• Regional society for the blind and visually impaired, Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Regional society for the blind and visually impaired, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Type of learners
The group consisted of both blind people, who are defined in Slovenia as those who possess 5% or less of their sense of sight, and visually impaired, who have less than 30%. Their physical disability and the learning problems associated with it make them educationally disadvantaged and socially isolated. One member of the circle reported that she had tried to take part in language courses with people without visual impairment, but she could not participate. Maybe experiences like these are the reason that the blind do not often take up language learning. Not only are they deprived of special educational programmes adapted for them, but they also lack specialised media, such as talking books. Nevertheless their will to learn is huge, perhaps partly because they do not always want to admit their difficulties. In general, the blind in Slovenia do not speak languages well, even though these would widen their knowledge of the world.
There were six women who took part in the study circle learning Italian. One half of them are classified as blind, and the other as visually impaired.
They used the premises of the Society. The classroom is intended for other social and learning events held by the Society. They provided snacks and refreshments to create a friendlier atmosphere in each meeting.
The Society is the only one working with the population of blind and visually impaired in the area. It comprises people from Ljubljana and its surroundings. There are other societies for the blind in Slovenia, in all bigger towns and these form the Association of Societies for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
There are 955 members in the Society. The society was established with the aim of satisfying the need for special social and other programmes and services adapted for their members. They offer programmes including learning and psychosocial support for blind children and teenagers, learning Braille, courses in mobility and orientation, and computer courses. Besides that they provide information for their members and offer a vast variety of support, like technical appliances for the blind, escort services, care for visually impaired children and their families, organising workshops, lectures, study circles, sport and cultural activities.
The Society already had English and German courses organised, so Italian was an attractive addition to their range of activities. The mentor was a teacher of Italian and French. The members chose Italian because Italy is an interesting country, close to Slovenia and influences our way of life in important ways; its cuisine and music are particularly appreciated.
Learning in study circles involves setting educational and action goals. These were set by the mentor with assistance from other members of the circle.
Their educational goals were:
• To socialise and learn,
• To learn about Italian culture and its characteristics,
• To learn the basics of the Italian language,
• To understand the lyrics of some Italian songs,
• To visit Venice.
Action goals:
• To present their knowledge and their activities to other members of the Society,
• To wrote an article about their work and publish it in national daily newspaper.
KPD was mentor of the study circle; she is an experienced teacher of French and Italian, now retired. She has worked with the blind before, but it was the first time that she was a mentor of a language study circle. She is blind herself and understood exactly the learning problems of the group.
Establishing the group
The Society spread the news to their members about organising a circle by phone and in a New Year newsletter.
Preparation of staff
The preparation of the mentor is two fold: preparation in relation to SIAE and preparation for the circle.
KPD is a trained mentor of study circles. She took part in one day’s training, prepared specifically for the ALLEGRO project, with language teaching content. She was an active participant in ALLEGRO meetings, where all mentors exchange their experiences.
Besides the normal organisational work, she had to do some extra preparation for the group, such as the enlargement of the written materials used. The members of the circle valued her professional knowledge, as well as her energy and ability to motivate them.
PEDAGOGY [methods and materials]
As is usual with study circle, learning took place in a small group with everyone contributing. Study circles are a non-formal teaching method where democratic principals are very important, that is to say that every participant has his/her say in the circle. This circle used discussions, presentations, work in pairs, and reading and writing of short essays.
They used different books, the textbook ‘In Italiano’, an anthology of Italian writers ‘La botega dell’ Italiano’, simple, short articles from magazines, various photos and pictures for discussions. Most of the materials were brought in by the members themselves and reproduced in large print. They also used audio cassettes and CDs with Italian music. They read the lyrics of songs by Paolo Conte. They are planning to go on a to trip to Venice.
LENGTH of project
The group has been learning from January 2004 – May 2004.
For learners
The most important outcome was that the circle was organised and thus enabled blind people, who are often deprived of such activities, to learn a foreign language. The group gained some basic knowledge of the Italian language, mainly conversation and also some grammar, and got some insight into Italian culture, cuisine and music, as well as some geographical facts. Just as important is that they had the opportunity for quality time in a group and another reason for them to socialise. The participants loved the circle because they could decide on the contents, timing and methods by themselves. They also saw a study circle as something new and they wanted to try it. The fact that the circle was free of charge also contributed to their decision to become a member of the circle.
For teachers
The mentor of the circle had led many study circles before and also worked as a language teacher all her life. But it was the first time that those two had come together. She had also worked with the blind before, but this was the first time she had taught a foreign language to the blind. She had to combine all her experience to prepare and adapt the methods for the blind.
For the management of the agency
They were satisfied they had managed to set up the circle for two reasons. Firstly, it is quite hard to motivate their people and form a group and then to follow through such circles. Secondly, they are without funds to organise something new. The state and the city support them, but that is just enough for their standard activities. They are eager to go on with teaching languages, not only Italian, within the Allegro project.

June 2004

Medobčinsko društvo slepih in slabovidnih Ljubljana.
(translation: Regional society for the blind and weak-sighted, Ljubljana).


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