Outside the Classroom: Opportunities to Improve Your Italian

By Elsa Vellone | University of Rochester | ISI Florence Spring 2024

As an Italian major, I am always trying to find ways to improve my language skills in order to achieve greater fluency. I’ve done this by watching films in Italian, making Italian friends, taking college courses in Italian, spending summers immersed in Italian culture, and even working in Italy. This semester, I am taking a course in Italian, ITAL 399 (Special Topics in Italian) about theater in Italy, which I would highly recommend. In addition, I am completing a set of translations for the Biblioteca Riccardiana, which is part of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, to further improve my language skills this semester.

The Biblioteca Riccardiana is full of history, its creation dating back to the Riccardi family in the mid-17th century. It consists of two main rooms, the Sala Esposizione and the Sala Catalogo, full of frescos, secret passages, and, most importantly, a collection of special books and manuscripts. The library contains almost 4,500 bound manuscripts and 725 incunables and rare editions, with a total of over 73,000 books. Manuscripts include works of Dante that are, in some cases, copied by Boccaccio. The library is truly a wonder to walk into and see not only the incredible art that surrounds you in its two main rooms but also the rich history of the manuscripts and special collections it contains.

I began translating for the Biblioteca Riccardiana about a month into the semester, and thus had the privilege of visiting the library with ISI Florence director, Dr. Stefano Baldassarri, to meet the Biblioteca’s current director, Dr. Francesca Gallori. Since meeting the director, I have begun slowly translating documents for the Biblioteca Riccardiana’s website. This is not a new project, as previous ISI Florence students from all levels of Italian have worked alongside Dr. Baldassarri to help translate other documents. Currently, I am continuing a different set of translations that had not been completed in previous semesters.

This has been a great opportunity to work on my Italian language skills on my own time outside of the classroom, while also helping the Biblioteca Riccardiana. This experience has not only expanded my Italian vocabulary but has also helped me to learn how to connect Italian and English idiomatic words and phrases together – a very important aspect of translating information – and to learn about the rich history of the Riccardiana along the way.

The translations that we have completed through ISI Florence have helped make the Riccardiana’s information accessible to English speakers from all over the world when previously it had only been understood by Italian speakers. So, it has been a very rewarding project to be completed!