Berardo Paradiso (President - IACE Italian American Committee on Education)

Come esportare la lingua italiana negli Stati Uniti

Apr 12, 2013 5543 ITA ENG

For Italians abroad, the Italian language plays a fundamental part in the conservation of their culture and respect for their roots. The first Italians to migrate to the United States barely spoke it, as at the time they left, regional dialects were still predominant in the newly born nation. Integration in America was often encouraged through pressure to use the American language to the detriment of the use of Italian. Today, speaking Italian is a source of pride for many Americans, and not only for those with Italian roots. We discuss this with Berardo Paradiso, a successful entrepreneur and President of IACE – the Italian-American Committee on Education

Berardo – can you help us understand what IACE is?

IACE is a non-profit organization which I am in charge of together with its Board of Administrators, under the aegis of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Italian Embassy in Washington and the Consulate General of Italy in New York. Its purpose is to promote the study of the Italian language in the schools of the three states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It operates with part government and part private funds and works with around 200 public and private schools and approximately 42 thousand students per year. We also organize courses for adults and children who are not in compulsory education: around 1000 students per year are involved in these courses. 

Italian is in competition with the other languages offered in public schools. Most of the students who attend our courses are not Italian-American: they are from all races and cultures, and many of them come from non-privileged neighborhoods such as Harlem and the Bronx.  

Why is Italian so important for the Italian American community?

The Italian language is important for everyone, not necessarily only for Italian Americans. 60% of the students who choose to study Italian as a second language in public schools are not of Italian-American descent.

Our language is not only just an ethnic language: it is a language of culture and for business. It is important in order to understand art and music better but it is also the key to working with the Italian companies with a presence in the USA. 

A language is like a product. You need to make it attractive and sell it. Three things are necessary to conquer a market: a high quality product, a receptive territory, and good managers. In terms of the product, there is no doubt that the Italian language and culture represent a unique capital. As for the territory, we are in America – a friendly country who have a tendency to like us. The Americans intervened twice to help us out of wars, invasions and bad decisions. And besides, our fellow countrymen have built a significant part of this country. But all of this of course is not enough. You can’t just have a beautiful product and keep it locked up in the house… you need to get it out on the shelves! Synergy between the entrepreneurial world and culture is fundamental. 

How does the system of teaching Italian in the United States work?

Here in America, foreign languages are taught most of all in middle schools, high schools, and at college. An estimated 250.000 people per year study Italian in the States. Elementary and middle school principals can choose to offer one or more foreign languages in their institutions, but in order to do so they need funds to pay the teachers. With funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IACE intervenes mostly in elementary and middle schools in the areas with a high percentage of Italian-Americans. 

The Italian government has already done a lot, and this work is being continued by the Italian Ambassador in Washington, Consulate offices all over the USA and the major Italian American associations.

We all worked very hard to reach a major success in 2015: 2500 students taking the AP Italian exam. Very proudly almost 60% of them from the tri-state area where IACE operates.

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