Home » Blog » Podcast interview with Chiara Sorrenti

Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast.

I’m delighted to be joined by Chiara Sorrenti, founder of Super Simple School.

Janina Neumann (00:33):
Hi Chiara, how are you?

Chiara Sorrenti (00:35):
Hi, I’m good. Hi Janina. Thank you for inviting me. How are you?

Janina Neumann (00:41):
Ah, it’s a pleasure to have you on my podcast. I’m very well thank you.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Chiara Sorrenti (00:48):
Sure. Okay. So, as you said, I’m an English language trainer and, at the moment I’m working with companies and schools. So I’m also preparing for exams. I’m also working with very young learners, so teaching to preschool learners and also teenagers. And, I have a strong passion for teaching. My graduation was in Oriental languages, so, mainly I have studied the Arabic language and the Arabic culture. And this gave me the opportunity to travel a lot in the Middle East and to study and work also in some of the countries of the Middle East, like Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. I also worked in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), so I have great experiences there.

Janina Neumann (01:56):
Oh, wow. That sounds really interesting and we’ll touch on each of those points as we go along.

But tell us a little bit more about working with very young learners. So are they almost at that stage where they could become bilingual?

Chiara Sorrenti (02:16):
Well, working with Italian preschool learners is very interesting as in Italy, we don’t have the bilingualism as you might have in other countries. So in Italy, you start studying the language when you are six or seven years old. So it’s very hard to become bilingual and what I was trying to do with my cultural association. I founded that cultural association more or less, seven, eight years ago, which now became a training center actually. So, with this cultural association, I have started teaching to very young learners because I wanted to try to make them become bilingual. And so, as you might know, you build the language in your brain when you’re very young. So it’s very easy to learn two, three, up to four or five languages at the same time.

Chiara Sorrenti (03:25):
And my goal was actually to get them very naturally towards the English language. And, that was interesting because doing different activities like painting, cooking, or singing songs, it was very easy to teach them this new language. You know, from the perspective of a game, let’s say, which is completely different from teaching to teenagers or adults or for business English, it’s completely different. But if you have the passion of teaching like I have, like I do, I think it’s beautiful to observe the learning process in every step of life, let’s say from very young learners to teenagers to adults. So it’s very interesting.

Janina Neumann (04:32):
Well, that sounds really great and it’s fantastic how young learners can be guided to learn more and more languages, and also have that sense of understanding about different cultures.

Tell us a bit more about your cultural association that you founded.

Chiara Sorrenti (04:50):
It was actually an English teaching school for kids. In fact, its name is Super Simple School. And, I decided to found it, because I thought to have a very natural attitude to teach languages to kids and to sing songs, tell stories, to guide them towards the learning process, actually. About the multiculturalism, I can say that traveling around the Middle East and also spending an entire year teaching in Spanish schools gave me the opportunity to observe also, you know, in different countries, how the learning process is different depending on the age, in my opinion. So I think that more or less when you’re a kid when you’re at preschool and teenager, it’s easier to teach a language without barrier, let’s say, so without boundaries. Whereas if you go on with the learning process and you get into the adult world, let’s say, so business, and in general from 20, 25 years old on, I observe that it’s a bit different because you also have to teach some cultural aspects, which are not fundamental, let’s say when you are very young. And that is my experience, my personal experience.

Janina Neumann (06:45):
Yeah, that’s really interesting.

So if people wanted to engage with the school, the Super Simple School, how could they do that?

Chiara Sorrenti (06:56):
Well, I’m actually working on a new project, so I will be online, maybe by the summer with a new project, where I would like to involve a multicultural project where I can give back my experience, my international experience, of working like in the UAE, in some companies, in Spain as a teacher, in Italy as a teacher now. So I would like to open these opportunities to all the companies or private students who are interested in learning English in a different way. And I will give you more details as soon as I have my website, which will be a Linguafranca with my colleague Eugenia, and so we could connect online. So, by the summer, I think I will be with this website online and until that time I can be on Zoom or you can contact me on Facebook, you can find me on Skype also.

