Teacher of the Week: Marcus Zelaya

Meet Teacher of the Week Marcus Zelaya, an Italian teacher in NYC

How did you learn Italian?

Though I grew up listening to my grandparents speak Italian, I never really picked it up – just some random words here and there. However, once I finally started studying Italian in college, I think listening to my grandparents helped hardwire my brain to soak up the language. I realized that I really wanted to get in touch with my culture. And once I started…boom! I was hooked! I took every Italian class that my university offered. I also made it a point to fully immerse myself in the language. What really guided me was a passion for learning. That’s one of the most important things that I always tell my students. As we say in Italian: volere è potere – where there’s a will, there’s a way!

How did you start using Italian outside the classroom?

The real question is: how didn’t I start using Italian? I would read books, listen to music, watch movies, and write Facebook posts in Italian (much to my friends’ dismay). I also traveled to Italy and kept an Italian journal for jotting down random thoughts. I even made it a point to make some Italian friends so I could practice with them.

What is your favorite thing about teaching at Fluent City?

I love that at Fluent City, conversation is the most important aspect of the learning process. Language learning should never be solely about grammar or drilling conjugations into students’ heads. Don’t get me wrong, grammar is important, but there’s more to language than just grammar. Language is also about communicating, making mistakes and sharing experiences – it’s about living the language. In addition, I enjoy meeting students who come together from all over the world to have fun. And that’s what I always try to bring to my classes: fun!

What fun hobbies do you have outside of teaching at Fluent City?

I am fascinated by learning new languages. Right now, I am dedicating myself to learn Turkish. I also suffer from wanderlust. Traveling is truly my vice, and I jump at any chance to experience something new. I love meeting new people, immersing myself in new cultures, trying new foods, etc. And speaking of food, I adore cooking! I make everything from soufflés to paella to khachapuri to curries. And yes…I also make pasta.

Do you have a favorite app or tool your recommend to students to complement their studies?

I think WordReference is a great application – it’s not your average dictionary. I also enjoy Quizlet for helping to memorize vocabulary. To be honest, though, I think the best tool is the internet. Any question you have about a language can probably be found online.

Where is your favorite place to find Italian food in New York?

I usually make Italian food at home thanks to my nonna‘s great teaching skills. But I do have a few places that I love. For gelato and panini, go to Albero Dei Gelati in Park Slope. It’s the best gelato in NYC. For pizza, I love both Numero 28 and Di Fara’s. If you want northern-style food, check out Al Di La. If you want southern-style Italian food, you’ll just have to take a trip to my grandmother’s house in Florida!

Can you recommend an Italian film?

Just one? I love Sole a Catinelle starring Checco Zalone. It’s a newer film, but it really captures the cultural differences between northern and southern Italy. It’s also hilarious. For a more classic film, I recommend Divorzio all’italiana with the famous Marcello Mastroianni. It is, in my opinion, the embodiment of the film style known as commedia all’italiana.

Finally, what is your favorite Italian word?

Well, my favorite Italian word is actually more a phrase or term. It’s raddoppiamento fonosintatico. It’s a linguistic term that basically describes the lengthening of initial consonants after words of certain categories. It’s one of the things that gives Italian its sing-song quality. I hope I didn’t nerd out too bad there. Haha.

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