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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 20 | December 13, 2001

Urban study partners with Italian language students

Project applies translation skills to greenways research

by Michelle Cook, staff writer

Geographically, British Columbia and Tuscany couldn't be much farther apart. Academically, the same can be said for the study of Italian language and landscape architecture.

Now, thanks to a unique multidisciplinary pilot project, a group of Italian language students at UBC and a landscape architect visiting from the University of Florence are attempting to bring their landscapes and academic disciplines closer together.

The shared knowledge initiative is the brainchild of Assoc. Prof. Daniela Boccassini of the Dept. of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies and Sergio Maria Pelligra. Pelligra has been coming to British Columbia since 1996 to conduct research in association with the UBC Landscape Architecture Program.

Pelligra wanted to have his research on urban open spaces in British Columbia as a model for Italian cities translated from Italian to English in order to make it widely available on-line, and he wanted to get students involved in the project.

On the recommendation of Agricultural Sciences Dean Moura Quayle, Pelligra approached Boccassini who saw the potential to create a knowledge swap.

If Pelligra introduced the 10 students in her Italian 300 class to sustainability issues in the Lower Mainland -- in Italian -- they would translate his research paper on B.C. urban greenways.

The pilot would also give Boccassini's most senior-level Italian students the chance to apply their language skills on a practical level - a rare opportunity on a Pacific Rim campus.

"This pilot was an experiment, an opportunity that arose," Boccassini says. "But if I had to pick a project for my students, this one addressing issues of sustainability here in Vancouver was both interesting and relevant to them."

"They were very enthusiastic about doing it when they heard their translation work would be published on-line," adds Pelligra of the students' response to the proposal.

The challenge was getting students who knew very little about urban development to translate an academic paper on the topic in four weeks. To prepare, Boccassini redesigned her course to provide some background on the development of Italian cities.

Pelligra's instruction included a guided bike tour of Vancouver's greenways to give his translators a firsthand look at his subject matter. The students then divided into teams to translate Pelligra's research, but by then the project had become more than a language exercise.

"I liked the idea that this project had so much to do with Vancouver but from an Italian perspective, and he not only taught us something new about our region, he introduced the Italian way of teaching," says student Emilia Finamore. She adds, laughing, that she found the Italian teaching style much more "blunt" than the approach she's used to at UBC.

"In the end, I think we had an equal exchange," Pelligra says of the unusual collaboration, adding that he hopes to return to UBC next year and expand his shared knowledge project to a full semester and involve more departments.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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