Janina Neumann (08:22):
Oh, wow. That sounds really exciting. And we look forward to looking at the website, and once it’s live, I’ll add them to the episode notes as well.

So tell us a little bit more about working in the Middle East. Were there any things that surprised you or that you found different?

Chiara Sorrenti (08:45):
Definitely. There is a completely different approach to life. So, what I have changed from my perspective is the importance I give to things in life. So when you observe a different culture and a different society, you can balance more, the things you consider important in your life. And it’s very important for me to underline the empathy, which is needed when you go in another country. So you need to observe, to listen, to study the new culture and then to have respect for this new culture. And so, my conclusion is that if you’re sensitive to the new culture, it’s beautiful to interact with this new culture. You can learn many new things and you can leave your life having a new treasure in yourself to keep with you and to give back, especially if you’re a trainer like me, if you’re an educator, and you can give your experience back to your students. So the most important thing for me is to have the skill and the capacity to be empathic.

Janina Neumann (10:28):
Oh, wow. That’s really beautiful.

And tell us a little bit more about how you would go about building this trust when working with people in the Middle East.

Chiara Sorrenti (10:40):
Well, in fact, my experience in the UAE was more international. As you might know, the UAE is a relatively new society, let’s say, it’s like, they are growing super fast and now they have two main Emirates, which are Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which I chose to work in. And working in this company, which was Italian and Arabic company gave me the opportunity to work in an international environment. So it was more dealing with different cultures and not only with the Arabic culture. The problem there is that there is a big gap between rich people and workers. So for me, maybe that one was the point where I decided to take a break from the Arabic countries, because comparing these experience with the previous ones, where I was in Syria and in Jordan and in Lebanon, where the culture is more popular, let’s say, it’s more around the streets, in the people, in the things you do in your everyday life, compared with this situation, the UAE were more false, let’s say, in my experience.

Chiara Sorrenti (12:23):
And so, it was a bit hard for me to go on living there when I was like in working in this international environment, in the Emirates, gave me the opportunity to find a way to surpass my limits and to learn that I had the barrier inside of me. And this is why, now, I would like to help companies and people to understand more the etiquette in some of these countries, because it’s completely different depending on the country. So how you behave in Tunisia is not the same as you behave in the UAE, as you have to deal with people, especially in that business context, let’s say.

Janina Neumann (13:21):
Oh, wow. That sounds so interesting. And it’s really interesting to hear also that even though you’re experienced in meeting different cultures, you know, that sometimes it takes a while to settle because there’s perhaps a culture shock as well.

Chiara Sorrenti (13:39):
Exactly.

Janina Neumann (13:39):

And I’d love to find more out about what it’s like for example, in Lebanon or Jordan or Syria, when you said, you know, that life is more in the streets. Paint us a picture, describe what you mean by that.

Chiara Sorrenti (13:55):
Well, the meaning of this is that living there, I was completely immersed in the culture. So I was one of them. I actually entered the houses. I had many Palestinian friends, many Syrian friends. I’m still in touch with a friend of mine from Damascus. And they gave me access to their personal lives. The culture was around the street means that you could meet someone who was reading poetries or telling stories around the cities while you were drinking a tea in a café, and you had a kind of freedom to get into any places. So you didn’t have this separation between rich people and poor people. You didn’t have this sensation of being like in a ghetto, let’s say, like it was in the Emirates.

Chiara Sorrenti (15:10):
There wasn’t a big gap between me, for example, and other students that I met in the old Damascus, and also in Jordan, I had the opportunity to live in a house for students. So I was sharing my room with another student from Amman, because we were in the north of Jordan. We were in a small village called Irbid, which is university city. So it was really being part of their society, I didn’t feel any gap. I was one of their family. You know, these students brought me in their houses. I met their mums and, sorry, their parents, their brothers and sisters. I spent some time in their houses. I felt one of them and they were ready to help me in any situation. I was 20, so I was completely alone in a country, which was different from mine. And they gave me this a warm sensation of being at home.

