The Coro e Scuola d'Italia in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, a NIAF Grant winner
1998
The study of Italian Language increases significantly.


Language retention has always been regarded as a major indicator, some would say, an indispensable component that characterizes ethnic identification. It seemed axiomatic that even in their adopted land recent immigrants speak the language of the country in which they were born. This element presented additional obstacles for Italian Americans of the era of mass immigration (1880s to 1920s) since regionalism, replete with distinctive cultural patterns and dialects, rather than nationalism, formed the fundamental basis of identification. Simply put Italian immigrants of that era considered themselves primarily Neapolitans, Calabrese, Sicilians, etc. and more at ease with their regional dialects than formal Italian (the national language).

With few notable exceptions, such as major universities where Italian language courses had been taught for decades, the language penetrated few American high school curriculums prior to the 1920s where French and German were promoted as desirable languages for students to take. Notwithstanding a sometimes unfriendly response by the educational establishment, teaching of Italian began to make some headway in the period between the two World Wars especially in enclaves where the Italian American population was concentrated such as the northeastern part of the country. The formation of the American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI) in 1924 constituted a reflection of its growth and seriousness as local Italian American organizations pressed school boards to incorporate the language in their foreign language studies. Unfortunately the outbreak of the Second World War presaged a setback that prevailed for a period until the last third of the 20th century when the confluence of ethnic resurgence, active participation in promoting Italian language by Italian cultural attaches and a better-educated Italian American population heralded a revival.

Reliable data, including a survey conducted by the Modern Language Association (MLA) in 1998, attests to a recent significant increase in the enrollment in Italian Language courses in American colleges and universities. Among the more significant statistics is the growth of students enrolled in Italian in higher educational institutions: 45,013 in 1996 compared to 19,923 in 1965; 126 institutions offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in Italian in 1996 compared to 95 in 1975; and 926 full or part-time faculty of Italian Language in 1996 compared to 521 in 1975. Equally impressive are figures indicating a 46 percent increase in high school students enrolled in Italian between 1994 and 2000. These statistics show, furthermore that the rate of enrollment increase in Italian is faster than that of Spanish, French, and German. By the onset of the 21st century, interest in studying Italian was truly remarkable in certain states such as Connecticut where Italian was at the top of the hottest foreign languages in which students were enrolled.

As important and impressive as the growth pattern, it is equally vital that the College Board accept Italian as satisfaction for Advanced Placement Credit. To this end the leading Italian American organizations such as NIAF and AATI have energetically lent their support. Such an accomplishment would not only redeem the Italian Language as worthy of study along with other favored languages by Italian Americans and others, but would also affirm its intrinsic value and beauty.

The Leggiamo Insieme Program at the Scuola di Lingua e Cultura Italiana (South San Francisco, California), a NIAF Grant winner
A workbook page done by a second grade student at the Lewis Carroll School Association (Oregon House, California), a NIAF Grant winner




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