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Margaret Schiavone

Learning a language opens up a world of possibility


During pandemic lockdowns, people embarked on all kinds of new hobbies to pass the time, from perfecting sourdough starters to embracing their inner artist.

Angela Auricchio and Margaret Schiavone met on their daily walks in Melbourne and hatched a plan – they would spend the extended lockdown learning Italian.

The pair enrolled in a Diploma in Languages at ACU, one of the only universities in Australia to offer a standalone language program.

By day, the pair supervised their kids’ remote schooling and juggled work from home. At night, they learned Italian, reconnecting with family and culture.

For both women, online study options gave them the freedom to embark on a new journey without leaving home.

“I have three young kids, so I had lots to focus on at home during the lockdowns,” Margaret said. “But I wanted to do something different, something just for me.

“It was a good distraction during COVID, and my husband was working from home, so I had the support to do it.”

Angela had been a casual relief teacher before the pandemic, and the lockdowns in Melbourne meant she was out of work.

“I thought, okay, I need to do something. I’ve always been interested in going back to learn Italian,” she said.

Language class award winners

ACU language students Angela Auricchio, Rebecca Klouth and Margaret Schiavone receive excellence awards at the Dante Alighieri Society in Melbourne.

“My daughter studied teaching at ACU and when she was applying, I saw the diploma. My parents migrated from Italy in the 1950s, and while I understand the dialect, I’ve never really been able to speak the language properly.

“My mum always spoke a dialect of Italian at home, and we would always respond in English. I think she's happy that I'm learning now and showing an interest in the language.”

The pair are now completing their final units and recently won excellence awards at the Dante Alighieri Society in Melbourne, along with their classmate Rebecca Klouth. The talented linguists received the Italian Club Cavour Prize of Excellence.

Both Angela and Margaret say that learning a new language has all kinds of benefits – from enhancing literacy skills to improving cognitive ability and making it possible to fully embrace a new culture.

As Canadian linguist Frank Smith once observed, "one language sets you in a corridor for life, two languages open every door along the way."

A new career

For Angela and Margaret, it has created a new career path. Both women are trained primary teachers, and the diploma has enabled them to take on new roles as specialist language teachers, sharing their skills with the next generation.

“I’ve always been a primary teacher, and I wanted to use my skills to teach Italian,” Angela said.

“I chose to do relief teaching for many years, so I could be home for my kids, but they are older now – my youngest has just finished high school.

“I’ve just picked up a part-time role teaching Italian in primary school. The students haven’t been able to do much language learning during COVID, so we’re starting with the basics. It’s amazing to see them embrace something completely new, they are so excited to learn.”

Online Italian class

Margaret said she was proud to be example of lifelong learning to her students and own children.

“I tell my kids that all the time, ‘your mum is 40-something and she's back at uni’,” she said. “I think it's really good to show the kids lifelong learning in practice. I've read that learning another language at this age is very good for the brain and your memory.”

Both women are also eagerly planning an Italian odyssey to test out their new language skills.

Margaret’s husband is Italian and the couple lived in Italy for six months after they married – they are now planning a return visit.

“I briefly studied Italian when I first met my husband. I was excited back then just to string a few sentences together, but this was a chance to really learn the language,” she said. “I can’t wait to go back to Italy now with all my new knowledge – it’s the perfect excuse for a family holiday.

“I want to go and immerse myself in the language and really be forced to use it. To be able to express yourself in a different way and understand another culture, you really need to speak the language.”

For Angela, it will be her first visit to the land of her forebears.

“I’m dreaming of going to Italy – seeing where my parents grew up, meeting my extended family over there and being able to communicate with them will be amazing.”

National Manager Diploma Programs at ACU, Dr Anna Menicucci, said there had never been a better time to study a new language.

“The language diplomas are part of ACU’s global and education pathways program,” she said.

“They are a great initiative for furthering Italian language and culture at ACU and within the community.

“We are lucky to have a campus in Rome, so students from across the university can study abroad for a semester and improve their language skills.”

Keen to learn a new language at ACU? Explore your options.

Impact brings you compelling stories, inspiring research, and big ideas from ACU. It's about the impact we’re having on our communities, and our Mission in action. It’s a practical resource for career, life and study.

At ACU it’s education, but not as you know it. We stand up for people in need, and causes that matter.

If you have a story idea or just want to say hello, do contact us.

Copyright@ Australian Catholic University 1998-2022 | ABN 15 050 192 660 CRICOS Reg: 00004G