Janina Neumann (16:28):
Oh, wow. I think that’s such a nice story. And also it reminds me of, you know, when people talk about integration. You felt like immersed in the culture because the host country, so for example, Lebanon, Jordan, or Syria were very welcoming to outsiders. So you were able to integrate better into the culture perhaps because both sides were sharing experiences with each other, and I think that’s a really good thing to remember also when people from other countries might come to the UK or to Italy about being welcoming and giving that person a chance to settle into the new culture, but also not losing the identity.

Chiara Sorrenti (17:16):
Exactly. Yes. And I was learning Arabic. So for them, it was a pleasure to hear that a foreigner was learning their language. It was strange because they were bilingual. So everybody was speaking another language already, so they were like wondering why I was learning Arabic, why I was interested in learning their dialect, for example. And I was respecting their culture and they were curious about me. So the integration was perfect because we were both open to the other culture.

Janina Neumann (17:55):
Wow. That’s really nice.

And how did you get into learning different languages? What’s the story behind that?

Chiara Sorrenti (18:06):
Well, I was really curious because I was not convinced about the media and the news on the TV. And it was the time where the Arabic culture was droned as a bad culture, a dangerous culture, complicated culture. So I wanted to know more and I was also really interested in Sufi dancers. I used to be a classical dancer.

Janina Neumann (18:44):
Ah, wow.

Chiara Sorrenti (18:44):
So, I was curious about new types of dancing. And by chance I found a book in a bookshop, which was talking about Sufi dancers, Dervishes, I didn’t know if you know these kind of dancers, but they are like a branch of the Arabic culture that say of the Arabic of the Islam religion. Okay. So, I wanted to know more, I was just curious about this new culture.

Chiara Sorrenti (19:26):
I wanted to study it in-depth. And then when I decided to go to university, I have known that there were many different Arabic countries with many different cultures, because you’d know so little when you are in this part of the world, let’s say. If you’re not curious, if you’re not interested in knowing more about about our world. And so, when I have started studying, it was a pleasure for me to discover all these new cultures and at the first opportunity that I have to apply for a scholarship, I did. And I went to Tunis as a first trip to know more about this culture.

Janina Neumann (20:26):
Oh, wow. That’s just such a good story. How, you know, dancing inspired you to learn more about different cultures.

Chiara Sorrenti (20:34):
Yeah.

Janina Neumann (20:38):
That’s really cool. And what a journey it’s taking you on. You know, I think also perhaps when you’re turning a young adult, people may seem, Oh, you know, why are they really interested in a certain aspect? You know, because around that age, you kind of get very excited and drawn into all kinds of different things. And it’s really good to also hear, you know, to perhaps encourage people when they’re at that stage to go and take that further, because actually you can build a career around those passions that you discover.

Chiara Sorrenti (21:20):
Exactly. It’s my goal in fact. It’s exactly my goal too. That’s why I love teaching also to teenagers and to very young learners, because that can give you some seeds to get them inspired and to open their eyes to other cultures. Maybe it’s just a little tear in the ocean, but it’s still a tear and they can decide how to use it. So I’m pleased to work with all the type of learners.

Janina Neumann (21:54):
Yes.

And tell us a little bit more about your work with adult learners. So what does that involve and how can people connect with you so perhaps that they can work on improving that business English?

Chiara Sorrenti (22:10):
Yes. So what I was thinking is to give companies the opportunity to open their boundaries and to become more international, let’s say. As in my region, which is Abruzzo, in the middle of Italy, sorry, in the center of Italy, we have a lot of local realities and my idea was to help these local realities to become more competitive in terms of international business, as we are changing our world, and we have to be aware that everything is getting different and we are transforming also our way of dealing with people. We spend a lot of time online and I want to help this process in these local companies. So apart from teaching English, which is my main ability, let’s say, my main skill, I would give also the opportunity to know more about the etiquette of another culture.

Chiara Sorrenti (23:35):
So if, for example, a company is interested in dealing with the UAE, I could help them to know more about this culture as I had this experience. And, so it would be like an English language training, plus an etiquette training where I can guide my business learners to deal with these new culture. So I hope that I will have this website online by the summer, and until that time I will continue to work online with the main platforms as Skype or Zoom or Google, teams or whatever.

