You don't learn a new language without gaining a new lens for seeing the world — just what you need to be a global citizen.

Bernhard Kuhn

Fluency in a second — or third — language is quickly becoming an essential tool for doing business, says Professor Bernhard Kuhn, Italian studies. Yet simply making the effort to learn and use a new language can also make a difference in personal interactions, he observes.

"In a global economy, the advantages of being bilingual are obvious," he says. "But struggling to communicate while learning a new language also helps develop empathy, and that trait might prove to be even more important."

Many of Kuhn's students come to his beginning-level language course with no previous experience with Italian. "From the beginning, it's Italian only," he says. "By the intermediate level, my students are researching regions of Italy and doing presentations in Italian. It's incredible how fluent they become in such a relatively short time."

Some of Kuhn's Italian culture courses are also taught exclusively in Italian. "In Italian 206, Exploring Italian Studies, we cover a variety of texts, from Dante to graphic novels, including an opera libretto, poetry and at least one film," he says. "The course also incorporates a theatrical component — students interpret literary texts and write their own updated versions to present as theatre."

Kuhn also teaches courses in English, which are focused on Italian culture and cinema and allow him to share his research passion: intermediality, which he defines as "the way different modes of artistic expression interrelate. How does opera influence cinema? How does the incorporation of paintings, architecture, music and other works of art enhance the experience of a film?"

Kuhn recently co-taught an Integrated Perspectives course that featured a silent film titled Rapsodia Satanica, which tells the story of a female version of Faust. The hand-colored film was first screened in 1917, but the original score by Pietro Mascagni was lost for nearly a century. After its rediscovery, a newly restored copy of the film was presented at the 2015 Bologna Film Festival.

"Rapsodia Satanica shows clearly how the film was influenced by opera," explains Kuhn. "Mascagni not only wrote the music for the film, but he also conducted its initial performance. While early Italian cinema was frequently not considered to be of high artistic value, Rapsodia Satanica allowed the audience to experience a true work of art.

"Language is connected to the arts, history, society, politics and costume," he says. "You don't learn a new language without gaining a new lens for seeing the world — just what you need to be a global citizen."

Posted July 2018