By Joseph Cannavo, Editor
I received a call from a prominent leader in Delaware’s Italian-American Community who informed me that a local school district superintendent, who for the moment shall remain anonymous, shot down the idea of an Italian immersion program in his district, saying that Italian is not useful enough to warrant such a program.
I would like to remind him and other narrow-minded school district superintendents in Delaware and in the region that learning Italian has many advantages and shouldn’t be excluded for consideration when choosing a language for an intended immersion program. Any educator who feels that Italian should be excluded shows a lack of knowledge of what Italy has given the world since the glorious days of ancient Rome.
I begin my argument by bringing to their attention that Italy is one of the top five economies in the world. Many employers are seeking people who speak both Italian and English. An estimated 7,500 American companies do business with Italy and more than 1,000 U.S. firms have offices in Italy, including IBM, General Electric, Motorola, Citibank, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Many Italian firms have offices in the U.S.
Knowing Italian is greatly beneficial in several career fields. Italy is a world leader in the culinary arts, interior design, fashion, graphic design, furniture design, machine tool manufacturing, robotics, electromechanical machinery, shipbuilding, space engineering, construction machinery and transportation equipment.
Italy’s cultural importance spans from antiquity through the present, of which the Roman period and the Renaissance are perhaps the two most influential moments.
According to UNESCO, over 60 percent of the world’s art treasures are found in Italy. Some of the most famous Western artists, from Giotto to Michelangelo, were Italian. Knowledge of Italian is vital to understand the contexts of this art.
Italian literature boasts some of the world’s most famous writers and thinkers, from Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch and Machiavelli, to Verga, Svevo, Pirandello, and Gramsci, to name a few.
Since Roman times, Italy has exported its literature and culture to other parts of Europe and beyond, in the areas of Latin literature, Romanitas, humanism, opera, film, science, political thought, fashion, design, and cuisine. Knowing Italian allows you to understand, appreciate, and analyze this treasury of human expression.
Italy has the cultures, landscapes, and histories to fill a lifetime of investigation. Knowing Italian places you in a position to explore Italy’s past and present from the most fulfilling vantage point.
Italian majors pursue careers in a variety of fields, including education, business, computer programming and web design, law, public relations, journalism, telecommunications, arts administration, publishing, library science, politics, or public and environmental affairs, to name but a few. Some students also use their language skills in order to enter government employment or the military. In all cases, students report back to us that their training in Italian significantly enhanced their professional and academic opportunities. Italian is spoken by 55 million people in Italy and 62 million people throughout the world.
As a heritage language learning Italian is a big accomplishment which brings with it great satisfaction and added confidence. In addition, for non Italian-Americans immersion in a foreign culture can open whole new avenues of self-exploration and personal growth.
Lastly as the most direct descendent of Latin, learning Italian can help increase a student’s knowledge of the English vocabulary given 60 percent of English words come into the language by way of Italian through its strong Latin roots.
I can go on even more, but if the above isn’t enough to convince school superintendents to consider Italian for
an immersion program; then the problem isn’t Italian, it’s the narrow-mindedness of the superintendents.