Photography: Erin McKinney
Every Saturday we’re spotlighting remarkable local females who could change the way we look at the world. This Saturday is Rebecca Brown’s turn, linguist, passionate traveler, and the director of the British School FVG.
Were you born in Trieste? What’s it like growing up bilingual?
RB: I was born in Trieste and grew up in a bilingual family, where the two main languages (English and Italian) were both used, and sometimes mixed. Strangely, it never felt chaotic! I was really lucky to be born in this ‘hybrid’ (a word I often use to describe myself) context, as it gave me the opportunity to be part of two different cultures at the same time. Sometimes people ask me whether I feel more English or Italian, and my answers always is: it depends! I think I share characteristics of both worlds, my heart is Italian, my sense of humour 100% British. When I’m in Trieste I miss the culture, the ‘banter’ and even the food (I know, it’s shocking) in the UK; when in the UK, it’s the other way round. I feel at home in both places, but there is always something missing. It’s a weird feeling. Just as weird as the way I jump from one language to the other. I sometimes deliberately drop an English word into what I’m saying in Italian – and vice versa, because I choose the language that better expresses the meaning of what I want to say!
What do you do and what makes you passionate about your job?
RB: I am the Director of the British School FVG, a role I have taken over from my dad, Peter Brown, who opened the school in Trieste 52 years ago. While he is still very much involved with vision and strategy, I also look at the operational side of things in all four schools (Trieste, Gorizia, Monfalcone and Udine): from hiring new members of staff to being in charge of the quality of the service across the board. Our schools get inspected every 3-4 years by 2 external bodies (AISLi and Eaquals) that only accredit language schools that can prove the highest standards in all aspects of their operation. I make sure that what we do goes over and beyond that. The school in Trieste was inspected in April and I have to admit I’m really proud about the work the team and I put into it. The results were really amazing, with the final report stating ‘The British School of Trieste met the high standards required for Eaquals accreditation. The teaching, the course programs, as well as the course organization, the learning resources, testing and evaluation were all judged to be of high quality. It was found that the institution takes great care to protect the welfare of its clients and staff, and all publicity materials produced by the institution are accurate and truthful.’
Being the Director is not everything I do. I am a CELTA qualified teacher, specialised in teaching very young learners (4-6 year olds), a member of the International Coaching Federation and a professional Coach. I also sit on the Board of AISLi and have done for the last ten years, as their strategic coordinator and now Vice-President. I definitely have no time to get bored, that’s for sure!
Based on your experience, why do you think it’s important to start learning a foreign language at an early age?
RB: There are different reasons to start learning a language early, and several pedagogical studies to support the claim. Children’s second language acquisition is similar in many ways to the acquisition of their first language, which is natural and effortless. Opening children’s minds to multilingualism and different cultures is a valuable exercise that enhances both individual and social development and also increases their capacity to empathize with others. The two key elements to it are deciding when to start and who the teacher(s) will be. Very early language learning only works when the children are exposed to a second language within their families, in a naturally bilingual environment. A language school can only work if the children are at a developmental stage that can handle the learning, so starting around the age of four is ideal. Another important aspect is the role of the teacher, who needs not only to be qualified to teach a second language, but specifically trained for teaching a specific age range. What you do in class with the four-year-olds is not the same as what you would do with the eight-year-olds, the materials you use are not the same. You need to make sure you never expose them to screens or apps, for example, as highly recommended by the latest cognitive studies on children. Everything you do must respect the age of the child, and what they can naturally handle at that age. I spend lots of time in the school with my course coordinators making sure every teacher is trained, kept up to date with the latest pedagogical studies and supported throughout the year both in the teaching and the constant communication to parents. I want the experience to be successful and for the children to enjoy their time with us, as learning can and should be fun, especially at that young age!
Have you ever gone to a foreign country and were glad you had learned the language (or some phrases) before going?
RB: I went to university in Exeter, where I graduated in International Relations in 2008. An experience I enjoyed, that gave me the opportunity to live in another country and make friends from all over the world. None of this would have been possible unless I could communicate in another language at a high level – and prove I could do so. As a teenager, not unexpectedly, I wasn’t really happy to sit through all those language certifications. I don’t think I could appreciate the opportunity that was given to me back then. The hard work however really paid off and opened doors that would have never opened for me otherwise. Was I glad? Of course I was, and thankful, too. It’s something I tell everyone who walks through the school’s door – learning a language has two sides to it. It will help you grow in many ways, as you not only become able to speak it or write it, you also absorb the culture of it. It will also act as a door opener, if you work towards formally proving your level of competence through a recognised language certification.
What do you like about living in Trieste?
RB: I have lived here the majority of my life, have often wondered about escaping yet somehow always found myself coming back. Trieste is a wonderful town, strategically placed from a geographical point of view, multicultural, with so much history, so much potential and so many contradictions. Jan Morris, whom I had the pleasure to meet some years ago, described the place and its people perfectly in her book ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere’: “There are people everywhere who form a Fourth World, or a diaspora of their own. […] They are not inhibited by fashion, public opinion or political correctness. They are exiles in their own communities, because they are always in a minority, but they form a mighty nation, if they only knew it. It is the nation of nowhere, and I have come to believe that its natural capital is Trieste.”