “She never says anything negative, even though our pronunciations are not always the best. I can't say enough about her.”

Claire Hamill, a former French teacher, said she wanted to learn better conversational Italian before returning to Italy for a third time. “She puts you at ease. She doesn't make it difficult, which makes you able to learn more,” Hamill said.

Hamill said Muraro's love of the language, and for her students, is what makes her special and keeps them coming back. “This is my second year, and I'll stay. I give her high marks,” she said.

For herself, Muraro said the experience has been wonderful. After her retirement, she felt like it was a difficult time without the connections of co-workers, but the students have helped her with that outlet.

“The more you share, the more you get back,” she said. “It's really amazing. I'm having fun, they're having fun. As long as it works, I'll keep doing it.”

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