Your Passport to the World!

"Your Passport to the World!"

Welcome to the Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City, the Northland's "premier" foreign language school. We offer 14 languages and over 120 course options ranging from American Sign Language to Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese, just to name a few!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language

From the Executive Director – Dottoressa  Elisa Fierro
Top ten reasons to learn a new language:
1.       Challenges. Do you like a good challenge? Challenge yourself to learn a foreign language and when you do it, enjoy the wonderful feeling of self-satisfaction, the awareness that there are no limits to what you can do, if you really want it.
2.       Fun. Foreign languages are fun to learn. I personally speak Italian, German, English, and two Italian dialects. I am learning Spanish and hope to be able to learn Russian in the future. It is so much fun and I only wish I had more than one lifetime to learn even more languages!
3.       Grammar. When learning a foreign language, you must inevitably learn its grammar and in the process you will re-discover the rules governing your own native language. Have you have noticed that many Europeans speak more grammatically correct English than many Americans? That’s because they study English grammar in depth and know the grammar of their own language just as well. Goethe said: “Wer keine fremde Sprache spricht, kennt seine Sprache nicht” (don’t settle for my translation: learn German instead!)
4.       Healthy brain. According to recent research, to learn a foreign language is like putting new hardware in a computer. The cells in your brain are forced to make new connections and to be active: language learning can help fight the terrible disease that is affecting more and more people in the U.S. – Alzheimer’s.
5.       New friends. Languages are a great way to make new friends in different parts of the world. Although many people in the U.S. think that English is the language everybody speaks (or should speak), Chinese and Spanish are actually much more widely spoken throughout the world.
6.       Originals. I don’t like book translations. Some of them are masterpieces in their own right, sure, but they are always the translator’s masterpiece. I want to read the exact words the writer chose, feel the musicality, and understand the word’s precise role in the sentence. I believe that some words (in any language) are simply untranslatable: we must read the original and savor it. Native speaker instructors can teach us how to do it.
7.       Respect. It opens our minds to have respect for other peoples’ traditions and customs. By traveling and learning other languages, we come into contact with different aspects of other cultures and get an understanding of behaviors that might at first seem completely alien and incomprehensible.
8.       Tolerance and peace. Respect generates tolerance and in the end peace. I will always remember a very keen comment made by one of my Italian students. I was clarifying some grammar structures and pointing out how English also has structures that might be difficult for foreign learners. I also explained that our mind has a tendency to apply the rules of our native language to any new language we are learning (a phenomenon called “transfer” in linguistics). Then this student said: “Now I understand why people who come from other countries sometimes form sentences that sound so strange to our ears. They are applying the rules of their own native language!” If we could all have the insight that she had, how many wars might be avoided?
9.       Traveling. When I travel, I like to be in charge of my trip. Instead of depending on a tour guide and tormenting him or her with endless questions, I do my homework. I want to know some basic expressions that I can need on everyday situations. I want to be able to thank the waiter or the salesclerk, or to buy my own souvenirs. To know the language of the country you are visiting will make the trip so much more meaningful – at least because you know what your interlocutor is saying and you will avoid some unpardonable “gaffes”. Believe me, the language classes you take will pay off!
10.   The right school. In January 2011, a new language school has opened north of the river in Kansas City, MO. The Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City is actually the ONLY full-service language school for adults in the Northland. The location is great and the school offers language instruction at different levels, with native speaker, degreed, certified instructors, in small groups and making use of the latest classroom technology. There is a wide selection of languages to choose from, from Creole to American Sign Language, 14 languages in all. A school like the Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City is certainly another good reason to learn a new language!

Monday, April 4, 2011

How to re-discover a Victorian masterpiece

More and more students in Italian universities are showing interest in a forgotten (or often underestimated) literary masterpiece of the Victorian Age, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall", by Anne Bronte, the youngest of the Bronte sisters.
In order to graduate in Foreign Languages and Literatures from an Italian university, students must not only pass a certain number of written and oral exams, they must also conclude their study with a final essay (tesi di laurea) on a topic related to what they have studied.
As Rep of the Heartland West Region of the Bronte Society (American Chapters), I am very happy to discover that Anne Bronte and her masterpiece (and forerunner of feminist literature) are becoming more and more widely appreciated in Italy (my native country). It seems that now more and more young women decide to conclude their university career by paying homage to a great authoress, too often obscured by her more famous sisters.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City..."Your Passport to the World"

FLI of KC is the Northland's "premier" full-service foreign school. At the Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City, our classes are small and we have new courses starting all the time. We offer instruction in American Sign Language (ASL), Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and English as a Second Language (ESL) for English language learners. All of our instructors are degreed, professional, experienced, and friendly native speakers and we offer outstanding customer service based on our core values of integrity, honesty, and respect for diversity. We not only teach languages, but we also teach about culture, cuisine, and other aspects of the countries being studied. Stop by for a gourmet coffee, cookie, and more information about how the Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City can enrich your life.

