New Teachers on the Block: Cristiana Bentivoglio

Like many Spanish teachers, Cristiana Bentivoglio loves languages. But in many ways, her unique upbringing didn’t leave her much of a choice. She has always been immersed in more than one language, beginning with the nature of her childhood: her father was an Italian actor, and after a trip to Venezuela for a job, he fell in love with the country and moved his family there, so Cristiana learned both Italian and Spanish from birth. As if bilingualism weren’t enough, Cristiana’s mother soon enrolled her in a French-immersion school as well. By 7th grade, however, Cristiana started to confuse the three languages she’d learned. “I was speaking something like Spanglish,” she said, “except it was Italian and Spanish with French thrown in, too.” In reaction, her parents transferred her to a bilingual school where students switched between Italian and Spanish every other day.

Despite her diverse skills, Cristiana found that as she got older, “all I wanted to learn was The Beatles’ language!” So she taught herself English. She got a tape recorder for Christmas one year, and she listened to Dionne Warwick songs on repeat. She would play one part of a song, rewind, play it again, and then, based solely on phonetics, look up the words in an English dictionary. Her reliance on songs became apparent during a family trip to the States one summer, when Cristiana was spending time with American teenagers. “We’d be hanging out by a lake, and someone might say something like, ‘It’s such a nice sunny day.’ And I would say, ‘Yeah, but I’m tired of lying in the sunshine. I want to go home and watch the rain.’ And everyone knew that was just a lyric from a Pink Floyd song. It was obvious that I was just saying what I knew from English pop and rock.”

When she applied to college in the States, Cristiana had to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which determined that she had a 7th grade-level understanding of English. Given her method of education -- a tape recorder, Dionne Warwick, and a dictionary -- this was remarkable. “I realized that I basically got myself from nothing to 7th grade with ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’" Cristiana said, laughing.

After completing her undergraduate degree in visual art at UCLA, Cristiana moved to New York. She was accepted into Pratt’s master’s program, but on her trip to visit the school, she met the director of programming for the Spanish International Network, who asked her whether she could speak Spanish and type. When Cristiana said she could do both, she secured a full-time job and worked in the city rather than going to school.

The next year, she decided to move to Italy, where her father was working again on a film. He had a connection to a costume designer who needed someone who knew how to draw, and said it would help if this person spoke English. That combination of skills landed Cristiana a job working for Oscar-winning costume designer Anthony Powell. Cristiana spent her days drawing embroidery designs for the lavish coats in Roman Polanski’s movie Pirates. (Here, Cristiana noted, “My brother always reminds me, ‘You’ve always worked on flops, you know that?’ Yes, I know.”)

Those first few jobs made it clear to Cristiana that her multi-lingualism was key to finding work. After assisting Powell, she worked in costuming for 10 years straight, and she credits that almost entirely on her language skills: “There were people my age who knew more about costumes than I did, but they wouldn’t get the job because they didn’t know English or French or whatever was needed. At that point, I saw that language is often the most important skill.”

Cristiana later married, by her description, “an adventurous husband with an unadventurous job in human resources.” They’ve moved every two or three years, starting in Rome before living in London, Paris, New York, and Milan, where Cristiana used her past experience to assist the theater teacher at her children’s school. When that teacher left suddenly, Cristiana was asked to take over his job. When she and her family later decided to come back to the States, she wanted to continue teaching.

At Meridian, she says, she’s found her ideal community. “What I love is the freedom to create your own curriculum -- to experiment and see what’s the best way of learning for this group of students. And the students are always questioning, which really helps that process.”

Cristiana’s life has been filled with adventure and creativity, and we’re so glad she’s joined us to continue those pursuits at Meridian. “I love it,” she said. “I love being here.”

Welcome -- and bienvenida, and bienvenue, and ben arrivata -- Cristiana!