Sunday, December 22, 2019

Kathryn Occhipinti: The IAN Interview

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist of Italian-American descent who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for about 10 years. During that time, she founded Stella Lucente, LLC, a publishing company focused on instructional language books designed to make learning a second language easy and enjoyable for the adult audience.

Using her experiences as a teacher and frequent traveler to Italy, she wrote the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books, which follow the character Caterina on her travels through Italy, while at the same time introducing the fundamentals of the Italian language.

The Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books includes the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook, along with the reference books “Just the Grammar,” “Just the Verbs” and “Just the Important Phrases.” Audio for the story about Caterina that begins each chapter of the books is available free on the websites and

IAN: Please tell us about your latest book.

Kathryn Occhipinti: I teamed up with native French speaker and translator Nada Sneige Fuleihan to create Conversational French for Travelers, “Just the Important Phrases,” which was released in August of 2019. This small, light-weight book was created for the traveler to France, slips easily into a pocket or purse, and contains “all the phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to France.”

Along with phrases organized under chapters for transportation, making reservations, and meeting people at a gathering, Conversational French for Travelers provides a method for the traveler to create their own phrases to get around France easily and comfortably. The pocket French book is easy-to-read, with some pronunciation help in the first chapter.

And of course, Conversational French for Travelers includes a special section on reading those French menus — organized by how the real menus are laid out in a French restaurant. Also included in this compact, light-weight book are insights into French food!

IAN: Is your books published in print, e-book or both?

Kathryn Occhipinti: All Conversational Italian for Travelers books and the Conversational French for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book are available as print books on and Barnes and The print books and the right to download these books to 2 electronic devices in PDF format can also be purchased on the websites and

IAN: What inspired you to write the books.

Kathryn Occhipinti: Being a physician by trade, people always ask me why I have dedicated so much time and energy to writing books that help others to learn Italian. My fascination with the Italian language started in my childhood. I grew up as a third generation Italian-American in a suburb of New York. Both my parents grew up speaking both Italian and English. But for me, Italian was like a “secret language” spoken by the adults in my family and I really wanted to understand what they were saying!

Although my parents kept the Italian Sunday dinner tradition and celebrated all the holidays as an Italian family would (lasagna for special occasions, even on Thanksgiving with the turkey) they wanted us children to be “American,” and so spoke to me and my sister only in English. They Italian phrases they reserved for my grandparents, aunts and uncles at family get-togethers always seemed to me as a child so much more expressive than English.

Later in life, when I tried to learn Italian myself in earnest, I met other adults who were also trying to learn Italian in the Italian-American Society of Peoria. I realized that an entire generation had been discouraged from speaking Italian at home and now had to find their own way to learn Italian as adults.

With the emphasis Americans today place on “finding one’s roots” and going back to their country of origin, so many adults my age have the need to go back to the language of their family as well. Of course, learning a language is a much more difficult task as an adult than as a child. I wrote my books as an adult who was learning Italian herself, after only rudimentary lessons in school, thinking that if I could share the experience of what I had to go through to learn Italian it would be valuable to others too.

IAN: Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

Kathryn Occhipinti: I did not write an outline for the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook. I did write the outline for the story of an Italian-American girl who traveled to Italy and I used this as a framework for each chapter. I then set the structure for each chapter, knowing that I would have to cover the vocabulary for the story and the Italian verbs in a certain order. Each chapter starts with a dialogue, then a list of vocabulary needed to understand the dialogue, a cultural note of interest, important colloquial or idiomatic phrases, grammar, verbs, and numbers sections. Each section progresses as the story line progresses, with the dialogues becoming more and more complex.

IAN: How long did it take you to write the books?

Kathryn Occhipinti: I wrote Conversational Italian for Travelers and then modified the book over 4 ½ years. This book is unique as a language textbook in that I wrote the book as I was learning the language myself. Also, as I finished each chapter, I taught from the book informally with a group from the Italian-American Society of Peoria. In this way, I was able to modify the book to fit the needs of the adult audience.

Then, realizing that most adults would be daunted by a 400+ page textbook to teach Italian, I broke up the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook into smaller reference books in order to make the material more accessible to a general audience. The layout and publishing of these additional books took another two years.

IAN: Do you have a specific writing style?

Kathryn Occhipinti: For Conversational Italian for Travelers I tried to adopt a “chatty” and “friendly” writing style. I didn’t want to write a dry textbook. I wanted the reader to take an interest in the material and to feel as if I were in the room with them talking them through any difficulties they might come across trying to learn the language. This is the same way that I write my blogs.