"Second language protects against Alzheimer's"

Did you know that bilingual people have been found to exercise an important brain network that helps mitigate the impact of Alzheimer's disease.  Do you w

It has long been believed that learning another language stimulates the mind and helps stave off dementia and now there is additional scientific evidence that supports that idea.
Read more about it here:

At the Foreign Language Institute of Kansas City, we have 14 languages and over 120 course options available, so start learning a new language today and possibly delay or even avoid a devestating disease such as Alzheimer's.
ant to protect against the effects of Alzheimer's?  Simple, learn another language. That's the takeaway we get from recent brain research published in Neurology which shows that bilingual people's brains function better and for longer after developing the disease.

"Helen Huntingdon, the Brontëan “Amazon”: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and the feminist and feminine literature of the “American Renaissance"

By Elisa Fierro, Rep for the Heartland West Region, Brontë Society

Copyright © 2011 – Elisa Fierro – All Rights Reserved

To read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall can be an experience more interesting than one could foresee. Although Anne is generally regarded as the least gifted of the Brontë sisters, this novel comes as a pleasant surprise. For example, it can reveal unexpected affinities with the American popular feminine narrative of the years preceding the Civil War, the so-called “American Renaissance”.

The period between 1800 and 1860 is defined as “American Renaissance” not only in virtue of the birth of many reform movements, which would deeply influence the modern American democracy, but also because these are the years when the major authors of the time – Emerson, Whitman, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville and Emily Dickinson – published their works.

The feminine and feminist literature of this era is not very well known to the public as a whole and a brief overview on the subject would be quite useful. We will discover the links with Victorian feminine literature.

According to many scholars, in the decades before 1860, America was ‘flooded’ by novels and poetry volumes, which were written mainly by women for women.  Such literature seemed to have an aim to reinforce the so-called ‘cult of the home fireplace’, exalting what were considered to be ‘typically’ feminine virtues, such as piety, purity, and passive obedience. The role of the woman as mother and nurturer was emphasized, in a time of rapid industrialization, when economic production moved from the house to the factory and to the office, exclusively male dominions. Critics have diverse opinions about this kind of work. Some assert that popular feminine narrative, often devoid of any literary value, soon degenerated into vulgar sentimentalism, paving the way to the literary rebellion of authors like Hawthorne and Melville (1). Others, on the other hand, say that it ennobled woman because - though emphasizing her domestic role - it exalted her moral strength (2).

More recent scholars consider these opinions too simple and even misleading (3). First of all, they believe there is an overestimation of the popular feminine literature, which was always secondary to more sensational genres in the book market of the time. Moreover, it is inaccurate to say that there was only one kind of feminine fiction, as feminine themes were dealt with also in different genres and also by male authors. This literary form has also been qualitatively underestimated: the remarkable differentiation of its female characters has often been neglected.

Some of these characters were undoubtedly strongly traditional, but the American authoresses were able to depict boldly alternative feminine figures: strong, brave women, able to perform any activity, even physical, normally performed by men and therefore deserving the same rights as men. Indeed, there exist important connections
between the American popular literature and the women’s rights movement: let us not forget that the first assemblies for women’s rights in the world were held during this time – starting with the famous Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.

The range of the feminine “types” in the popular literature of these years is very wide and cannot be analysed here.

My aim is to highlight the affinities among some of these types and Helen Huntingdon, more precisely among the “moral exemplar”, “woman victim”, and “feminist exemplar” characters and the Brontëan character. (4)

The “moral exemplar” is the kind, patient heroine typical of the domestic-sentimental narrative (Beth March in Little Women or, in England, the Richardsonian Clarissa).

The “woman victim” embodies the wrongs and the sufferings of women in a male-dominated world.  We talk generally of a seduced and then abandoned woman (Gaskell’s Ruth) or of a woman victim of an alcoholic, vicious husband, like Helen.

In the United States the “feminist exemplar” is basically a militant figure, openly asking for political rights and a wider legal protection for women. However, in my opinion, we can define Helen a “feminist exemplar”, as her story is both a brave denunciation of a situation that many Victorian women had to endure and a proud affirmation of women’s moral strength. And if it’s true that Anne Brontë doesn’t openly ask for new divorce or property laws, it is also true that her novel is more eloquent than any petition – just as it happens for The Woman in White or for many of Dickens’ works.

Even if, on the whole, we can say that there is much in common between the main features of both American and Victorian feminine literature of the time – the cult of the domestic fireplace, the exaltation of the ‘typical’ feminine virtues, the emphasis on women’s moral strength and on their ability to support and redeem man (let’s think of Jane Eyre) – there exists, nonetheless, a fundamental difference between American and English female characters, confirmed also by recent studies. But we will see that this difference doesn’t concern the Brontëan creations.

