The Italian language is undeniably a fundamental part of the representation of our country in the entire world: it is an instrument of culture, pride, historical evidence, and even marketing. It is a rich and prestigious language, even if it is not among the most spoken in the world.
In the United States, Italian is often synonymous with quality and prestige, both among those who have in their DNA traces of Italy transmitted by their ancestors who left our country to go to America, and among those who do not have Italian origins but love Italy and our language. We are happy and proud to talk about this subject, that is very dear to us, with the most important Italian representative in the United States, His Excellency the Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero. We thank him very much for this opportunity that allows us to collaborate with the Embassy in Washington to relaunch today and in the following weeks the words of the Ambassador
Mr. Ambassador, how widespread is the teaching of Italian in the United States?
According to the modern Language Association, the number of students learning Italian in American universities has increased over the last decade by almost 60%, jumping from 49,000 to over 80,000. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' most recent report shows that the number of students learning Italian in high schools has grown consistently over the last five years, and has gone from 65,000 to 78,000.
Both these numbers clearly show how the teaching of the Italian language within the local school and university systems is greatly appreciated in the United States.
Funds provided by the Italian government over the last ten years to promote Italian language in this country certainly played a pivotal role in spreading Italian in the American school and academic systems.
In addition, it is particularly interesting to see that the number of American students who decide to have a "learning experience" in Italy has grown steadily. According to data provided by the Institute of International Education, our Country is host to the largest number of American students, just after the United Kingdom, and ahead of Spain.
However, there is a hurdle which we must yet overcome: the final reinstatement of the AP Italian exam in the College Board's Advanced Placement Program.
What is the Advanced Placement Program?
The AP (Advanced Placement) program is of vital importance in promoting the Italian language in the United States, which is why our government so strongly endorsed its reintroduction, starting in 2011 - to include from a financial standpoint.
AP Italian is an exam on language skills and cultural knowledge which can only be taken in the last year of High School and is considered as a university exam. The Advanced Placement Program in Italian language and culture is in fact a university-level course which students can frequent while they are still in high school. Students who have taken the exam can, depending on their final grade, start earning credits which are recognized by most American universities, and by many foreign ones.
Inserting a subject matter in the AP program boosts its teaching in high schools and colleges throughout the United States. Moreover, it brings considerable savings to families as it allows students to earn university credits by paying simply for the cost of the exam itself.
What are the goals we want to achieve?
In 2012 (the first year the exams were held after reintroducing Italian in the AP Program), 1,806 students took the exam. In 2013 they numbered 1,980 – an increase of nearly 9%. In accordance with the agreements between the Italian government and the College Board, we must reach a total of 2,500 exams taken by the end of school year 2015-2016 to become self-sustainable.
Our diplomatic and consular networks are therefore working strenuously throughout the United States to achieve this goal. Naturally, we are liaising closely with the bodies which represent Italians and Italians-Americans: in this we are supported by a strategic plan and by the Observatory of the Italian language which were joined, at the end of 2013, by local observatories in each consular district so as to promote AP Italian as effectively and thoroughly as possible.
Why is it so important to raise the awareness of the Italian community in the US regarding the AP Program?
Not everyone knows that, starting in 2013, students with an American high school diploma wishing to enroll in Italian universities can avoid taking one or two years of College by proving they have passed at least three Advanced Placement exams, to include one in Italian.
AP is also very interesting, and an inexpensive option, even for those who - whether Italian, Italian - American or who are simply "Italophile" – don't intend to continue their studies in Italy. At 89,00 USD v. the 2-3,000 USD needed for each credit, AP shortens academic studies and constitutes a subject matter which diversifies students' portfolios.
On another note, I would like to underline that, for those Italians living in America, be they of recent or older emigration, for AP Italian to be definitively reinstated in AP subject matters is also a matter of prestige of one's language and culture of origin.
At a time when a growing number of American citizens - according to official polls – claim their Italian descent and at a time when so many Italians come and spend long periods in the US for study, research or business reasons - I believe that it is of paramount importance that we all join forces in order to give the Italian language the position it deserves in the American school system.
We have created a multi-level ad hoc taskforce in the United States which consists in, at a central level, the Observatory of the Italian language in the United States, and in many groups at a local one. The aim is to increasingly get schools, teachers and students involved in this enterprise. Teachers have been trained; the www.usspeaksitalian.org website is "live"; and brochures have been prepared and distributed to audiences. We have greatly publicized this initiative, and sent many letters to entice the greatest number of students to take AP Italian. In addition, as we are fully aware of the important role both teachers and students of Italian can play in this, we have struck agreements regarding sponsorship of scholarships for students, in collaboration with Eduitalia and the l'Università per Stranieri di Perugia, as well as in terms of specific language-didactic training for teachers.
How do we find out when, how and where to enrol?
American students who, for the most part, aren't able to frequent an Italian school (there is only one Italian school, in New York City), follow AP prep courses in their schools (this year there are over 260 courses throughout the United States). Students who already have a good level of Italian (because they are mother tongue, have frequented an Italian school or have taken courses of Italian abroad) can take the exam as a private candidate. Enrolment in the AP exam, thanks to a specific agreement, is very inexpensive, especially if compared with the advantages it can bring. The Embassy and Consular websites offer all the practical information you need.
AP Italian is one of my top priorities, and I will leave no stone unturned on this. We are all aware of how important our own personal commitment, as that of so many others, will be. I'm thinking of teachers and schools, of Italian American organizations and of teachers' associations - but also of the world of media. Our combined efforts enabled us to reinstate the AP Italian exam, and together we must pursue our goal and make this permanent. And I am sure we will succeed!
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