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A database of selected, reviewed, tested, assessed and validated e-learning based language teaching sources addressed to Higher education students for the learning of 18 different European languages.

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Teaching Italian for Specific and Academic Purposes in Higher Education

Date of Publication


Target Group


Domain Area

International Relations
Teacher Education

Learning Scenario

Autonomous learning
Classroom Context

Target Language


Language of Instruction


CEFR level


Type of Material

Guiding resources (online course/book)

Linguistic Features



Critical Thinking


This volume collects the proceedings of an international conference on Language Teaching for Specific and Academic Purposes (in English, German and Italian) in the Higher Education System that took place at the University of Bolzano on 29/06/2018. Its full title is Elena Bonetto, Michael Joseph Ennis, Dietmar Unterkofler (eds.), Teaching Languages for Specific and Academic Purposes in Higher Education – English, Deutsch, Italiano. International Symposium. Bozen-Bolzano, 29/06/2018, Bozen-Bolzano University Press, 2020. Though the volume as a whole is generally rather informative, two contributions are selected:
1) “Teaching specialist communication in Italian: the case of legal language” by Stefania Cavagnoli (pp. 9-23);
2) “LSPs in Italian language teaching. An investigation on the operational dimension” by Paolo Nitti and Elena Ballarin (pp. 127-140).
The first one by Cavagnoli is of interest because, after a general discussion on the different denominations that languages for specific purposes can assume in Italian, it highlights some specific features of legal communication in Italian (which distinguish it from the legal language in other tongues). It then goes on to suggest some methodological strategies for its teaching and learning. The second contribution by Nitti and Ballarin draws on survey data and an analysis of Italian for Special Purposes course syllabuses to explore differences in teaching methods, target language proficiency and starting levels of language proficiency. In doing so, the authors address a basic issue in the discussion of teaching Italian for special purposes: the minimum level of linguistic competence for effective teaching/learning of disciplinary language.

Case study

For feedback on this resource intended for teachers, we sought an expert opinion from a researcher working in the University of València and teaching of Italian as a foreign language and Italian for Special Purposes. Below we summarize her review.
Cavagnoli's contribution starts with a reflection on the difficult issue of specialised language learning and what could be the most effective teaching methods. After a brief overview of the characteristics of legal language, using an action research approach, she suggests an innovative path centered on the teacher's reflections on trying to match the legal skills of some lecturers with the linguistic skills of others.
The case study proposed by Nitti and Ballarin starts from an interesting perspective of language teaching for specific purposes. The teaching of Italian as a second or foreign language is expected to start when a learner has passed the threshold level even though the Italian school system requires students to master aspects of languages for specific purposes at less advanced stages of interlanguage proficiency. In addition, their data show that the teaching of languages for specific purposes should also include, but in fact often does not even consider, some professional or general language vocabulary relating to learners' everyday life.


Lead-in activity/warm-up: T (Teacher) brainstorms basic vocabulary and definitions of legal language. T asks to translate "Italian for special purposes" and elicits some known vocabulary that students will also read in the chapters. Sts (Students) discuss the different definitions offered.
Step 1: Pre-reading activity. T asks Sts to answer questions such as the following:
- What communicative functions do legal texts fulfil?
- What are the characteristics of legal language in Italian?
- What methodological indications are suggested by the author?
Step 2: Reading activity. Sts read the chapters and solve previous tasks (see step 1) in pairs. The reading will allow students to recognise and practise vocabulary, in addition to enhancing their reading comprehension skills.
Step 3: Students give feedback on their answers and then answer again the questions presented in the beginning of the lesson, according to what they read.
Step 4: The teacher divides the class into groups of 4. Students are members of a class panel which has to organise a lesson on specific aspects of legal language for students at A2, B1, B2, C1 level. Each group has a different level and has to come up with a lesson plan and some example activities. Each group presents and illustrates their work to the whole class. While discussing their lesson plans, students have to use vocabulary introduced and practised during the class (e.g. pre-reading and reading activities).


Comprehensive approach
Capacity to match the needs of lecturers and students


Added value
The provided tangible improvements


Motivation enhancement
The capacity to motivate students to improve their language skills


Effectiveness in introducing innovative, creative and previously unknown approaches to LSP learning


Measurement of the transferable potential and possibility to be a source of further capitalisation/application for other language projects in different countries


Skills assessment and validation
Availability of appropriate tools for lecturers to monitor students’ progress and for students to assess own progress and to reflect on learning


Flexibility of the contents and possibilities for the LSP lecturers to adapt the contents to their and to students’ need


Assess the technical usability from the point of view of the lecturer and the student


Assess the accessibility from the point of view of the lecturer and the student


This volume is easily accessible through the Bolzano University website. In the first essay, Cavagnoli refers to the model of cooperative learning and action-research in order to enhance the participation of learners in the special language acquisition process.
In the second essay, Nitti and Ballarin conclude their investigation by noting that special purpose language teaching can start at elementary stages of proficiency (A2 level), but some structural factors of the teaching process (teaching methods, content selection and adaptation, close collaboration between language teachers and teachers of other subjects, etc.) need to be taken into due consideration.
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