Janina Neumann (24:33):
Oh, that sounds so cool.

And so give us an insight more into like the Italian business culture etiquette. What is it like?

Chiara Sorrenti (24:43):
So first thing to do is, as we already know, to do your ‘Bella figura’, so you have to dress in a proper way. You have to speak in a proper way, and you always have to observe the relationships in the company because you usually have families running companies. So you don’t have these international environment that you might meet in other countries like the UK. And so, entering a family, requests a special skill to understand how the family type is. So, it’s very important to observe the equilibrium and to respect also the invitation from the members of the company. Also in Italy there are some things that might seem very strange to other countries, like for example, your boss or your manager might call you after the working time to invite you for a beer, or they might call you to remind you of a meeting the day after at 10:00 PM. And everything is okay.

Chiara Sorrenti (26:11):
I mean, if you don’t want to answer, it’s okay, but it might happen that they write you and it’s not something, let’s say, offensive. It’s just something that happens. We tend to invite our customer for a drink or for a pizza, for a dinner outside in the weekend. Even if you want to spend maybe some time to visit the city, which is good and which is important, and maybe, one of the companies might offer you the possibility to visit the region, but, it’s very important to, to participate to some familiar life, some events, with the members of the company, let’s say.

Janina Neumann (27:08):
That’s really interesting.

So is Italian spoken during the whole business interaction or do companies have a good working knowledge of English as well?

Chiara Sorrenti (27:21):
Well, that’s my lucky because that’s the bad news for the companies that they didn’t have a very strong preparation in English. And that’s good news for me also because I can work a lot on this aspect. It’s very important that they can speak English in a proper way as sometimes it’s requested by other companies to speak a common language and Italians are not really well-prepared in English. So my goal is to bring them to speak a nice level of English to communicate, especially with foreign customers, foreign clients. It’s very important to have a nice level for expressing themselves in a proper way, and also to host people from outside Italy.

Janina Neumann (28:28):
That’s really cool. And yes, and also you’re giving them the confidence to be themselves so that they can be as good as they can in that meeting, you know, putting their skills to use and not worrying about their level of English. That’s really important.

Chiara Sorrenti (28:45):
Exactly. So the goal is to give them the possibility to express themselves no matter what, if they make some mistakes. The most important thing is that they have this freedom to express their thoughts. It’s very important for me, at that at the end of my 20, 30 hours of training, you can say what you want to say.

Janina Neumann (29:11):
Wow, that’s really important. And also, you know, you’re giving these people the environment to make these mistakes without perhaps costing their job, or you know, for them not to get the promotion because they didn’t perform very well during a meeting where they spoke English. So actually they could impress, you know, the bosses by their level of English and perhaps they can get that promotion.

Chiara Sorrenti (29:38):
Exactly. Yes, exactly. So I can bring you to improve your English and to get a promotion or to maybe to do a job interview if you want to, or just to participate in a meeting with the possibility to express your thoughts and to impress maybe your boss, which will be more likely to give you the opportunity to, for example, to travel for business, to go abroad, to deal with other clients all over the world. And at the moment, I think it’s very important to have this objective as we are really changing our approach to work.

Janina Neumann (30:34):
Yes, definitely. I think with the pandemic, it’s given us opportunities to work with other countries as well. So I think the video conferencing calls will definitely stay and people will be more interactive with how they communicate.

Chiara Sorrenti (30:53):
Exactly. Yes, definitely.

Janina Neumann (30:56):

So Chiara, if people love listening to you, how can they best connect and also perhaps work with you?

Chiara Sorrenti (31:03):
Well, at the moment, the only way to contact me is through Facebook. So you can find Chiara Sorrenti on Facebook and then we can have a chat and we can actually decide to try a training together. Also, I hope to be online by the summer with my new website with Linguafranca.org and I will let you know, as soon as possible when it will be online. Anyway, if you want to find more about me, you can go and contact me on Facebook. Thank you for inviting me to your podcast and thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my story.

Janina Neumann (31:56):
Oh, it’s a pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you. Bye-bye.

Chiara Sorrenti (32:00):
Thank you. Bye.

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