American feminists considered the English (and European) literary heroines as passive and weak. In a famous article, titled The Typical Women of American Authors (5), journalist Emily E. Ford shared this opinion and criticized J. Fenimore Cooper’s heroines, defining them “not in the least American, but simply wooden portraits of what he supposes English gentlefolk”. She also refers to Hilda of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun as an example of  authentic “New England girl”.

In a study of popular novels and magazine fiction of the 19th century, Margaret Dalzeil said that the typical female literary character of the Victorian age was the “lovely imbecile”, inherited from the didactic narrative of the 18th century. This character is emotionally and physically frail, rather dull, and almost always financially dependent on a man. Dalzeil observes that: “…when in penny periodicals we occasionally do find a heroine living by her own exertions and getting along tolerably well, the story is almost invariably of American origin. In England the heroine finds it almost impossible to achieve any sort of economic security”. (6)

All that is true, but we can now make some observations. First of all, there are precise cultural reasons for the American heroines being “Amazons” when compared to their British cousins. Reasons which are perfectly summarized by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59): “In the United States, Protestant teaching is combined with a very free constitution and a very democratic society, and in no other country is a girl left so soon or so completely to look after herself”. (7) Secondly, the extraordinariness of the Brontë sisters allows us to declare that their heroines are very different from the literary stereotypes of their time, as Reynolds also points out: “These comparisons are not altogether fair to foreign writers: one has only to think of the novels of Charlotte Brontë…to preclude any absolute generalization that American heroines had a corner on sturdiness”. (8)

It is just in the characterization of Helen Huntingdon that Anne Brontë shows remarkable affinities with the feminine and feminist narrative of the American Renaissance, particularly with the works by Catharine Sedgwick (1789-1867) – today not well known, but considered by Hawthorn as one of the greatest writers of his time. We have previously defined some “types” of female character to be found in pre-Civil War novels. Let’s see now how Helen shows to possess the qualities of these American “Amazons”.

Helen’s personal history develops through various phases. At the beginning she describes herself as a lively, stubborn young woman, who decides to marry the man with whom she has fallen in love even against her family’s will. This behavior differentiates her from the conventional heroines of the time, who are generally more passive (more careful, in her case…).

We would believe that the novel aims at showing us how the heroine will pay for her mistake or, perhaps, will redeem a hopelessly vicious husband. Indeed, after discovering Arthur’s real nature, Helen develops the traits of the “moral exemplar”. She endures her situation with Christian patience and with the secret hope to manage, in time, to transform her husband into a worthy person.  Some scenes in the novel – when Arthur gets his child drunk, forbids Helen to go to her father’s funeral, or shamelessly woos another woman – allow us to define Helen a “woman victim”.

But this victim of an alcoholic, brutish and insensitive husband – and I cannot avoid thinking of Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” – is not doomed. She calls in question all the conventions of her time on the wife’s duty to tolerate her husband’s abuse; she challenges laws which don’t protect a justly rebelling woman; she escapes, saves herself and her child, hides and earns a living through her own work…what a scandal! Helen becomes a “feminist exemplar”, a “British Amazon”, who has nothing to envy of her American cousins – except, perhaps, a battle against the Indians….

I would like to conclude with a personal note. I consider The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a real masterpiece and one of the first true feminist Victorian novels, much more subversive than Jane Eyre could ever be – or at least in a different sense. But, beyond the solely literary aspect, I also believe that this work is a sort of spiritual self-portrait of the authoress. Even though a premature death allows us only to set forth hypotheses, Anne wasn’t only the ‘younger’ sister or the example of Christian resignation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s moving description. Strength of will, powerful imagination, self-confidence, and awareness of her own skills: these are the qualities of Helen Huntingdon, the “British Amazon”, and of Anne Brontë, her creator, one of the first authentic feminist writers of the Victorian age.

(1)        See Kelly, Mary – Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America – New York, Oxford University Press, 1984
(2)         See Baym, Nina – Women’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870  - New York, Cornell University Press, 1978
(3)         See Reynolds, D. S. – Beneath the American Renaissance. The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville - Harvard University Press, 1988
(4)        Reynolds suggests the definitions, above quoted work.
(5)        The article was published in the New York suffragist magazine The Revolution, on 4th August 1870.
(6)        Dalzeil, M. – Popular Fiction 100 Years Ago: An Unexplored Tract of Literary History – London, Cohen & West, 1957, pp. 87, 90.
(7)        Tocqueville – Democracy in America – 1835, p. 602
(8)        Reynolds, above quoted work, p. 341

Friday, March 11, 2011


We are excited to start blogging, so tell us what you want to hear regarding languages, literatures, cultures, and places.