IAN: How is your book different from others in your genre?

Kathryn Occhipinti: My Conversational Italian for Travelers books are truly different from other Italian language books because the focus is on Conversational Italian -- all the Italian you really need to know to feel comfortable in Italy! The books work in conjunction with the website and include my unique travel and culture insights gained from real-life experiences visiting Italy. Also, I developed my materials while teaching, so they are very practical and include material not found in other books.

Most importantly, my books are friendly and combine travel tips and humorous anecdotes that truly make learning the Italian language come alive!

IAN: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Kathryn Occhipinti: I received a great deal of support from all those in the Italian-American Society while writing my books. I truly enjoyed the Sunday afternoon get-togethers we had at my house as we tried to learn Italian together — always with a break for coffee and dessert! The wonderful friends that I’ve made through learning and now teaching the Italian language have made writing the book a truly engaging and rewarding part of my life.

IAN: Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

Kathryn Occhipinti: One of my favorite things about being an author of language books is the opportunity this presents to travel and explore other countries. I have actually used drafts of the pocket phrase books myself in Italy and France prior to publication to ensure that the phrases are helpful and easy to find. I’ve modified the books based on phrases that I’ve found I have personally needed to remember and even reorganized the phrases in each chapter as needed to make the books user-friendly. Also, I have taken most of the photographs for the Italian books myself during my many trips all over Italy, and I love to take street scenes to inspire others to travel.

IAN: Who designed the covers?

Kathryn Occhipinti: The cover of the pocket phrase book has particular meaning for me. I took the cover image of St. Mark’s Square myself from the deck of a water taxi in Venice, on my first return trip to Italy after my divorce, with the intent of finally publishing the book I had been working on for so many years. The font for the cover was originally from the fonts chosen in the book, but has since been modified so the word “Italian” is easier to see.

I designed the covers for my reference books and the textbook as well. For these larger books, I made the photograph of St. Mark’s Square in Venice into a postcard image, which I included in various ways as the focal point for each cover, in order to link the covers of the books together visually. All Conversational Italian for Travelers books are also unified as a set with the color of the Italian flag on the right hand side.

For the French phrase book, I took a photographer along in order to shoot the cover, and we had fun competing for the best shots in Paris and the south of France. Then I put each of our top choices for the cover on social media for a vote during a book give-away. In the end, of course, being the professional, he won the competition and I chose his photo of the Eiffel Tower as the cover for my phrase book.

IAN: What book are you reading now?

Kathryn Occhipinti: Right now, I am continuing to read the series of novels by Gianrico Carofiglio a novelist and former antiMafia judge in the city of Bari, Italy. I admire his straight-forward writing style and his engaging and true-to-life stories of Italian life. I also find that his books spark my own realizations about the Italian language that often become topics for my blogs. I would also like to mention (as I always do when someone asks me what I do to learn Italian myself) the Detective Montalbano series by the world-renown author of Sicily, Andrea Camilleri. Although I most often watch the series on T.V. rather than read the novels, which are written in mixed Italian and Sicilian dialect, this series has truly helped me to learn and remember the “important phrases” spoken by Italians today.

IAN: Tell us about your next book or a work in progress.

Kathryn Occhipinti: Over the last four years, I have been an avid blogger about the Italian subjunctive mood, which I feel is the key to becoming fluid in the Italian language. This series of blogs will be compiled in a handbook that will take the mystery out of how to use the subjunctive mood. Written in my clear, conversational style and laid out for visual learners, this book should be useful for both adult self-study and as a supplement to formal Italian language courses. Look for this book in late 2020 or 2021.

I have written two Audio Dialogue Practice books for the Conversational Italian for Travelers series, which are already available on my websites, and The Audio Dialogue books consist of phrases that build from short to more complex sentences and put verb conjugation to work in useful, everyday phrases. The vocabulary in each chapter of the Audio Dialogue books corresponds to each chapter of the textbook. The Audio Dialogue books can be used by teachers in a classroom situation, where the teacher pronounces phrases and the students listen and repeat. The phrases for Volume 1 of the Audio books have been recorded by native Italian speakers and should be made available as a jump drive or downloadable content for students to listen to and practice with sometime in 2020.

The “Just the Important Phrases” pocket travel book will be continued with translations planned next for Portuguese and Spanish.